This Surprising 20 Second Video Explains the Decline of Journalism

Sorry, you were tricked. There is no video. But before you go, you should realize that when you click on stories with this kind of title, you’re always being tricked.

When people talk about consumption in the US, they often talk about the mindless stuff we buy. The biggest offender in these critic’s minds are these Black Friday type of events where people stand in line for hours to save a few hundred dollars on a bigger TV. And there is even more outrage about stores that are open on Thanksgiving now for shopping.

When I think about awful consumption patterns though, I think the way we consume information about our world. I don’t want to sound too much like a guy who thinks you should get off his lawn, but while the internet has the great potential to free information from the bounds of corporate or government control, it also has the ability to play to the lowest common denominator.

This isn’t a recent phenomena, either. Upworthy is one of the worst offenders of playing to this demographic (and has a spoof article generator to show how formulaic the whole system really is) but it would be unfair to leave out sites like Buzzfeed, Viral Nova, or even, at times, The Huffington Post.

I think there is something great about getting to the point quickly, or working on provocative titles that invite a reader into a story. There’s also something about being entertaining or funny. But look at this title: “This Surprising 20 Second Video Explains the Decline of Journalism.”   Or this one “This Puppy Taught Me More In 1 Minute Than Anyone Else Has Done In A Lifetime.” What do you get out of that? Do you really think you can get to the core of the decline of journalism or life itself in less than a minute?

Of course not.

Yet, we see these types of articles get traction with readers, time and time again. For example, The Atlantic is running a big series on how energy usage is shifting. None of the articles over the last month have more than a few hundred shares. Meanwhile a post about how Hawaii will ruin you on The Huffington Post has over 10,000 shares.

We can do better, right?

There’s no easy solution and there might not be one at all. We’re not going back to having three TV stations and one local newspaper (and I don’t think that is better).

It’s easy to blame young people for this trend but young people have never consumed the most news (and, at least anecdotally, that’s not who I see sharing this vapid nonsense). While social media contributes to it, there’s always been a market for this and there probably always will be.

Unfortunately, it comes at a time when dollars for advertising are already tight. Journalists will have to decide if they want to go down this path, consumers have to decide if this is the type of media they want to support, and advertisers will have to decide if eyeballs are all that matters.


  1. Hi Lance! Jerome shared this with me and I really enjoyed reading it. As some who works in journalism, I share much of the same concerns you outlined here. I hope that as an industry we do not resort to an all-meme/click bait world.

    I guess one piece of perspective I’d offer is that journalists are going through growing pains. For so long our work was funded by advertising and our work was seen as a public service. Now we’re forced to re-educate consumers to buy the content since the advertising dollars are dropping. That’s not an easy proposition. I see click bait as sort of an attempt to pay the bills until we figure out a way to convince consumers that they should pay for high-quality journalism.

  2. Hey Lance – great “trap” ;) I wanted to see a video!

    Great info though about what’s going on in the industry, we are certainly moving into a new world of journalism!

  3. Great read. Keep it up!

  4. OK, you nailed one of my biggest pet peeves in this post–those infuriating link bait headlines. And yet, even as I rant, I have to shamefully acknowledge that I often click on them! How can I not when it says something like, “What he said to her at goodbye was so moving, your life will never be the same”. OK, that was a little cheesy. But you get the point. Obviously. Thanks for the chuckles and the more sobering reflections, as well.

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