As publications compete for clicks on social media, far too many are congregating around the hackneyed way of writing tweets and headlines that relies heavily on over-promising - "You'll never guess" (you probably could), "You won't believe" (you almost certainly will), "the best thing you'll read today" (it won't be, I promise) - and under-delivering - "what happened next will blow your mind" (it never does).
Once upon a time, simply not following a handful of publications was a guaranteed way to avoid such clickbait but now everybody seems to be at it (though some have been struggling to get it right as this effort from the Express shows):
The word "this" has a key role to play in the clickbait lexicon. "This" is the shrugging, indifferent teenager of the English language, a word so opposed to being helpful it can turn almost any informative headline into lazy clickbait by simply swapping it in for the subject of the sentence. It is used to disguise the often unspectacular truth of a story just long enough to make us click.
"This actor [who you've never heard of]..."
"Remember when this [thing you won't ever care about] happened..."
"Can you believe this [thing that's crushingly dull] just happened..."
In between, we are invariably asked "Is this the funniest...", "the best..." or "the weirdest..." and everything seems to be "adorable", "funny" a "prank" or we're told it is "going viral" (in the hope it might).
So taking an initiative from the Independent's John Rentoul and his banned list of words and phrases which have no place in good writing, I have started a 'Clickbait banned list'. If you're using one of the below then stop and ask yourself why. If it's because you want to over-promise and under-deliver, thus eroding the trust and respect of your readers, while insulting their intelligence and ensuring you become indistinguishable from everybody else overusing these lazy constructs, then carry on. But if that's not actually your long term goal then it's probably not too late to change.
The 'clickbait banned list' currently looks like this:
What have I missed? Post your suggestions below as comments or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday saw George Osborne deliver his latest budget. It must also have been National Get Drunk And Then Do Some Photoshopping Day.
The picture editor at the Daily Mail seems to have obliged, staggering back to their desk and staying conscious just about long enough to clumsily drop George Osborne's face onto the sun from the Teletubbies. Over at The Sun a cross-border drinking competition is surely the only explanation for George Osborne looking like Kim Kardashian north of the border, while south of the border (in every respect) George had some "epic strut" - whatever that is:
As well as creating front page images that will haunt our nightmares until at least the day we die, The Sun also this week unveiled a website dedicated to covering the election.
Think insightful political comment blended with challenging arguments and razor-sharp satire.
And then think the exact opposite. Add in a lump of reality TV troll Katie Hopkins and a large splash of Buzzfeed and you're getting close to the kind of nonsense The Sun has achieved with its Sun Nation site:
The Sun surely won't be offended to hear it described as the 'shallow end' of political discussion. Billed as 'Politics Without The Boring Bits', it clearly isn't meant to be anything more weighty or worthy than the sum of its rather tawdry parts, all held together, so far, by some fawning over David Cameron (whose "cut glass accent makes them feel all fuzzy inside" apparently), suggesting The Sun has decided who will have its backing in the General Election:
For more posts like this, see:
The leaders’ debate debacle
The Express and Farage love-in
Clowns and a hybrid car crash
Byker gang targets Miliband
Tory balls and a little pink bus
It's going to be a long election
These were the top 10, most-read posts from 2014, as clicked on by readers of The Media Blog:
1. Mail's foreign nurse claim wasn't even close
Are four out of five new nurses foreign as the Mail claimed? Not even nearly.
2. The Sun's not-so-secret Pizza Express secret
The Sun made a big old fuss about something that anybody who cared could have found out months earlier.
4. Is North Korea faking a World Cup victory?
The media love a good story about North Korea doing something ridiculous, whether it's true or not, Part 1.
5. Politics goes beyond parody...
The events of the Rochester and Strood by-election reimagined as scenes from The Thick Of It.
6. Who is the man with the Nik Nak-coloured member?
Where do the Sunday Sport find the people who feature in their ridiculous stories?
7. Making a dog's dinner of the news
The media love a good story about North Korea doing something ridiculous, whether it's true or not, Part 2.
