That title is quite a mouthful. Digital Journalism – especially in pop culture news – is like a snake eating its own tail, and is killing its own credibility. In an online world where clicks are a commodity, and rage clicks count for a lot of page views, online journalism has truly taken a nosedive.
From poorly worded headings designed to incite emotionally driven clicks, to recycling news stories from other outlets, to outright stealing and reposting other peoples’ work, thoughts, even jokes, from places like Twitter without credit, online journalism is lacking in creativity and flair. These flagrant displays of lack of professionalism, and outright misleading titles, make online news sources look about as credible and reliable as the tabloids that line supermarket checkouts.
It’s no secret that ‘rage clicks’ drive the digital marketplace. Clickbait articles are all the rage (pardon the unintentional pun) when it comes to driving views and shares. Websites live and die on word of mouth and reputation, and those immediate gratification highs from reading an emotionally involved or manipulative article generate buzz, that in turn generates views.
This article was inspired by another comic book review site outright lifting fan theories from Twitter and publishing an aggregate article without properly crediting or even contacting the author of the fan theory tweets in question. This happens all the time – Buzzfeed is the worst offender, stealing reactionary tweets for articles, or clever hashtagged tweets for their ‘Best of’ lists. Never asking permission or even telling the people they’re quoting that they are doing it.
This practice is especially heinous to me, because it is the embodiment of the “we’ll pay you in exposure” mentality. When the aforementioned website in question was called out – and the author of the piece was also called out – the author defended the decision by saying that the original fan theorist should be thankful that the millions of people on the website read their theory and drew attention to the thing in the first place. The original author of the fan theory was not told of this, did not get any attention brought to their original posts, and all the views went directly to the site. Nothing trickled down to the original author. The so-called journalist who posted the article didn’t even ask, and backtracked, claiming that the tweets were fair game because twitter is public.
This whole idea of saying that someone else should be “thankful” that their public tweets caught the attention of a journalist is bullsh*t. Utter bullsh*t. The person who created the tweets was not compensated in any way, but the so-called journalist who wrote the article aggregating the tweets is getting a goddamn paycheck. That is ‘work for exposure’ at its most sinister and slimy. How dare this so-called journalist steal someone else’s work and think that it’s fine to collect a paycheck and then tell the original creator that they should be thankful for the attention. I’m not allowed to swear on this site, but imagine that this article is laced with some choice f-bombs, and you’ll get the idea of how absolutely angry I am that this is what counts for journalism these days.
The very least that you could have done is ask. Reach out to the person, ask if it’s okay to reprint their tweets. Traditional media has to ask. Why the hell do non-traditional, pop culture-focused websites get to run articles featuring tweets without asking permission? Why do places like Buzzfeed get to run articles featuring other people’s work without compensation? You cannot argue that they don’t have the revenue. They have ads all over their website. No, it’s just become something that we’ve all accepted as a society.
I am an independently published author. If a website started using chunks of my books in their “articles” I would be livid. I would demand that the articles be taken down. That is literally my livelihood being put out for consumption for free. And to find out that my work has been stolen and repackaged like that? I would demand compensation. It should be the same for fan theories and tweets. Websites do not have permission to run my articles, they do not have my permission to run my tweets in their articles without payment. Exposure to the elements kills, working for exposure is bullsh*t and big websites that take ad revenue should goddamn know better.
I mentioned clickbait and the revenue of rage clicks. No website is fully free from the clickbaity titles – even this site has been known to write catchy titles for some of our articles. Hell, I intentionally try to come up with the most clever titles that I can when I write stuff. You clicked on this article to watch me tear apart the online journalism landscape, didn’t you? You had to know why I, an online journalist, decided to say that this industry is garbage. Clickbait isn’t the problem, but it sure does make one look less credible if all you’re doing is churning out clickbait. Same with rumours. If you get something wrong, you look like an amateur. Worse, is if you uncover a secret unintentionally and then you get to deal with lawyers and cease and desist letters.
Not all press is good press, especially when you work for, or run, a website that is reliant on word of mouth.
Long story short – digital journalism is going the way of supermarket tabloids. So-called “journalists” need to be held accountable for the things they publish. And people die from exposure. Kill the “for exposure” mentality. And journalists? If you want me to remove the quotation marks around your title, and to stop sneering at your lack of ethics, accountability, or creativity, step up your game. You make the rest of us who are actually hungry to make a name for ourselves look bad.