When it comes to online journalism, clickbait is the new normal. It seems that every other headline promises something sensational or shocking – but when you actually read the article, it often fails to deliver on those promises.
As a writer and journalist myself, I understand the temptation to use clickbait headlines. After all, we want people to read our articles and share them with their friends. But I believe that relying on clickbait ultimately undermines the credibility of journalism as a whole.
For one thing, clickbait headlines are often misleading. They make grandiose claims that aren’t supported by the actual content of the article. For example, an article might promise “You won’t believe what this celebrity said about politics!” only for the article itself to contain a few vague quotes that don’t actually reveal anything surprising or interesting.
This kind of dishonesty erodes readers’ trust in journalists and makes them less likely to take future articles seriously. If someone clicks on an article expecting to learn something groundbreaking and instead finds themselves reading fluff or filler material, they’re going to be disappointed – and they’ll be less likely to give that publication another chance in the future.
But even more insidious than outright dishonesty is how clickbait affects our attention spans and critical thinking skills. When we see sensational headlines all day long – some of which may not even be accurate – we become conditioned to crave instant gratification over substance.
We start looking for quick hits of excitement rather than engaging with longer-form pieces that require sustained attention and thoughtfulness. And when we do encounter those kinds of articles, we may find ourselves struggling to concentrate because our brains have been trained by years of clicking on flashy but ultimately empty headlines.
This can lead us down a dangerous path where we seek out news sources not based on their accuracy or thoroughness but simply because they provide us with fast-paced entertainment in bite-sized chunks.
Ultimately, relying on clickbait headlines and articles is a disservice to both journalists and readers. Instead of sensationalizing the news or trying to grab clicks at any cost, we should strive to provide thoughtful, nuanced reporting that engages our readers’ minds as well as their emotions.
This doesn’t mean that we can’t use attention-grabbing headlines – after all, everyone wants their article to be read! But instead of making grandiose promises that we can’t deliver on, let’s focus on crafting headlines that accurately reflect the content of our articles without resorting to cheap tricks or gimmicks.
For example, an article about climate change could have a headline like “What You Need To Know About The Latest Climate Report” rather than “The Shocking Truth About How We’re Destroying The Planet.” While the latter may get more clicks initially, it ultimately does a disservice to both the reader (who may not actually learn anything new) and the writer (who risks damaging their credibility).
As for how we combat clickbait culture more broadly? It’s not an easy fix. Social media algorithms are designed to reward sensationalism over substance, so even if individual publications try to move away from clickbait, they’ll still be competing with countless other outlets that prioritize shock value above all else.
But by being mindful of our own writing practices and encouraging others in our field to do the same, we can start shifting the conversation towards quality journalism rather than empty clickbait. By emphasizing accuracy, nuance, and thoughtfulness in our work – whether it’s a 500-word blog post or a 10-page investigative report – we can help rebuild trust between journalists and readers while also providing meaningful insight into the issues that matter most.