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In the 24/7 online news world, everything is news. Of course, you’ve got the more important news, like the Great Hollywood Sex Scandal of 2017, terrorist attacks and man-made attacks, natural disasters, and the results of the election—or otherwise un-election. Then you’ve got the filler: what the news media posts the remaining ninety-nine percent of the time.
In a world where everyone wants their news right now, news sites have to produce content faster than is actually possible. If the fake news epidemic is so rife, there is one key reason for it: overworked, underpaid journalists, under threat of losing their jobs.
When news sites first discovered the importance of the internet, clickbait was born. In an online sphere where algorithms outweighed even advertisements, most of the news sites focused more on creating engaging headlines and outrageous articles to draw readers, instead of quality content. How does quality content get you views—and hence, revenue—if nobody clicks on it?
Fast forward more than a decade, and the same news sites are facing a problem. They’re not making enough money. Some introduced paywalls to offset this dilemma, but only the most loyal readers will pay to read articles on a website, even if subscription is for the low, low price of a cup of coffee. Others decked their sites out in an overabundance of advertisements, but the AdBlock plugin and archiving sites like Archive.is have thwarted these plans. News sites discovered the AdBlock issue, and they’ll now give you a passive-aggressive pop-up asking you to kindly whitelist their site so they can earn some cash from your mindless clicks. A regular Washington Post article will have on average fifteen ads, the New York Times homepage thirty-seven, Fortune thirty-three, and The Independent has thirty-six ads. Even the ones who have less advertisements—like comedy site, Cracked, which has between ten and twenty ads—make up for that with articles that are sneaky ads, and lots of popups asking you to subscribe to their service.
Now, of course, you must expect websites to have advertisements, just like newspapers are full of them, but you can’t have so many to the point where reader engagement is affected. The Fifty Percent Review—as it is powered by WordPress—has advertisements, which cannot be controlled, but most of these news sites are conglomerates, who have other ways to get their revenue without impacting reader engagement. However, advertisements are the lesser of two evils compared to clickbait.
Clickbait—a form of yellow journalism—has soured the way many netizens view the news media. Since advertisements don’t generate nearly enough revenue for the dying medium, clickbait has become a lone savior in the darkness. Most readers have turned from the print media, where these news sites once thrived, to social media, specifically Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Reddit. Now that these news sites are more focused on getting clicks than writing engaging content, is it any wonder most people have turned away from traditional journalism?
Journalism is incredibly important for a functioning democracy, and we should all be worried when Donald Trump said the news media should be censored and libel laws should be changed on his whim. However, this is a double-edged sword, and it may not be politicians that will destroy the media and the tradition of journalism. The journalists themselves may well destroy their own medium before politicians like Trump even have the chance.
When you can switch between all the major news sites—New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Independent, and USA Today—and find barely a discernible difference between them all, you have a problem. Sure, you also have Breitbart, Daily Caller and (for television) Fox News, but they bring their own set of problems, their own Right-wing echo chamber. In this modern age, diversity of thought is incredibly important, as is diversity of reporting. When most of the popular news sites all read like they were written by the same group of cliquey elites, the regular person cannot connect.
Many local newspapers and television channels are going the way of the more popular traditional media, and it is for the same reason. They are more focused on beating Google’s algorithms to get more clicks, instead of generating diverse, engaging content for their readers (and viewers). They’re also reporting for their advertisers, not their readers. When you’re reporting on Donald Trump taking a sip of water as if it’s a major controversy, then maybe you’ve lost touch with what the title of “journalist” entails. Otherwise, you’re just a glorified copywriter or gossip columnist.
In a modern age where corporations are already trying their hardest to control us, maybe the traditional media shouldn’t be alienating their readers. Journalism is incredibly important—freedom of the press, and all—but do you really deserve it when you’re not even reporting vital information? If you don’t wish for your sites to head the same way as News of the World or Gawker Media, maybe you should start asking yourselves some tough questions.
Also: stop auto playing videos on your websites. If you single-handedly want your medium to die, this is how you do it.