Tabloid journalism has always been criticised for its sensationalised take on conventional investigative news. It is an angle on news media which, more times than not, leads to the diminishment of any intellectual commentary on global-events. Rather than objective reason, tabloids often rely on scandals and sensation to titillate viewers and thrive in a saturated news market. This form of journalism has existed for as long as news itself, taking many different forms throughout the years: from the in-your-face Newsboys of the 1800’s trying to sell the hottest edition of ‘Who wants to be a Thousandaire’, to the equally in-your-face and obtrusive clickbait news style made famous by the one and only, Buzzfeed. While this form of news has always existed, a new term, ‘Tabloidization’, has come in to play.
In recent years, the emergence of social media has brought about the new term Tabloidization: the idea that tabloid-style journalism is slowly leaking into investigative news media. Tabloid news has always existed as a means to an end: a way for people to indulge in their guilty pleasures and keep up with the latest celebrity news, or just simply read some light-hearted articles. Guilty pleasure or not, tabloid journalism has always brought in a lot of revenue and has even been cited as being more emotionally arousing than regular news for viewers. Buzzfeed Australia, for example, has over 2.5 million likes on Facebook, while Daily Mail Australia, a once credible news source, has only 1.1 million likes. So why is this relevant, and what would it take for a credible news source to become tarnished? Quick answer: clickbait. Long Answer: Read ahead (see what I did there?)
There is a new term in relation to consumer behaviour called time poverty, which is the idea that we are more pressed for time now than ever before. With time poverty in effect, older consumers don’t have the time they’d like to consume investigative news media – even though they rate these stories as more informative. This results in a higher preference for clickbait as they prefer to spend their time consuming easier to digest and emotionally-receptive tabloid stories. But when does easily digestible become highly detestable?
Not to mention clickbait to get video views…
Let’s look at an example from the Daily Mail, a news outlet that most claim has lost all credibility in recent years. I pulled two articles from it’s archive: one from May 2006 and one that’s very recent. The article written in 2006 is a well-written story about an archaeological breakthrough in a prominently investigative tone. It includes interviews with industry professionals and is written like a traditional, no BS news story. But what’s the recent article about? An overweight kid hitting a wrestler… Its title is framed in such a way that, out of context presents a more provocative story.
I have two questions: Why is the Daily Mail reporting on wrestling, and who the fuck is Honey Boo Boo?
While some may argue that the Daily Mail was never a credible news outlet, the disparity in these two articles goes to show how time hath changed the integrity of journalism, and how outlets have been changing from investigative reports to outright ridiculous tabloidesque writing. The Daily Mail has gone so far down the rabbit hole that as of 2017, Wikipedia has outright banned the Daily Mail as reliable source material. That’s right, the one website you are told to NEVER reference in any academic studies due to lack of reliability has outlawed a website for the very same reason. That’s gotta hurt.
Clickbait has become so prominent within online consumer culture that there have been studies conducted on how it works and affects a consumer’s psychology. One study, which highlights ways to detect clickbait, suggests that “Lowstein’s information-gap theory of curiosity” plays a large role in this. The theory underpins the idea that curiosity is exhibited when attention is focused on a gap in knowledge. The person will set out to reduce the state of curiosity by searching for the missing information. So, while my curiosity may not be tempted by the 13 best bulges of the year, there are some people out there who would be too tempted not to click.
Yep. This ‘article’ actually exists.
As the switch to digital news has come so aggressively, so has the switch to digital advertising. Have you ever wondered how news outlets make their money online when there is no subscription or buy-in fee? With page visits of course! And what’s the best way to secure page visits? You guessed it: Clickbait!
Remember the days of being able to scroll through Facebook and actually see posts from loved ones or friends rather than the best 13 bulges of the year? Thoughts like this are a distant memory as newsfeeds are now littered with paid sponsorships and clickbait news articles trying to funnel you elsewhere on the internet.
Just a few examples pulled from my daily internet browsing…
Much like sex, clicks sell, and unfortunately for credible news outlets, this means that if you can’t beat them, join them. That’s how it works these days, companies pay to have advertisements shown on certain websites. Naturally, the more clicks you get on your website, the more money you can charge for said advertisements. This has turned modern journalism into a scrambled mess where companies are trying their darndest to direct all traffic towards their own websites. It doesn’t matter if half the headlines are misleading or turn out to be advertisements, just so long as they bring in the clicks!
So, next time you are struck with curiosity as to what dog looks like William H. Macy, or which Powerpuff girl you are, take a step back and realise that every time you succumb to clickbait you are aiding in the diminishment of modern news media. And always remember, much like that poor kitty cat, curiosity killed the state of modern journalism.