8. "Exotic" or "Erotic", both are wrong
A terrible typo wasn't the worst thing about this article...
9. BBC bashed for "lavish" lambing largesse
There was lots of BBC bashing through 2014. Like this...
10. Telegraph bashes BBC for doing its research
Business Insider has published an interesting review of how newspapers are fairing as they transition from the paper-based world they knew so well into a digital age which so clearly still flummoxes some of them.
The Guardian and the Mail lead the way with big numbers their reward for giving content away free, though questions will always persist about the sustainability and margins of a free model.
However, Business Insider is more concerned about the rest of the press pack. Of the Telegraph, it says "the entire organization is struggling with the transition to digital".
The Telegraph's metered paywall, which lets us have a few stories free per month before kicking in is a clumsy, neither-nor sort of measure, the logic of which I have struggled to understand since it was introduced.
The problem with it is that, by chance, I only seem to hit the paywall while in the process of clicking on something I can find for free elsewhere - a sports report, a piece of news from the wires or a piece of news written up from a press release. Any inclination to sign up is quashed by the fact I'll be able to get what I'm looking for elsewhere, for free.
If the Telegraph really wants to have a paywall which is triggered at a given point, it would surely be better served linking that trigger to types of content rather than just picking an arbitrary monthly limit. Give the commodity stuff away free, tag it to not trigger the paywall, but make people sign-up for the unique stuff. For example, I enjoy the political sketches of Michael Deacon but as he doesn't produce enough each month to trigger the paywall across the multiple devices I use to access the Telegraph website, I get to read it all for free. But Sod's Law says the paywall would activate as I clicked on, for example, the Telegraph's write-up of a Rightmove survey about the best places to live in Britain (St Ives, apparently). In that case I'd easily be able to find the article elsewhere:
The Times and The Sun meanwhile are toiling away behind their far less ambiguous paywalls. Business Insider is critical of the dramatic fall in online readers that the paywall brought about at both titles, but that drop will not have come as a surprise to News UK and the company remains very upbeat about the progress it is making. As reported last month, there are now 225,000 subscribers signed up to The Sun's digital offering, with the majority paying £7.99 per month. Though as an aside The Sun did this week launch a site covering the Millies - its annual awards for military service men and women - with articles which sit outside the paywall. However, News UK says this was a one off for the Millies and it has no immediate plans to put other content outside the paywall.
The bleakest prognosis is reserved for the Express which Business Insider reports is "losing the war on all fronts" with print sales in a similar decline to many of its rivals but web traffic that is considerably lower. In October this year, the Mail Online got almost as many people onto its website in a single day (14.4 million) as the Express managed in the whole month (16.4 million). The According to ABCe figures, the Express gets less than 10 per cent of the monthly traffic enjoyed by its nearest editorial neighbour.
The Express's response seems to have been an attempt to ape the Daily Mail's infamous 'sidebar of shame' with much of its online content but its efforts are clearly failing to pull in the same volume of readers.
A number of media outlets and social media users around the world have been fooled by a spoof video which appeared to suggest North Korean state TV was claiming the country's football team had made it to the World Cup final where they will play Portugal.
The Metro, who have since corrected their original story, reported:
"North Korea's state controlled media is brazenly telling the country's football fans that the national team have reached the World Cup final in Brazil... In a report posted on YouTube, the media have been caught broadcasting that North Korea are on course to win the biggest prize in football, despite not actually qualifying for the World Cup."
Unfortunately, despite the normally watertight argument that if something has appeared on YouTube it must be true, the story is a hoax.
According to a report from ITN, North Korean football fans are not only aware that their team was not in the World Cup they are also able to watch the tournament on TV. Although other reports suggest North Koreans may be seeing some games with a delay of around 24 hours there is no suggestion the country's football fans are being kept in the dark about which teams have contested the tournament.
A deal was announced in 2010 by the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union which allows North Korea to broadcast World Cup matches.
This is the video which is supposed to be from North Korea that has got people confused:
The Metro was among a number of media outlets who had to hastily rewrite their stories:
The Media Blog is five years old today. Below are the top 10 most-read posts from the past five years:
1. Newsnight strips "porn user" of her PhD... now you see it, now you don't. You admit on television to watching porn and the next thing you know you've been stripped of your hard-earned qualifications.
