What Can We Steal From Entertainment Journalism Kim Kardashian Baby Amanda Bynes Justin Bieber?

Title of Work and its Form: Entertainment Journalism, nonfiction
Author: Lots of people!
Date of Work: 2000s
Where the Work Can Be Found:  Everywhere!  TMZYahoo!’s home pagePopSugar.

Bonuses:  If repeatedly moving your eyeballs from left to right is too much of a hassle for you, a lot of entertainment journalists are uploading one-minute videos with the same content.  All you have to do to see their hard-hitting work is watch a 30-second ad.

Element of Craft We’re Stealing: Audience Relationship

Discussion:
It’s hard to stand on the shore and to stop the tide with logic and reason.  Entertainment journalism and the like have been around for decades, but I think it’s fair to say that the proliferation of the Internet has made it easy for extremely light journalism to become more prominent in American society.  In a 2008 article in The Atlantic, Nicholas Carr asserted that spending so much time in the digital realm is changing the way we perceive information, how we make arguments and even how we think. If you’re anything like me, it probably bums you out when you click on a link and find a page that is laden with stupid ads, tons of large pictures and…oh yeah…there’s a 100-word article that kinda relates to the intriguing title. I put a lot of love and care into the essays I write for GWS, but I know that TMZ’s next young actress nip slip exposé will earn them in one hour the number of hits I get in a year.

Is it helpful to complain about the state of the media landscape? Unfortunately, no. The practical thing to do, I suppose, is to figure out

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what we can steal from the click bait and entertainment journalism that has seized such a large audience.

Like it or not, these kinds of sites offer people what they want to see. Have we lost the proverbial “woman on the bus?” In a time before television, people got their whodunit fix from a pulp magazine. Science fiction nerds would read science fiction novels. Today, we pop on a Law & Order or an episode of Star Trek to fill those needs.  ComicCon was created to provide a place for fans of comics to congregate.  Now, it’s a place for people to find out what will happen on the next season of Homeland.  As much as I hate change in society or in my personal life, I understand that change isn’t necessarily bad.

Honey Boo Boo Child has written and sold more books than most of us ever will.  What is she doing that people like?

She must be serving some kind of literary need in her audience…how can writers snatch that

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audience back?

If nothing else, we must admit that click bait web sites are really good at getting our attention; these writers and editors are really good at getting us to enter their proverbial doors.  Aside from considering SEO while composing our work, what are they doing right?

  • Their titles are very direct.
  • The connection between the title and the article is generally very clear very quickly.
  • The articles often deal with topics and figures that are appealing to a wide range of people.
  • The headlines are often questions, even though such titles are sometimes problematic.

A medium is not simply a method by which writers and editors can distribute content.  (And isn’t “content” itself a pernicious little term for something that should be a representation of human creativity?)  Some content providers tend to violate the implicit agreement between writer and reader.  It’s our job to provide our readers with the engaging material they deserve.  Do we deserve some money in return?  Of course.  (Well, that’s a completely different issue.)  Some click bait content farm sites begin with one set of ads.  Then another.  And another.  And another.  And then a Shockwave ad pops up over the article.  Your computer is frozen while a video for the new Disney movie plays.  And when you finally get to the article you wanted to read in the first place, you realize it’s 150 words long and it’s really just a summary of another article with the link to that article.

Instead of treating your reader like a mark, think of them as a partner.  You are sharing with them the result of hours of toil and years of learning; they’re sharing  some of their time and attention with you.  Readers should reach “The End” and feel the same way they do when they leave a restaurant: fulfilled and eager to return.

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What Should We Steal?

  • Compose with the “woman on the bus” in mind.  Cell phones can display prose just as easily as they can video.  Give her as many reasons as possible to read your work instead of checking her Facebook for the thousandth time that day.
  • Treat your audience like a partner instead of a mark.  Your obligation to entertain and enlighten increases as the number and size of the ads on your page increases.

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2 Comments

  • I think people have caught on that there is no secret to fast, safe, permanent weight loss, so the click bait is different; but it’s really the same thing the Enquirer was peddling 30 years ago (and magazines have known for decades that numbered lists on the cover sell issues). It’s just more ubiquitous; and TIME uses it, too (with a slightly classier spin). Hey, I recapped reality TV for a couple of years, it was a blast, I learned a ton about WordPress, and I figured out how to keep my own voice and develop an individual approach. Besides, sometimes Star Trek fits perfectly into a poetry post.

    Now, about that flamingo urine…

    • Oh, I don’t have a problem when people do something like recap reality shows or write essays about last night’s episode of Community. Before the A.V. Club went to an optimized-for-tablet format–meaning that pages take forever to load, the text is hard to read, there are lots of giant pictures and it’s impossible to find anything–I would enjoy seeing reviews of the shows I like. (Here’s last night’s Community, for example: http://www.avclub.com/review/cooperative-polygraphy-107028.) The difference is that some sites aren’t giving readers as much as they’re getting. On your site, it’s clear that the “content” isn’t an afterthought. When you read one of the crummy OMGJenniferLawrencecutherhair articles, it’s clear that the site didn’t care about sharing anything with you; they just wanted you to see the six thousand ads.

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