Behind Clickbait Headlines: New Version of Yellow Journalism

Behind Clickbait Headlines
When I wrote for The New York Times, I always admired how the editors could put a story in just the headline.

They still do, of course: “Credit Suisse Pleads Guilty in Tax Evasion Scheme.” “Russia Says It Pulled Troops, but NATO Sees No Sign.” “Mayor Tells City’s Tabloids to Apologize to His Wife.”

Those headlines are transparent and efficient. They’re good journalism.

Those headlines contrast sharply with the headlines we all know of as “clickbait” — teaser headlines that imply that if you click the link, you’ll be rewarded by something shocking, amazing, uplifting, or sexy.

Very occasionally, clicking turns out to be worth it, and you’re glad you bothered. More often, it’s a total fraud, and you’ve just wasted your time. Even at their best, clickbait headlines are shameless hype. At their worst, they’re downright deceptive.

Clickbait, of course, is a scheme to drive up a website’s traffic. It’s a modern spin on tabloid journalism. But it shows tremendous insecurity; if you have a good story, why do you have to overhype it?

And it’s costly to you, the reader/victim. Sometimes you’re deceived, and sometimes you can’t find the answer to the headline’s riddle without watching a video. Which wastes your time and, if you’re on a plane with glacial WiFi, frustrates you because you can’t find the missing element.

But you know what? Two can play this game. If they can tease us by publishing half-truthy, overhyped headlines, then I can burst their bubble by revealing the tantalizing secret of each one. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present: Pogue’s Clickbait Spoilers!

By David Pogue.

See also: Upworthy: Take Down That Autism Headline

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