Sometimes stories are just entirely too bizarre to be real. You read the headline, then you just sit there stunned thinking to yourself, “This can’t be real, can it?” But nonetheless, you click. Intrigued by what that headline promises to be the story of a lifetime. After all, it’s just a little “guilty pleasure,” right?
Well, that’s a huge part of the problem.
For those of you who actually read more than the headline (if history is any indicator, that’s around 20 percent of you), let me explain.
Headlines such as this for “stories” concerning absolutely ridiculous nonsense that are nothing more than click bait (no, this headline is not real) are what I see plastered all over the internet from supposed “news sites.”
Here’s a rule about headlines: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. At their most “factual,” many of these “too good to be true” stories are usually just over sensationalized garbage masquerading as “news” aimed at triggering some kind of emotional response from the reader or viewer.
I call it “Honey Boo Boo” journalism and entertainment.
Sure, it’s funny. It’s just a simple “guilty pleasure” to get away from some of the seriousness of all the negativity on television and in the news. So, what’s the big deal, right?
After all, it’s just harmless fun.
That is until you realize that Honey Boo Boo is on the network that used to consider itself The Learning Channel, but no longer considers itself that because ratings matter more than learning. I mean, how could it call itself a channel for learning when they’ve been relegated to airing garbage like Toddlers & Tiaras, Long Island Medium, Sarah Palin’s Alaska, 19 Kids and Counting, etc. et al. Or if those shows don’t tickle your fancy you can switch over to The History Channel to check out Ice Road Truckers or Swamp People.
See, this is how it works online. As a news or “entertainment” entity runs its stories throughout the day, they read the data concerning which ones got more traffic, comments, shares and overall activity – and most importantly which ones brought in the most revenue.
And guess what? The overall activity and revenue brought in by that really awesome article about the adorable kittens, or normal people who look exactly like celebrities, blew away all of the news concerning net neutrality or how oil speculation is drastically inflating gas prices costing Americans billions of dollars every year.
So, driven by the need to generate revenue, what do you think that news organization is going to push more of?
- Quality, important news that gets much lower traffic and brings in less revenue (but is vital information Americans need to know). - or -
- Adorable kitten videos and worthless information about celebrities.
If you guessed quality, important news – you’d be wrong.
Think I’m over exaggerating? Who remembers the “breaking news” from a few months ago when a Congresswoman was interrupted because Justin Bieber was being put in front of a judge?
And what were they talking about when they interrupted this Congresswoman? Oh, nothing really important. Just the issue of the NSA possibly unconstitutionally tracking the phone records of American citizens. You know, nothing anyone should really care about.
You see, the same thing happens on television as happens online. Nobody watches those dull, yet educational, documentaries about important information like science, history or our government. Often their ratings are horrible, meaning that these networks aren’t getting the ad revenue they need. (The one glaring exception to that of course is this latest run of Cosmos, which was so brilliantly done that it actually brought in massive ratings. Unfortunately, Neil deGrasse Tyson cannot host every single science documentary on television, and Cosmos was a one season novelty that has sadly come to an end.)
But you know what does get ratings? Watching terrible mothers pimp their young daughters out in beauty pageants on Toddlers and Tiaras.
It’s so riveting.
Now I know, I’ll get slammed for “being a sourpuss” or “needing to lighten up.” And that’s fine. But I also know many of those people are the same ones who complain because the quality of news is rapidly declining, people seem less educated nowadays and misinformation is rampant.
If you haven’t seen the movie Idiocracy, you really need to. Because sadly, as ridiculous as that movie is – it’s actually turning out to be more fact than fiction.
Now, am I saying we can’t enjoy a little guilty pleasure now and again? Of course not. The problem isn’t that we’re giving in to guilty pleasures now and again. It’s that we’re not giving more of our attention to quality news and entertainment. Which, in turn, pushes media companies and news organizations to focus more of their attention on trash news rather than quality information.
Because that’s what we tell them that we want, and in turn advertisers reward them for reeling us in.
The same goes for our government. We’re the ones who give them horrible approval ratings, talk about rampant corruption and how the government no longer represents the people.
But guess what? We elected everyone in Washington D.C.
And how did some of these imbeciles get into office? Often because of the very issues I just mentioned above. Far too many people spent more time watching cute cat videos, or trash reality television, than they did learning vital information they needed to know about who it was they were electing.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that having a goal of generating revenue (or even using click bait headlines) is always a bad thing. But there’s a difference between a website trying to use a headline to lead people into a story concerning something important that they think people need to know about, and one that’s just some sensationalized piece of garbage meant to generation “shock” and “outrage” for the simple act of generating revenue.
A news organization (or any sort of media entity) can still make plenty of money and maintain journalistic integrity when it comes to writing about the news. The same thing goes for the entertainment side of media. But really, why would they (most of them, at least) when we keep rewarding them for ridiculous nonsense?
Again, I’m not saying we all can’t enjoy a little “guilty pleasure” now and again. All I’m saying is that as a society we really need to try to put more time into reading stories (and not just the headlines either) about important issues than we do watching kittens do cute things.
And to show that I’m not really a sourpuss, for your entertainment pleasure, here’s some kittens doing cute things: