I’m tired of writing for clicks.
I’m tired of aggregating Tweets and writing blurbs about viral videos. I’m tired of monitoring Google Trends and scrolling through the latest hashtag and writing headlines around the most searchable keywords.
But writing for clicks is what they pay me to do.
The most difficult lesson I’ve learned during my journalism education is that a newspaper is a business. Hard-hitting, reported stories are what we’re trained to look for and write, but nowadays, readers want the “Listen to this,” content. Clickbait pays the bills.
As journalists, we like to think of ourselves as people who do good. We expose corruption, give a voice to the voiceless, and tell stories that make a reader feel nice. But that journalism — a romanticized, Watergate-esque kind — has been traded for trendy headlines and meaningless anecdotes.
And as the digital age progresses, so has readers’ expectations of free content. People curse paywalls or wrinkle their noses at article limits on their favorite news site. Some just skim the headlines.
Enter, clickbait. List articles (or “listicles”), write-ups about popular content, or even reposts of viral videos draw in readers, and, therefore, ad revenue. Outlets like Buzzfeed have excelled in this, pumping out listicles like “21 Things You Should Never Do At Tim Hortons” and quizzes that reveal “What You Should Major In, Based On Your Fave Cartoon Foods” (for the record, I should apparently be in musical theatre). Although Buzzfeed isn’t a full-time news outlet, similar pieces have been showing up on the websites of publications like “The New York Times” and “Time.”
Hiring writers for clickbait articles to stay afloat means less resources for solid reporting, but the alternative is often worse — not doing so means a newspaper might go under. Mid-market newspapers don’t always have the resources like those of “The New York Times” and rely on ad revenue to draw eyeballs.
That’s why it’s important to subscribe to your local newspaper.
Local newspapers are vital to the wellbeing of every community, but national outlets are slowly driving them out of business. Mega media organizations can afford to sacrifice quality for quantity, but local papers can’t. And that’s a good thing. Local papers like “The Detroit News” or “Hillsdale Daily News” provide a more nuanced approach to local issues, simply because the reporters are more familiar with the area. They are also more likely to stay on top of issues important to residents, like the Flint water crisis. It’s a subject national outlets dropped months ago. “The Detroit News” had a story about it just last week.
Paying for a subscription keeps outlets important to your local area in business and helps them manage resources to cover important stories. Most local outlets are not expensive either.
And at $4.30 a month for an all-access digital subscription, “The Detroit News” is worth just a little more than the coffee you’d drink with it in the morning.
Journalists shouldn’t have to worry about writing viral trending stories just to keep their paper in the black. They should be able to keep their focus on important local issues.
Keep us from writing clickbait. Subscribe to your local newspaper.