Clickbait Claims Local Newspaper | Private Eye | Salt Lake City Weekly

Clickbait Claims Local Newspaper 

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This past weekend, City Weekly held the 11th annual Utah Beer Festival at The Gateway. Perhaps you heard about it? Well, around 10,000 people attended that fantastic event, and they consumed, what, a Mirror Lake's worth of beer in the process? We did our best to get the word out given the scope of the festival and that it's been two years since our last gathering—two long years—so we thought it was a somewhat newsworthy undertaking.

However, Utah's two largest newspapers—the LDS Church-owned Deseret News and the LDS Church enabler Salt Lake Tribune—figured otherwise and didn't spend any ink on the event. To my knowledge, they didn't even send a photographer or public relations letter interpreter (aka reporter). We understand why the Deseret News ignores the event and our beery ways, but the ever-less-relevant Tribune? We couldn't have made it easier, our event was right under their Gateway office's nose.

The Tribune is just a plastic Clamato jug floating in the Pacific Ocean these days. Who knows what it's up to? The jug could kill a whale or save a castaway. Or it could join all the other plastic jugs in the ocean in one big blob—not a single one distinguished from the rest. Actually, it's already done that. I don't mean to spend this space today ragging on the Tribune, especially as there remain too many good folks over there whose work I like and respect—and who I like to have a beer with. But it's going that way.

So, if you're at all curious about the state of newspapers and media outlets like the Tribune—the ones that traded mass influence (many readers, advertiser driven) for mass bottom line, influence be damned (fewer readers, subscription driven), just read the latest column by Politico's Jack Shafer (politi.co/3Dd1df7), which spells it out quite well.

Here's a quote: "For the web's first two decades,online publishers did what their print and broadcast colleagues had always done: maximized audience size and sold them to advertisers. The logic of the moment led publishers to make their copy free, and the pursuit of traffic drove the normalization of clickbait.Some publisherswere so wild about traffic that they paid writers by the click, and some werestill thinkingin that direction as recently as 2020. But monetizing gigantic spurts of traffic from viral stories was difficult. Only Google and Facebook excelled at it, and the smart online ad money increasingly went to them."

Can you imagine that? A newspaper monetizing copy predicated on how many people read a given story? I trust the Salt Lake Tribune isn't mired in 2020, but I doubt it. In that world, bylines mean nothing. Decades of work building a credible resume go right down the drain when upstairs editor wonks measure story value the same way a hen farmer measures an egg laying chicken—she's only good when the eggs are rolling. In a henhouse, a hen is fed steroids to keep producing. In a newsroom, the steroids are financial bonuses to staff who bullshit potential readers into clicking a story with audacious and misleading headlines.

It's called clickbait. We've all succumbed to it. No journalist wants to be ranked according to number of clicks gained. When clickbait waned, newspaper publishers joined the big, swelling disease of giant plastic floating ocean garbage and found protection within that group via subscriber-based funding for survival.

According to Shafer's Politico article, "The looming danger ... in which newspapers shape their coverage to appeal to the group that has demonstrated the greatest willingness to pay for quality news: the rich, white and liberal elites. If lower-income readers get priced out of quality news, they risk going uninformed or, worse still, being taken in by misinformation by free fake news operations,ideological outletsposing as straight news, or viral bursts on social media."

Breaking news on east side hiking trails, anyone?

Send comments to john@cityweekly.net.

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About The Author

John Saltas

John Saltas

Bio:
John Saltas, Utah native and journalism/mass communication graduate from the University of Utah, founded City Weekly as a small newsletter in 1984. He served as the newspaper's first editor and publisher and now, as founder and executive editor, he contributes a column under the banner of Private Eye, (the original... more

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