By Darren Gilbert
On the latter point, there is a factor that can help you decide. It acts as the portal, if you like, to any article. It’s the headline, and it needs to be respected and used appropriately. However, that isn’t always the case. Instead, it is mistreated and abused. If you ask why, it’s not hard to understand, according to fellow journalist and media trainer, Raymond Joseph. Being pressed for time means people tend to only read the headline, be it on a poster, in a newspaper or indeed online. Your headlines have to be punchy and aim to pull in readers. While this is all good and well – there are some great headlines that get written – add in the factors of time-constraints (on your readers) as well as the proliferation of news outlets and competition among said ‘outlets’ and one almost understands why headlines are ‘spiced’ up.
That doesn’t make it right but it also doesn’t mean it won’t happen. According to Creative Spark CEO and Memeburn.com
publisher, Matthew Buckland, there is a problem that has been around in various forms ever since the advent of tabloid presses, long before online journalism, where it is now easier to identify. It is known as the click bait headline, those banners at the top of an article that promise so much and yet the article you end up reading has little if no relevance or substance. In other words, they waste your precious time.
However at the same time, it needs to be remembered that this isn’t pure journalism. Buckland explains: “If you publish with the intent to secure click throughs and traffic or to secure a sale of some sorts, that is not journalism. Journalism is rather based on truth and fact. That is non-negotiable.” A click bait headline and the writing that is associated with it, on the other hand, is not, as it’s about getting a reaction. Joseph labels it as “a shotgun approach” in an attempt to attract as many people to your website as possible.”
“I can understand the use of click bait headlines for that point. But it still doesn’t make it right. It’s frustrating because what a headline says and what I’m reading in the paper [or online] is not matching up,” continues Joseph. You’ll eventually lose credibility because it’s based on lies and is done deliberately so. It also leads to the question of ethics. However, while it may seem that there should be no question about it, click bait headlines could be automatically construed as unethical – it’s a little more complicated than that.
“It’s a fine line,” agrees Silber. “If an editor is doing it on purpose then, yes, it’s unethical. If it’s done to manipulate the news, then yes.” However, you need to look at the website from where you are getting your news and ask yourself if it is a journalist who writes the story or headline or whether it’s someone else. It’s important to know this, because then you know what to expect. “There are some websites that don’t have proper journalists,” points out Joseph. “In these cases, they either don’t understand [ethics] or just don’t know.” This also makes it a little easy to understand why click bait headlines proliferate. He continues, “In such cases, there is a need for re-education.”
This is not to say that you can’t use the odd clever pun or write a catchy headline that will get people interested. There is, in fact, nothing wrong with headlines that ‘lure’ you to read them. However, as Buckland points out, there shouldn’t be a problem as long as the publication is honest. So does this really result in a drop in the quality of journalism? While Joseph believes yes, Buckland is a little more cautious. “Quality is a fraught word. The Daily Sun
successfully serves a community but in the academic sense, [it] isn’t considered ‘quality’ when compared to a publication like the Mail & Guardian
“I think it depends on your primary intentions when publishing your content. If you are publishing to inform and entertain, that is fine. If you are doing it to secure clicks, then you have a problem.”
While a lot can be found out from a headline before you click through to an article, you need to make sure that the two match up and that the headline is not misleading. Have you come across click bait headlines before? Share your thoughts on our blog