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Clickbait journalism: “Elvis on the moon shocker”

25 February 2021

Clickbait journalism

Vinyl records have outsold CDs in the US for the first time since the 1980s by a factor of 2 to 1.  An amazing achievement given the demise of vinyl throughout the 80’s.  But hang on, what’s this? Vinyl records only accounted for 4% of total recorded music revenue.

I clicked on a Guardian piece with the promise of an incredible volte face as digital music hit the buffers. But it wasn’t to be.  I should have known: as the race intensifies to grab more consumers, the worry is that have we all become institutionalised by ‘clickbait’ – and journalists, even at The Guardian, are working harder to ‘keep us sticky’ online. Sites like the Mail online can be tough to read  owing to the interleaved temptation of gawping at ‘what celebs from the 70s look like now’ or being urged to ‘see how this tiny widget can help you levitate’ or whatever.

But where does the line between the honest and the informative – which retains a degree of integrity and one foot in reality – become the jacked up claims we are now tempted with on a daily basis online.  Has the selling ‘arms race’ become so intense that consumers are starting to resist the promises which then leads to even more outrageous claims in an attempt to harvest clicks. 

So many sites – and regional newspapers are the obvious example – are designed to attract attention and to entice users to follow a link then read, view, or listen to the content, with a defining characteristic of being deceptive, typically sensationalised or misleading. Unless they can persuade you to, effectively, be more nosey, they will struggle to make ends meet.

However, the more online ‘journalism’ descends into an exploitative cauldron of even more astronomic claims, the more we will resist.  Any attempt to communicate in today’s frenzied media space needs integrity and authenticity as its hall mark.  Grandiose claims of efficacy or reputational divinity should be evidential.  That means they need some kind of proof.

When you contribute in the media, your role is to influence the response and behaviours of the audience; if you resort to an unrealistic appraisal of a tricky situation or find your position is put under too much intense scrutiny, perhaps the original message needs examining to pinpoint where reality became hijacked by hyperbole.