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Joseph Kaminski

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October 14, 2019

New Yellow Journalism: Clickbait and Gif-baiting

A major problem is that many people don’t have the time to digest long-winded articles anymore. In a world where every pocket has the potential to be filled with a digital square that has access to all of the information and misinformation across the globe, people find it hard to digest information that isn’t spoon-fed into their consciousness. This new-aged attention span is a major proponent of the “fake news” cycle that has been plaguing most mainstream media in the past half-decade or so, albeit “fake news” has existed under different names and personas throughout our existence. However, I don’t believe this surge of fabricated information would have been possible without the existence of clickbait articles that lack proper citation and substance.

The sensationalist style of headline writing, one that throws accuracy and integrity out of the window in favor of producing general interest, has plagued internet web articles and print magazines ever since it was proven to be successful by lackluster “news” media sites like Buzzfeed, and it has since created a stylized copy-and-paste writing method that entrances would-be readers. Many websites and magazines have favored this lack-of-effort journalistic style in an attempt to produce as much as possible in as little time as possible while still receiving a genuine interest in article topics. The aforementioned Buzzfeed typically pumps out articles that are actually advertisements in disguise, oftentimes in the form of polls or “quizzes” while spoon-feeding the smallest amount of information imaginable.


Personally, I believe that the “old way” of journalism is far superior than the more-picture-than-word monologue that exists today. Details matter to any good story, and reports fall short if the numbers don’t match up, so why should the news that explains what is going on around you fall short in that category of important information? Many modern-day news articles rely so hard on the clickbait aspects of so-called postmodern journalism, and they truly lack merit or meaning when it comes to what news was supposed to be. The yellow journalism of the past may have hurt the credibility of mainstream media as a whole, but the idea of most popular news and infotainment websites lacking proper content brings up a new generation who does not want to read or be properly informed.

One of the most unfortunate things I oftentimes hear from people – of all ages, races, sexes, and backgrounds – would be the good old fashioned excuse of “I do not like to read”. I believe this is a bit of a game of cat-and-mouse. People grew up in an education system designed around standardized expression, and in turn found reading to be yet another forced chore. Over time, people became more attracted to clickbait headlines with short, picture-and-gif-filled, one-minute “reads”. Companies like Buzzfeed and Odyssey capitalized on this new style of writing, and over time people became dependent upon this style of “reading”. This in turn affects the field of journalism itself, creating an endless cycle of people not wanting to read and writers deciding not to write as much substantial material to gain as many views and clicks as possible. It truly is a great example of the struggles between individual and institution – readers and news outlets.

I do not necessarily denounce clickbaiting and gif-baiting styles of writing despite my personal disdain for it. In a sense, this style of writing does attract those people who don’t like to read, those who would have been further ignorant to the issues around them having reading nothing, which is actually worse than reading these short bait articles. An acquaintance of mine once referred to these articles as “hiding broccoli in brownies”. In a sense, I agree with this. This style of writing was birthed through the idea that people could get information from reading the bare minimum. Hide nuggets of information in the form of funny gifs, list-based articles, and “quizzes”.

Unfortunately, it has become clear that this style of writing no longer holds that foundation. Now the world of news relies on it, and it has become increasingly difficult to know tell the difference between an actual piece of news and an advertisement or heavily biased work of misinformation. More and more people have become headline readers, as shown by the NPR’s 2014 April Fool’s Day Prank article titled “Why Doesn’t America Read Anymore?”.

Ever since this article was published back in April of 2014, thousands of social media comments have proved its point. Some pecked out long-winded, drawn out walls of text that answered the question with their own personal thoughts and opinions. Others argued with the headline and humble-bragged about how much they actually read in the last year. Some even pointed the blame on the public education system or the de-evolution of news. All of these would be decent arguments, if the post didn’t read as follows:

Congratulations, genuine readers, and happy April Fools’ Day!

We sometimes get the sense that some people are commenting on NPR stories that they haven’t actually read. If you are reading this, please like this post and do not comment on it. Then let’s see what people have to say about this “story.”

Best wishes and have an enjoyable day,

Your friends at NPR

So, as shown by these comment threads and opinion pieces, many readers spot-check headlines and instantly form opinions. It has gotten to the point where many people not only understand clickbait but prove its point. It appears, through this single case study, that many people have been customized to not even bother reading articles, since the title either summarizes it up or leads to a false-positive response to the initial point.

I reject clickbaiting and gif-baiting, those articles that rely on list formats and popular gif images and headlines that make readers want to click. Reading and critical thinking remains important to every lifestyle, and modern day news media has been drifting away from its purpose. The yellow journalism of the nineteenth century never really died – it evolved as the times allowed it to. Journalistic integrity never really improved – it just shifted to the desire of twenty-first century clicks and shares on social media platforms.

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One Response “New Yellow Journalism: Clickbait and Gif-baiting”

  1. May 9, 2018 at 10:22 pm

    I saw a you tube add for Prague U and my jaw dropped. I feel terrified by the amount of people who will see that one add and feel informed. Thank you for your critical thinking skills and for commenting to a pack of internet wolves: in so doing, I was able to glean some actual knowledge from you. You are appreciated.

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