OPINION: A journalist’s perspective on clickbait

Illustration by Kyle Hampel.

On Sunday morning, I set a timer for 30 seconds and started scrolling through my Twitter feed, counting each link I scrolled past. There were seven links in all.

This number does not even include the videos that automatically started playing as I scrolled past them or any of my friends’ posts. My 30-second experiment shows just how saturated social media feeds can get with with all sorts of links demanding our attention.

With so many things to click on, most of it gets passed by unless something peaks our interest. That’s where so-called “clickbait” comes in, with headlines that practically beg you to click on an article just to know what’s happening.

As a journalist, I like it when social media users click on my articles. It means I wrote something my readers are interested in, and I did my job in constructing a good, attention-grabbing headline.

It is important to realize that every single headline you see on social media is clickbait of some kind. It is specially crafted with careful thought to catch your eye.

This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Thinking of social media headlines in this way just means journalists recognize the demand for your attention, because let’s face it, I would rather you read my article than someone else’s.

When you click on my article, you get taken to my news organization’s website where you might start exploring my very talented colleagues’ work and see all the advertisements that help maintain our business.

Mostly, I want you to read what I spent all that time producing, because I would not have produced the article or video if I did not think it was important. Plus, more clicks on my articles means a certain level of job security.

I know the general attitude about clickbait is somewhat negative. Some headlines aren’t crafted to just catch your attention; they trick you into clicking on something that won’t be what you think it is, leaving you feeling duped and indignant.

Maybe you knew it was going to be a pointless article, but something about the headline made you click despite your best judgement. I seem to fall for that second category way too often, but now I know what my personality type is based on my major.

I don’t want to ignore clickbait like the post above, because this is simply obnoxious and a big part of the reason why there is such a negative attitude toward journalism these days. I also don’t want to act like the general idea behind clickbait is a bad thing. Strictly thinking, it is an economic thing.

I have written before about how journalists are still trying to figure out the best ways to use social media, and this is part of it. In many news organizations, a single article can have a print headline, an online headline (optimized to ensure it pops up on Google searches) and a social media headline.

If a reader is picking up a newspaper or doing an online search for news, then the hard part of grabbing the reader’s attention is already done. Social media has so much going on that it is absolutely necessary to think of ways to encourage someone just scrolling through their feeds to click on the article’s link.

Kelsey Kendall is a senior in mass communications. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

Hi everyone! I'm was a senior in journalism and cultural anthropology. My favorite things are storytelling, coffee and meeting new people. In that order.