It’s like the world’s worst “made you look” joke
It is called click bait.
If you have been online for seven minutes in your life you have encountered it and grown to hate it. The process is rapid.
“You won’t believe what this former child star is doing now” the headline screams. It turns out the child star is now working as a producer on a reality show – something I would completely expect a former child star to be doing now.
“Click here to see America’s 50 best cities to live in” so you click there and just see a list of cities with no explanation but dozens of people who live in Buena Vista, Arkansas – who came in No. 19 on the list – are retweeting that click bait like their keyboards are on fire.
It’s like the world’s worst “made you look” joke. I can only assume that some advertiser somewhere is having success with this ridiculous technique or they are being fooled into thinking it works.
Most news organizations – obviously if you follow the Huffington Post on Twitter (famous for “Five closet hacks to make your wardrobe new again”), you know they are not included in that category – try to stay away from using click bait.
It is fine to be interesting. I encourage being interesting. You can’t always tell from my columns, but I try to be interesting.
But I never want to mislead readers and sell them a scooter of a column under a Harley Davidson headline.
That is what the West View News did recently. They used a column that spoke kindly of President Barack Obama. That isn’t shocking when you consider they are in the West Village of New York City. The shocking aspect was that the newspaper used the headline, “The N!&&er in the White House.”
The column led off with an analysis of Eric Cantor’s defeat, tied that loss to Cantor’s opponent attacking Obama and drew the conclusion that Republicans hate Obama because he is black. The column never uses the N-word and it never explains the headline. If you write a column and have to spend a week explaining what you meant by it, it isn’t a good column.
James Lincoln Collier is a wrong-headed old man who had been trying for months to get the newspaper with poor enough judgment to run his columns to show even worse judgment by allowing him to use the N-word in a column.
The publisher of the newspaper included a note on top of Collier’s column that explained that since the New York Times did not use the word, that his editorial staff decided their newspaper should.
Translation, “Our website’s numbers were lagging so we decided to put a tutti frutti headline on a vanilla column to make you some tasty click bait.”
I can’t decide if I cringed or shuttered when I read that logic. After I finished doing whatever it was that I did, I was saddened that anyone would be so derelict in his duty to his readers, his community and black people everywhere who are stigmatized by one of the most incendiary words in racial parlance.
He knew better. I know he knew better because they had never done it before.
They needed some attention. Readership was down. They needed to boost page views. They stooped beneath the standards to which their readers hold them and used an unrelated, unnecessarily offensive headline to get a poorly written cliché of a column some notoriety.
In order to fight against the idea that these bozos aren’t the real racists – after all, they are the ones who used the word that offends so many just to drive some web traffic - they included a column below Collier's by a black man in a bow-tie. The headline on that column was, “I am offended by the headline.”
I would have been more impressed if they used Saturday Night Live’s Richard Pryor job interview line of “Dead honkey!”
The ploy worked. Media columnists commented on the column. The New York media gave them attention. Even CNN’s Don Lemon gave Collier a chance to tell a black journalist why it was acceptable to use the word in a headline.
But when the dust settles, all this will do is chip away some of the credibility people place in their hometown newspapers.
It is unfortunate that when others sell their souls it costs all of us a little bit of ours.
Hopefully the rhythmic waves of well-intended, rational columns in the world will be enough to wash away the debris left by the occasional tidal wave of stupidity that less respectful and thoughtful writers perpetrate on their readers as an excuse for an opinion.
Kent Bush is the publisher of the Butler County Times Gazette and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org