This is news? “Clickbait” journalism in the digital-social age.

September 6, 2016

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Where’s Mr. & Mrs. Waldo?

While reading the “newspaper” online I came across a couple stories that captured my attention. I clicked on them both not because they were newsworthy (they weren’t) but because they appealed to my socially & digitally trained brain. The same brain that grew up reading long form magazine pieces in The New Yorker and Field & Stream; not to mention spending hours slowly devouring the Sunday paper, digesting sections like a python moving rodents down its throat.

That was then.

These stories are classic examples of the sort of content we feed on now. Both are fairly meaningless by old-school journalism definitions. Nobody died or got hurt. Nothing really is at stake.

The story about vandals knocking over a sandstone goads us into clicking its link, pushing our buttons to judge and to vilify. In this way it is like those “news” stories about drunken beachgoers tormenting a baby dolphin. We have to see these cretins and pillory them. Seeing for ourselves is made possible by amateur video or photography.

The other story functions in the same way but by pushing completely different buttons. The author beseeches us to try and find the “mystery couple” from this “Instagram-worthy…magical photograph.” The picture is of a bride and groom posing on a pretty spot in Yosemite. They are not famous. The photographer is not important. The location is unquestionably on infinite tourist-y photo albums. The chance discovery and the chance to discover are what makes this story click-bait.

Not long ago neither piece would be considered news. Now they probably get more clicks aka readers aka viewers than headlines about bombs falling in Syria.

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