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An Open Letter to Clickbaiters

by Linda Jenkinson |

don't be reeled in by clickbait

Josh Benton of Harvard’s Neiman Journalism Lab defined clickbait as "Noun: Things I don't like on the Internet."

There is little to like about clickbait. Clickbait is a headline that generates a momentary rush of excitement that culminates in a rapid letdown. It is a corruption of information, a "bait and switch" tactic that leads to the Internet's most insipid websites and faux blogs filled with picture galleries accompanied by short, vapid blurbs of text.

Clickbait links are full of promises such as, "You're gonna love this..." or "Social Media is exploding over this ...". In truth, you'll find on clicking these links, as well as offering nothing of substance, you will not love them and the only explosion will be one of disgust. While the banality of this type of clickbait is annoying, mainstream media has come up with an even more irritating type of clickbait.

Print media has found that they can no longer pay their bills by selling print media only. What they need to understand is that they cannot sell their online products in the same way they sold their print newspapers and magazines.

"When I look at the Internet, I feel the same as when I’m walking through Coney Island. It’s like carnival barkers, and they all sit out there and go, 'Come on in here and see a three-legged man!' So you walk in and it’s a guy with a crutch."
Jon Stewart

Ironically, high profile publications, such as the New York Times and the Washington Post leave links to their publications on free social media platforms such as Twitter and Face Book. The user who follows one of these free links may be unable to read the article without a paid subscription to the publication.

Some of these publications bait their trap by offering a number of free visits and then cutting off access to their content. They expect the unsuspecting web visitor to purchase a subscription for $2.00 to $3.00 per week. While I may have entered your parlor, Mr. Spider, I will not be caught in your web. The link you left for free on Social Media said nothing about "pay to play".

It seems to me that the major problem here is that these print publications are trying Internet marketing with a print business model. However, a subscription to a print publication lets you read an issue from cover to cover. This is not the expectation of the Internet visitor. Internet visitors are following a particular story or researching a particular topic. While on a website, another story may catch their attention, but that is likely to be the extent of their visit. It is foolish to pay print subscription prices to read an article or two.

Print media would do well to adopt sales models that are similar to those of stock photo websites. Many stock photo shops offer a monthly subscription but also offer the option to buy credits for those photos of interest to you either singly or in lots. With a little innovation and adaptation, print media could do the same.

Of course, the best way for web visitors to avoid clickbait is to not click on it. The Irish say, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." The way to squelch clickbait is to stop visiting sites that fooled you the first time around.


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