Remember when The Times of India pulled a KRK (Kamaal R Khan) by deeming Deepika Padukone’s cleavage worth as a headline for a video it uploaded! The video posted with a detestable title — “omg Deepika’s cleavage show” — triggering a barrage of criticism and compelling the actor to issue statements slamming the daily. For better or worse, this video was incessantly debated and widely circulated over the social media, resulting in a flood of tweets and replies meandering its way into some Western media outlets such as the BBC and The Guardian coming out in support of the actor.
Ironically, the video and the consequent tweets and articles went on to attract thousands of visitors on the Times website, turning the fiasco into a blessing in disguise. Hence, Times managed, albeit for the wrong reasons, to keep itself in the limelight thanks to the countless clicks that their insensitive reference to Deepika’s cleavage set in motion. Media outlets nowadays are gradually going out the soft-copy way to dispatch news and their readership, in turn, is informed by the number of clicks their stories garner.
A friend recently posted her views about a movie in a listicle form prompting someone to comment, “Listicle eh!”, to which she replied, “These days listicles are the only thing that works.” Sure enough! The pace that one is required to move with nowadays leaves little room for the conventional thoroughness. Gone are the days when news was handed out to us every morning with a ninja-like throw by the newspaper guy on our balconies and doorsteps and we spent hours filtering through editorial pieces. The days now start frantically looking for one’s phone and laptop and heading to work. With the increased use of news apps and websites, traditional ways are gradually taking a back seat. Basking in the newfound glory of this hyperbolic online indulgence is the clickbait style of journalism.
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Clickbait journalism, as it is loosely described, is journalism that aims to generate online revenue under the pretext of genuine or in-depth news. Given that a majority of the audience are becoming more and more active on various social media websites, all these publishers have to do is post their content in a user’s newsfeed and make sure that s/he reads it. But what makes an online visitor click on a specific post? That is where the convention of using headlines comes in handy. And a reader is most likely to read something that is current, familiar and sensational. Therefore, key words are strategically placed so as to hook the readers’ attention and tempt them to click on a particular post. “A piece with a Sunny Leone header is bound to allure a huge number of readers,” says online content writer Nayantara Mitra.
Similarly, a post with a Rahul Gandhi-Modi or a yoga headline is more likely to be read than, say, a piece on the lack of medical facilities in the hinterland. In its defence after Deepika’s reaction, Times claimed, “The world of online is very different from that of newspapers. It is chaotic and cluttered and sensational headlines are far from uncommon.”
A digital media organisation identifies ardent social network users among Generation Y, 15-25 years of age, as its target audience. It is assumed that their attention spans are short and they prefer visually appealing and crisper content. One of the most talked about websites in this regard is the recently launched Scoopwhoop. Often called the Buzzfeed of India, Scoopwhoop has managed to attract millions of visitors since its arrival. Currently, the publication boasts of nearly 30K Twitter followers and as many as 1.1 million Facebook likes. Rishi Pratim Mukherjee co-founder and COO, attributes this to their “social at heart” stories. Tracking and discerning what their readers relate to and what encourages them to not only read but also share a story helps them decide the kind of content.
Many readers on Quora described the contents and language used on these websites as mediocre. However, Mukherjee contends that in order to reach out to an audience that is fickle and always on the move, it has evolved to suit this massive change in habits and attitudes and the way stories are created and fashioned is influenced by that. No wonder there has been a considerable proliferation of “soft news”, curated slides and videos with two-liner listicle forms whose “read and share” rates are soaring.
Apart from the casual language, clickbait journalism also thrives on the kind of themes chosen. Majority of the widely shared posts are the ones with ambiguous but alluring headers that make the readers curious. For instance, headlines such as “Can we guess your age according to the words you use?” or “You won’t believe what this kid does to her pet” are written so as to tempt readers to crave more and click on the post.