Problems with Journalism


Frankly, there have been problems with journalism as long as there has been journalism. Like many things in our life it is for us to think the problems of the day are unique to us when in fact they are often as old as human nature. None the less, age-old issues can and do take new forms due to the currents of society and technology.

What has irked me quite a bit recently are misleading news headlines, specifically those found on the internet. All too often I see someone post a headline along with their personal outrage. Often the claim looks just too outlandish to be true and I click through to read the article. A good many times the article is fine, it lays out some event or argument that deserves to be covered and has some newsworthy elements yet bears little to no resemblance to the headline included. Often, in fact, the content is near contradictory to what the headline claims or implies.

I understand why it is the way it is. These kinds of headlines get your attention, get you to click on them, and thus get you to the website where advertisements are there to make money for the folks who host the website. Heck, I’ve got my own website that now earns a meager income from adds. I can feel the dark side of the force telling me how much traffic can be generated by basically lying to people about how exciting the content will be.

Yes, you can ruin your reputation by posting a bunch of crap but I think the truth of the matter is the reputation ruined is likely worth far less than the traffic from one successful bull shit headline can muster for you. It’s clear there are a great many websites, that appear to be quite successful based only on this principle. I’ve also seen plenty of formerly respectable sites walk down this path into journalistic oblivion.

I can’t honestly blame these sites. Making a living is something we all have to do, and if you are in the eyeballs business strictly for the sake of business then you do what it takes to get them to come to your site. Very often the writer of the article probably has nothing to do with the headline. Some marketing person has the specific job of reading the article and coming up with a spit that will evoke outrage or curiosity. Those who refuse such tactics are often simply “rewarded” with failure.

Adding to this we have the host of “satirical” news sites that have popped up. These folks basically manufacture news stories tapping into exactly what people want to hear and doing very little to clue folks into the fact they are fake. You might say this is what the gullible deserve, and yes, they can be funny, but a great many people think these things are true and spread them around. Sadly many “legitimate” news organizations have picked up such articles and run with them, not bothering to check if it’s legit.

There are plenty of folks one could point a finger at: Writers, Marketers, Editors, Website admins and so forth. They are in one situation or another the ones doing this. But like many things, what really drives it are the consumers, us. We click on the things driven by curiosity and incredulity, looking for a thrill or perhaps only the truth. We hammer away without outrage before checking the facts, googling the source, or sometimes just asking ourselves, “does this even make sense?”

We could pay for our media, pay journalists specifically to bring us the straight dope, but what we really like is when our media is free and easy so we let our attention pay for us and make it a commodity to be mined and exploited at every opportunity. We need to take some time to choose what we read and who we read it from based on their diligence and excellence in getting at the truth instead of just entertaining us. We need to pay money to those who work hard at getting good information so they don’t need to dredge the eyeball far for any and all attention they can muster.

I’d encourage folks to share their favorite news and information outlets that you feel don’t engage in clickbait headlines and advertising. Give them a little free push with your time and effort to encourage more of what they do. Meanwhile, do your best not to reward the bunco artists out thereby avoiding the temptation to see what the fuss is all about when you see some crazy headline.

In short, we should be more deliberate with our money and your attention. I doubt we can starve out the scoundrels but if we can keep some of the paladins fed, that would be enough.


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