He wrote about clickbait but what happened next will stun you

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As we roll merrily into the future of media it’s time to define some terms. I spoke to a number of folks over the past few weeks about the Gawker case as well as the future of journalism and have come away with some interesting information regarding the disconnect between readers and writers and the general concept of clickbait. I’d like to clear a few things up.

First, understand that the 24-hour news model and blogging did not spring up like carcinomas in the otherwise pastoral body politic. The medium is the message, as they like to say, and this medium allows for rapid-fire information to flow endlessly from the keyboards of countless underpaid writers. But it would not appear if you didn’t read it.

Journalists and their journals are often led by guiding principles purer and more moral than most other professions. Snicker if you want, but a journalist’s primary mission is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. Ask a lawyer or politician if that sounds like a good way forward and I suspect you’ll get a different answer. This mission is often fogged and often obfuscated, but any journalist with proper training will not forget it.

So what you have is a group of people who were told to find interesting and helpful things and write about them. Be it a review of a new phone or a discussion of Donald Trump on the campaign trail, it’s a journalist’s mission to synthesize, explain and help.

Now imagine having to do that 20 times a day every day until death.

For a media consumer who will literally notice and react negatively if they find their news feed empty or stale.

For a media company whose sole mission is to sell eyeballs in a world where those eyeballs are flitting from app to app like picky hummingbirds flitting from flower to flower.

To a world that has built up a tolerance for all but the most outrageous news and requires emotion and pathos and sex in order to stay awake.

That journalist will slowly trend toward what you would call clickbait. Their writing, if it wants to be read, will have to poke its head out of the mire and beckon readers like a slimy siren. But this is the only way the news gets through to you all — through “clickbait.”

The news media, until the late 1990s, was as staid as could be. No clickbait there unless you counted “The Best Flowers For Spring” as a clickbait headline in the Home & Garden section. Organizations like Boston Globe’s Spotlight and The New York Times were gatekeepers for the news. Then tech came along and slammed open the gates. This torrent of information was pleasing to the human brain as the pleasure centers lit up and the frisson of FOMO led us to refresh page after page. Then the blogs came along and tore the gates down, rolled over them and left a cloud of exhaust that choked hundreds of old-style news organizations and killed hundreds more. These blogs are now fighting for survival or, if they’re flush, they’re simply trying to work within the parameters given them by the medium. And this medium has changed over the past decade from a free and open exchange of ideas to a morass of opinion and hate.

But none of this happened because someone willed it so. There was a brief period when online media could have failed. Users came to CNN.com expecting video and when it wasn’t provided to them could have gone back to television. But instead they stayed for the primitively laid out text. Take a look at this, itself an example of journalism that is helpful if a little thin:


Can you imagine going back, over and over, to that page?

But we did.

Understand this: There is no clickbait. This suggests that you are fish and a journalist is a fisherman. No. You are both fish, caught in the unending torrent of news. The deluge is affecting both you and the journalist equally. There are, to be sure, some unscrupulous publishers who will take advantage of your fish-like brain, but why do you let them?

First, it’s not clickbait if you clicked it. There is no complaining after the fact that you were duped. You picked from what was on offer and you picked the fun stuff over the boring stuff. Sure there are entire ad networks dedicated to putting up funny videos and telling you you’ll feel “CHILLS!” but those would go away if you STOPPED CLICKING. The bait doesn’t work if the fish figures out the difference between a worm in distress and a dead worm on a hook.

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