Choosing Who Makes Money Off Of My Clicks.

I write a lot on Facebook and sometimes over here, about how much I avoid clickbait or inflammatory media. I’m not just talking about political nonsense, I’m talking about ALL of it. The article that is going to tell me exactly how I’m ruining my kids? That article is a piece of crap because really it’s just 2 paragraphs and most of it is a quote from a real study that said NOTHING about ruining my kids. The article bashing one candidate because their running mate is a creationist. The article that can not BELIEVE the actions of those celebrities. I avoid ALL of it. I try to A) Only listen to NPR which might lean left but at least is non-profit and B) Only give my eyeballs to media sources I don’t mind giving money to.

Because your eyeballs are money. And articles about celebrity affairs are making more money than articles about the refugee crisis. And that’s because they’re getting more eyeballs.

I’m not saying frivolous media doesn’t serve a purpose. I read a ton of “What to expect?” articles about my favorite TV shows. But I’m saying – right now – our online world is terrible. Giant media groups makes gobs of money basically repackaging someone else’s content and putting it under an inflammatory and click-baity title. Enjoying the periodic frivolous article about cats is now part of a giant problem where AMAZING journalism is getting pushed under the rug because Amy Schumer said something about her boobs.

(I love Amy Schumer. That’s not the point.)

How would our online world look if EVERYONE stopped giving their eyeballs to click bait? Or, more importantly, what if we focused EQUALLY on high quality journalism and reporting. Because – let’s face it. Biased media makes more money than non-biased. And that’s because it creates clickable headlines that pull people in, whereas balanced reporting is dull and boring.

ALL of us complain that too much media is bias.

And yet, we are the problem.

There is a lot of good reporting out there. My world was forever changed by Nikole Hannah-Jones’ reporting on Fair Housing for ProPublica. Why is that not taught in our history classes? Why did I get to the age of 40 without every realizing that red-lining was a REAL thing that happened and created the ghettos? Why do we focus on a few key Black History figures in February but we never discuss how Black Americans were screwed over with refusal for home loans? How did I not know about George Romney – who basically pushed to desegregate neighborhoods by using the “ask forgiveness later” method? (He was not forgiven.) This was a POWERFUL rabbit hole to fall down into when I started reading one day. And my the money from my eyeballs went into pockets supporting real journalism, and not repackaged content with a clickbait title.

I read the Mother Jones piece about prisons the day it came out. I sat in bed and went through the ENTIRE THING. And yesterday? Our government announced the ending of the privatization of prisons. But you know what? That piece? Only made $5,000 in ad revenue. That’s it.

So, what do we do? Well. I try to focus on giving my eyes to long-form journalism and avoiding shitty clickbait. But I also donate to Mother Jones and ProPublica. Because I used to pay for a newspaper subscription and why shouldn’t I use that money to support high-quality journalism online?

But mainly? We have to quit clicking the terrible aggregators. Mother Jones broke down their situation and how to support their efforts. But the clickbait? It’s doing so much more than just creating a world where “real” journalism is unsustainable. Click bait is also building a divide in our country. Inflammatory political headlines are why people say things like “I just don’t understand how you can vote for that person!” because the only headlines they click, are the ones spotlighting the terrible things that person has said or done.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I don’t agree with any Trump policies no matter how much I dig. I’ll be honest. BUT – I do see that if people ONLY read the terrible things about Clinton and none of the other things, then they’d be just as terrified of her as everyone else is of Trump. Terrifying and Inflammatory articles get clicks. Boring articles about successful policies do not.

So I’m making a concerted effort daily to NOT click on the inflammatory headlines. Even if they help reinforce my beliefs. IT IS HARD. They’re so alluring! But I try my best. Instead I subscribe to long-form journalism and I listen to NPR which is non-profit. Does it all kinda lean left? Yeah. I guess. I’m not sure there’s real “unbiased” media anytime or anyplace. But at least it’s non-profit. That’s something in today’s media.

Imagine if we all tried to avoid clickbait. What would our media sources look like then? Would news become boring again?

I wish.

5 Comments

  • Karen

    Is there a news source out there that doesn’t lean left or right? I’d love to read something unbiased, something that just gave me lots of info without giving me foregone conclusions. (I keep thinking about HBO’s “The Newsroom.”) I am not a news junkie. I probably tend to fall on the “ostrich” continuum, where if it isn’t happening in my front yard, I don’t know about it (and maybe sometimes not even then). But maybe if I felt like it wasn’t a bunch of people telling me what they think I should believe, I might read/watch more news.

    • zoot

      ProPublica and Mother Jones do unbiased reporting, but they focus on topics that more appeal to left-leaning people, if that makes sense. I feel like NPR does a better job of covering topics that interest both sides.

      I think the trick (and how I discovered ProPublica and Mother Jones) is to search by topic. I get a feel (for example, Salon is REALLY left-leaning, even though I lean left, I can FEEL the spin) for a perspective as I’m reading up on a topic. I was looking into prison reform and fair housing as topics and stumbled upon the good reporting. I think that’s the key – following heart-felt interests and spending time looking up information on that, instead of just letting the “popular” links of the day dictate news.

      I’ve been doing the same thing with policy too, which is how I ended up agreeing with Tucker Carlson once. He really enlightened me about some of the measures of gun control I was researching. He’s conservative and 99 times out of 100 I don’t agree with him, but I was researching some policy proposals and came upon his comments once and I thought, “OH, man. Good point.”

  • Lindsey

    I really try to do this with YouTube as well. Since getting a YouTube Red subscription and watching videos about how that revenue is distributed to creators based on watch time, I’ve been very aware that every video I choose is getting some money, and I would much rather see it go to something important, educational, or independent than inflammatory, sensational, or otherwise non-sense.

  • Sarra

    Great post. I can’t stand click-baity headlines, but I haven’t really thought about it the way you put it, and sometimes they lure me in. I agree with you, and I am going to make a conscious effort to avoid rewarding bad behavior with my eyeball money.

    I also only listen to NPR (I started around 9/11, because I couldn’t handle the way the other stations covered the news and I’ve never gone back) and I’ve gotten so spoiled by their coverage that I even stream my home radio station when I travel. Yes, they are left leaning, but they still call out bad behavior by the left, so there is some balance. I do know that my political leanings have moved significantly to the left since I’ve started listening, so there’s definitely been an impact.