2. The Daily Mail turns the creepiness up a notch... the Daily Mail's distasteful coverage of young girls has been covered a number of times over the past five years but this post continues to get a steady stream of readers a year-and-a-half after it was published.
3. They didn't...?... Back in May 2012, the Liverpool Echo served up one of the most unfortunate page layouts of the past five years.
4. BBC calls its own Facebook fans "saddos"... As the BBC readied its website for the 2012 Olympics some holding text insulted its Facebook fans.
5. Daybreak viewers: Confused by time... Daybreak may have been pulled from the TV schedule but its former viewers continue to be confused by Good Morning Britain on ITV+1.
6. The Mail claims victory in moral crusade... the Daily Mail's campaign to clean up the internet gets more ironic but the week.
8. Ooops! The Daily Mail falls victim to spoof Steve Jobs iPhone recall Tweet... There have been plenty of cases of people being taken in by fake Twitter accounts over the past five years but this was one of the most notable examples.
9. The Daily Mail limps on with 'Big Fat' campaign... the Mail took offence at some jokes on Channel 4 and tried to whip up some outrage. Unfortunately even the paper's own readers didn't seem that bothered.
10. The Express misjudges the mood on Twitter... a promoted tweet sparked a remarkable backlash and saw Twitter users rallying to fritter away the Express's budget.
For a newspaper that prides itself on shaming the work-shy the Daily Mail is no stranger to lifting copy from other publications without credit. And a tweet from independent community blog @BrixtonBlog this morning suggested they had been at it again.
"AMAZING - copy for our @NaomiCampbell in #Brixton post lifted directly from our site to @MailOnline," tweeted @Brixtonblog.
There were certainly a couple of similarities within the copy which appeared to be far too close to be a coincidence. For example, compare this from the Brixton Blog post:
"Fans clamoured to get her photograph as she walked along Coldharbour Lane. She even found time to drop into legendary record shop Blacker Dreads before being helped into a Range Rover by her entourage."
To this from the Daily Mail article:
"Fans clamoured to get her autograph as she took a walk around the local streets, even popping into legendary record shop, Blacker Dreads, before being helped into a Range Rover by her entourage."
OK, they changed a few words, such as "photograph" to "autograph" and "Coldharbour Lane" to "local streets" but as covering their tracks go it's a pretty half-hearted effort.
Brixton Blog say this isn't the first time the Mail has lifted copy from their site.
"We're used to it," they tweeted. "It's such a trivial showbiz story we're not fussed. But it's a principle, and not the first time."
UPDATE 1: Since Brixton Blog tweeted about the issue and brought it to the attention of its followers the Mail has made a number of changes to its article, including changes to the above paragraph.
UPDATE 2: The Mail has now, in a further change, added a link to the Brixton Blog site.
More than 35,000 people recently signed a petition imploring the Daily Mail to stop its sexualisation of young girls. But it seems the Mail is not for turning and has even dispensed with some of the usual "all grown up" innuendo to unambiguously refer to a 14-year-old girl as "sexy".
In an article about 14-year-old Camren Bicondova, who is filming a TV series tracing the roots of several characters from the Batman stories, the Mail referred to Bicondova as a "sexy leather clad Catwoman".
The Mail has since thought better of its headline but "sexy" remains in the article's URL:
Getty Images has announced that it is letting website owners, bloggers and social media users make use of its extensive bank of photography and stock images free of charge for non-commercial, editorial-only purposes.
So if a blogger ever needs a picture of - for example - a cat looking at a goldfish... hey presto:
The images are all available via Getty's website and can be easily embedded using embed code generated by Getty - just look for the </> symbol which appears beneath views of images...
It seems Getty realised an uncontrollable number of people were making free with its images anyway, so decided to at least get the benefits of some links, credit and good will out of it.
Although anybody in theory is allowed to use the images within an editorial context, according to The Independent Getty is responding specifically to "the rise of the self-publisher".
