Ha. Just kidding. Got you to click, didn’t I?
Relax. I swear, I love Coach Shaw and have no desire whatsoever to see him go anywhere.
Now, hear me out before you angrily go back to what you were doing before you clicked this link to read a teenager spew aggressive vitriol against one of the most respected college football coaches in America. I promise this is actually going somewhere relevant.
Guys, we have a problem.
— ESPN (@espn) April 6, 2015
— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) April 8, 2015
I hate clickbait. Hate it, hate it, hate it. (Ignore the headline of this column.)
I’ll admit it — I took the bait. On both counts. I clicked the links, and I died a little more inside both times because I gained literally nothing of substance by doing so.
It’s a trap that’s painfully easy to fall into as both a consumer and as a journalist in today’s world. Consumers have tidbits of news and stories assaulting them from all directions — Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, to name a few — and amidst that deluge, people only really click on the headlines and tidbits that stand out the most to them.
And on the other side, as a journalist today, we don’t want to just disseminate the news indiscriminately; we want clicks and pageviews because: a) it feels good to see the read counter tick up on your article and b) revenue is dictated almost exclusively by online advertising.
It’s a simple cause-and-effect relationship, and to the credit of online publications like ESPN and Fox Sports, they’re just doing what they can to keep up with the times and give the masses what they want. It works, and it’s what keeps the money rolling in.
At the same time, though, it really makes me sad to see what the state of journalism has come to these days (gosh, I feel so old saying that).
No matter how much technology advances to throw information in your face at ungodly rates, there will always be a place for journalism in the traditional sense — researching, reporting and telling an interesting story — quite simply because there’s no real way to replace that. Storytelling is the essence of what journalism is, and there are simply no technologies that will ever be invented that will supersede that. It’s too fundamental to our existence.
That’s why I find it so disappointing that the line between journalism and entertainment is becoming so muddled, and, in some cases, nonexistent. That’s a lot of effort, personnel and resources being diverted by these outlets from pure journalism and reporting to thinking more about how to “bait” people into actually reading their articles, or writing shorter pieces like the ones I linked to above that ultimately do not tell a meaningful story or educate the reader in any significant way.
Everybody knows that LeBron is full of himself. Big deal. I doubt anybody even cares a bit about the presidential sausage races between innings. And even on a more dedicated level, outlets like Grantland aren’t always telling you stories — Bill Simmons gets paid to spit words onto a page, make obscure 1980s references, USE ALL CAPS AND UNNECESSARY PUNCTUATION!!!!!??!? and throw more than a few casual f-bombs around.
Now, I love Grantland as much as the next guy, but if you’re going to look me in the eye and tell me that’s journalism, you’re nuts. I hope you realize that I’m not trying to say that stuff like that has no place in this world — rather, I’m trying to say that outlets like ESPN, which proclaims itself to be “The Worldwide Leader in Sports,” should at least make a faithful effort to keep the true spirit of journalism alive.
That’s not to say that everything coming out of those outlets is bad — quite the contrary. Some of their reporting is really, really good — and that just goes to show me even more that if they were trying to emphasize that reporting a lot more, the quantity and quality of overall “good” journalism would skyrocket.
Sports entertainment outlets are incredibly entertaining and engaging, but it’s just that — entertaining. Those stories have their place, but that shouldn’t be at the cost of real reporting, which I feel is an unfortunate tradeoff being made all too often in today’s world.
I firmly believe that if a journalist tells an interesting story, it will get its due readership and credit regardless of how eye-catchingly it’s headlined or how teasing the associated Tweets and Facebook blurbs are. Yes, the attention span of the average consumer today is probably far shorter than it was a decade ago, but that doesn’t mean that today’s readers don’t know how to appreciate good reporting and good storytelling.
That’s what I think the focus should be on today — better reporting and more engaging storytelling, and not necessarily going after the money and the pageviews. This is why, despite the continuing downfall of traditional journalism amidst the social media frenzy, the New York Times is still heralded for its quality and ESPN is the butt of jokes from many a sports fan around the nation despite its widespread success as a multimedia outlet.
We at The Stanford Daily are a microcosm of that right now, which is why I’m taking the time to write this column. We’ve been making a big online push, and after having seen some of my colleagues painstakingly think about what to headline their columns to get optimal pageviews and be most provocative to bait people into clicking recently, I’ve become even more firm in my resolute belief that it’s the journalism that should drive the page-views, not the other way around.
With all that having been said, yes, I do realize that this entire column — from the headline down and even the structure of a weekly opinion column itself — has then been one big exercise in hypocrisy. I hope you realize that I don’t believe my column isn’t a substitute for the actual articles I put out every week in any way.
I promise I’ll never mislead you like this again. But in return, I hope that you took away from this column more than what you would have had it actually been about my unending, passionate hate for David Shaw. That will have made this little exercise worth it.
In alignment with his disdain for clickbait, Do-Hyoung Park can often be found perusing his number one source for honest and hard-hitting journalism, BuzzFeed. Although Park is more than familiar with the 33 Cartoon Guys Who Sparked His Sexual Awakening, feel free to send him your favorite Pulitzer-deserving exposé at dpark027 ‘at’ stanford.edu.