20 ways to make her love you

Buzzfeed may be quickly becoming a parody of itself, but its principle contribution to journalism –  short, salacious and often misleading headlines are taking root in the conventional media too. And it could be the worst thing that has EVER happened…

Not really. But it is a trend that is slowly destroying our faith in modern news.

The theory behind these short and often ugly headlines is pretty simple. Headlines are all about clicks, because it’s clicks that make money.

We’re not talking about a few dollars, either. Buzzfeed is estimated (by the first search result we could find) at $934 million. Get a Wall Street Bank involved (and a few quid from legendary tech investor and futurist Bono) it could end up as tens of billions as old money relentlessly seeks new opportunities.

Buzzed may be a convenient scapegoat for this trend, but they’ve obtained this envious position as they’re the greatest exponents of this increasingly dark art, reaching over 188m visitors every month.

So if Buzzfeed is merely the apotheosis of this trend, then who is to blame? It’s the internet, stupid.

As we consume more news online, it’s having an affect on our brains. Research has shown how our attention span has reduced from 12 seconds at the turn of the century to just 8 seconds now.

That’s like feeling the need to check your phone while Usain Bolt was running in the 100 metre final at the Rio Olympics. Looking back, I think I probably did this, and perhaps you did too. (Given how much faster he was than the competition, Bolt probably could have as well, and still won).

The man behind this research, Dr Lee Hadlington at De Montfort University, is waging a one man war on the way we use the internet. His fascinating research explores why our use of smartphones is slowly becoming recognised as the reason why we can’t concentrate properly.

It’s this reduction in our attention spans, our inability to concentrate and the fact that we merely scan web pages rather than actually read them that leads headline writers to lower their standards ever further. It’s also true that headlines which are grammatically incorrect are more likely to grab attention, hence the mixture of capitals, huge numbers of exclamation marks and the wonderfully named interrobang (?!).

But they wouldn’t do so without an audience. As well as tricking people into reading them, these headlines are also written to influence the internet’s most important critic: the Google algorithm.

Writers and academics have been warning us for over a decade about the impact that Google and its restrictive, algorithm-driven constraints are having on our brains. Atlantic columnist Nicholas Carr made a compelling case for reconsidering the way we engage with online media, but it has fallen on deaf ears (or perhaps more appropriately, tired eyes).

The internet is a medium that embraces levity, and so what if we’re misled, it’s only a bit of fun isn’t it?

Most of us can discern between a headline, but not everyone – and this is where we have an increasing duty to challenge the headline writers. And we need to because this wilful misrepresentation of the news can have serious consequences.

Using the techniques of Buzzfeed to engage readers, a new breed of ‘yellow journalists’ in the States are manipulating social media readers, preying on their fears and – more worryingly their prejudices – to get them to click links. Dragged through to the site, they’re a target for unsophisticated advertisers still measuring campaign success in terms of impressions rather than customer conversions.

Labour MP and victim of hacking and general news disinformation Tom Watson is strident in his criticism of so-called ‘Fake News’ and we should be too. As a society we should aspire to more, but who hasn’t clicked on a cheeky link during lunch and thought no more of it?

via GIPHY

As an agency we can’t wage a war against headlines, because it’s neither plausible or realistic for us to do so. What we can do is ensure that the work we do for our clients is truthful, honest and accurate.

This is essential, particularly when dealing with complex concepts, subtle research and nuances in data. We’ve written about the way science can be misrepresented before, so we won’t go into that, but the trivialisation and simplification of news at the heart of this modern approach to self-promotion isn’t something we support.

It’s pretty obvious that we don’t work with celebrities, Buzzfeed or tabloids, but the undoubted skills of these writers can be harnessed for positive means, captivating readers and engaging audiences.

Our journalistic approach to storytelling ensures we communicate with style and confidence, but underpinned by accuracy and honesty.

And talking of honesty, there is no way that she will ever fall in love with you. Sorry.

42group is a leading Bristol communications and marketing agency that helps organisation to tell their stories. We also aren’t afraid to share our insights either.

We work with science, technology and healthcare clients to help them develop, design and deliver marketing, communications and content  campaigns that make a difference. If you’d like to chat about how we can help you tell your story, contact us today.