Senior vice-president Craig Peters said: "We saw people using Getty Images' content widely but they weren't using it with a licence and there wasn't any benefit to the photographer."
However, it is worth noting that the free images may change or be removed over time and Getty maintains the right to change what appears in the embedded viewer. That could include incorporating advertising to make this give-away pay its way.
Peters told CNET Australia:
"Over time there are monetisation options we can look at. That could be data options, advertising options. If you look at what YouTube has done with their embed capabilities, they are serving ads in conjunction with those videos that are served around the internet."
And if you're wondering how it worked out for the goldfish in that photoshoot. Not well...
The Daily Mail website on Thursday carried news of transport chaos across Britain caused by recent storms. Its article included a photo of a train stopped in a tunnel, its path blocked by what looks like a partially collapsed tunnel and some heavy machinery:
Perhaps the photo was taken this week, but if so it seems likely the train must have been stood still for nearly a year. The Daily Mail first used this photo in a story about a construction incident on a London railway, published on 8 March 2013 (hat tip @badladsplace):
The Mirror has also been accused of making some mistakes in the rush to cover the recent bad weather. Today's front page claimed there were three "terror storms" queued up and waiting to attack the UK.
What is the going rate for a photograph of the Royal Baby on holiday? Judging by the captions on the Mirror's website, where the blurb supplied by the picture agency was originally left in, it's "£££1000" for the set":
That may sound fairly cheap in the grand scheme of things, but the pictures are over a week old and first appeared in Hello! magazine. The magazine's exclusive rights to the images - for which it no doubt paid considerably more than £1,000 - clearly ended today with a non-exclusive sale to many media outlets who were left trying to think of something to say about them.
A number of newspapers and media outlets have today published photographs of Philip Seymour Hoffman's grieving children.
Whichever way you look at it, that is wrong. There can be no public interest defence for invading their privacy. There can be no defence at all.
In one of the photos, the paparazzi even got a candid shot up the caught-up skirt of Hoffman's five-year-old daughter as she was carried into her father's wake in the arms of her mother.
Think about that: somebody waited outside a wake and took a photo of a grieving five-year-old's 'wardrobe malfunction' (to use the official journalese) and then thought to sell it.
What's more there were people who were willing to pay them for it.
Mike Darcey, CEO of News UK, publisher of The Sun and The Times newspapers has questioned the online business model of the Daily Mail while calling on the newspaper industry to moderise its methods of measurement.
The two points are not unrelated. The Mail Online is the embodiment of the school of thought which says flooding the internet with tacky clickbait to attract huge audiences can be profitable while Darcey is clearly a man who believes in ringfencing smaller, more identifiable audiences behind paywalls, such as those imposed on The Sun and The Times.
According to News UK, it has 100,000 digital subscribers at The Sun and 153,000 at The Times. However, compared to the Mail Online's millions of daily visitors, it paints a picture of an industry where critics, commentators, analysts and more importantly advertisers are no longer comparing apples with apples.
Darcey, in positioning this as a matter of high volume versus high value - where the two are mutually exclusive - suggests the Mail may have chosen an unsustainable path with its 'pile it high and sell it cheap' approach to drawing a mass audience and attracting advertisers, and he was pulling no punches when speaking at the Enders Analysis Media & Telecoms 2014 Conference in London, Tuesday.
"Mail Online is a very interesting experiment in operating a global, free, celebrity gossip website. It is even possible that it might be a success one day, although the jury is still out. Online ad rates continue to fall as supply expands inexorably. And while Mail Online has scale relative to its immediate peers, it remains a minnow compared to the likes of Facebook and the other Internet titans. Worse, competing with these guys looks like a loser, because they have the advantage of no real content costs – their content is created by their customers – and their ad sell is awash with viewer data, which is less true for Mail Online."
