Thursday, November 24, 2016

Clickbait Journalism

Beginning a story, back in the old days, makes old folks sigh and young folks scarce. But sometimes, we need a bit of distance to see the whole picture.

When I was in journalism school, back in the old days, journalism was an honorable profession. The Fourth Estate. The crew who kept things on an even keel. The ones, we counted on, to find and reveal the truth.

Sure, one could be mocked for being a journalist, tarred with the if it bleeds, it leads brush, but still, as truth providers, liked or not, an honorable profession.

At my first job at a newspaper, the AP teletype machine was in a centralized room in the back. When something newsworthy happened, bells would ring and the AP story would roll out on a stream of paper.

I was fascinated by the AP wire. Whenever the bell rang, I would hurry to the machine and read the story as it printed out. It was like watching events happen before my very eyes.

Back in the old days.

Now days, we’ve all seen an airliner slam into the World Trade Center. Most of us, in real time. We’ve just seen an election unfold, no one predicted and few claim to understand. As I write this, three days post election, the blaming continues.

I suppose within the DNC there is plenty of blame to go around. For the rest of us, some blame the pollsters who got so much wrong, and some blame the media.

And where was the Fourth Estate while all this happened? Were the AP bells ringing out  non-stop?

What was the truth and who was telling it?

Back in the old days, news moved relatively slowly. By wire and newsprint, at a speed that created time and distance for surprise and reflection. Now days, information is instantaneous. Online, bang, as fast as band width can stream.

What value does thoughtful analysis have when how many times a webpage loads is the scale?

Click bait is our new norm. Write a headline that guarantees a reader will click through to the next page, now there’s a story that sells. This is much worse than the old if it bleeds, it leads bias because the best click bait is the most outrageous, and truth is often dull and complicated.

Sick and tired of the Electoral College? To change that will take a Constitutional Amendment and here’s how that works.

Who’s clicking through to that story?

You’ll never guess who this NAKED CELEBRITY voted for?

How many click throughs did that one get?

I’d hate to imagine.

Add to this the new Fifth Estate, which is social media. Fast-moving opinion in short bites that has enough muscle to ruin careers and boost sales. But is it broadening our perspective or reducing it?

So, here I sit, fed up and cranky, wondering what can I do? I have a plan. Here it is.

I will no longer get my news from the Internet. I concede this may be a hard habit to break because it is so immediate and I have a life long attachment to that. Still, I say, no more. I have resubscribed to my local paper. I know that is like trying to fill a gallon bucket a teaspoon at a time, but at least I’ll know Google and Facebook aren’t looking over my shoulder poised to deliver the next best likeable thing.

I’m subscribing to more magazines. There doesn’t seem to be many left. Maybe I can help with that.

When online, I will not select any of those salacious click bait headlines, no matter how naked or which celebrity is involved.

While the Internet is a rich source of information, sometimes the stream is polluted and we need to watch where we step.

I realize, it’s ironic that if you’re reading this, you doing it online.

Back in the old days, maybe we would have had this conversation over coffee.

Now days, without irony, nothing much left is funny.