Darcey makes a fair point. Although the Mail Online has achieved profitability in the past 18 months, breaking even when you boast millions of readers each day suggests pretty tight margins and a clear threat of diminishing returns if the strategy for growing revenue is simply to flood the market with ever more commoditised content. Already the Mail is pouring photo stories onto its web pages, sourced from picture agencies and paparazzi around the world, faster than its legion of staff can write captions for them:
However, it wasn't just the Mail that Darcey was critical of. He also questioned the sense of the Guardian continuing to give away its quality journalism for free:
"The Guardian is systematically loss making, to the tune of about £40m a year. All the while, the free offering undermines demand for the paid-for print product, now at risk of a deadly spiral of falling circulation and rising price. It seems fairly clear where this ends."
Which brought Darcey onto what he thinks the answer is: paywalls and "content bundles" of course, such as those which exist behind the paywall of The Sun and The Times.
In News UK's case, creating such "content bundles" included the costly acquisition of Premier League football rights (an exercise in getting people behind a paywall which it could be argued is no more based on journalism than the Mail's "copying and re-writing content from social media sites" which Darcey also highlighted.)
"Rather than hurting, new technology is helping us to build deeper customer relationships, a more distinctive product, a more personal service for our customers and an enhanced opportunity for advertisers. Today, if you are a Times subscriber, no longer do you simply read the analysis from our football journalists, you can watch the highlights of the game ...embedded in the match report in the tablet edition."
"So let's stop talking as if the future of technology and the future of news are in conflict. They are not. It’s true that printed newspapers will probably never again sell the volumes that they did in their heyday. But then television’s evening news will probably never again get the audience that it enjoyed in the past, and the same goes for Coronation Street."
This is why Darcey argues there need to be measurements which reflect the changes that have taken place.
"I'm still new to the news industry but I remain mystified as to why, 15 years into the Internet era, and with everyone claiming mature digital strategies, we still only ever talk about print sales. Imagine the music industry measuring success today through the sales of CDs alone while ignoring iTunes."
Darcey overlooks to a degree the ABCe audit figures which show the relative health of newspaper websites, but he is right to suggest print circulation remains the major measure of success.
"A sustainable model for professional journalism at scale cannot be achieved by turning all of our national papers into celebrity gossip sites. Nor do I believe it is achievable by giving away our hard work for free."
For more on this, see:
The Guardian: 'Mail Online's rip-off practice is tawdry – but is Darcey jealous of its success?'
Here are the top 10 Media Blog posts from 2013, based on number of people who clicked on them:
It seems Australia's famously stringent border controls have been unable to prevent the Daily Mail entering their country:
In a press release posted as a news story on the Mail's website, Martin Clarke, publisher of the MailOnline is quoted as saying: "The Daily Mail has been one of the world's most influential and trusted news brands [stop giggling at the back] since its launch in the United Kingdom more than a century ago. I'm excited that we can now offer Australians a local version with a strong focus on editorial integrity and campaigning journalism."
Q1. The Mail Online has reported that a "topless Kim Kardashian" has made a "shockingly gratuitous" music video including a "nip slip". How many pictures of this "shockingly gratuitous" video do you think they have included in their article?
A. None of course! Because it's "shockingly gratuitous".
B. One, begrudgingly, in order to give readers some necessary context.
C. 25 screengrabs and two video clips
Q2. For a bonus point. Do you think they included the aforementioned "nip slip"?
A. No, of course not.
B. You betcha!
Correct answers: C and B
The Daily Mail has been waging war on online porn but it seems that doesn't stop them promoting hardcore pornography if they'll get a few clicks out of it online. So today the Mail ran an article about a US writer who filmed sex scenes with a porn star:
Naturally, the Mail included a censored screenshot from the video:
And if all that makes you wonder where you can watch this for yourself, the Mail gladly informs us "an edited one-minute-six-second-long version of their sex tape was uploaded to jamesdeen.com last Friday".
And in case you were wondering what sort of website the Daily Mail is promoting, the description on the site says:
"Jamesdeen.com is packed with hardcore oral, pussy and anal action. From sweet, teen amateurs to top porn stars."
So there you go. The Daily Mail: tough on porn, but willing to make an exception for hardcore oral, pussy and anal action if it's good for web traffic.