The clickbait bubble and the coming cull

Earlier this evening I was on the phone with a friend of mine and we were discussing the current state of journalism, what with all the shoddy writing, the lack of editing, the lack of oversight—fact checking and proof reading—and the evaporation of editorial judgment and intelligence. And of course, rates of pay for working writers; these are poor, getting worse, and the deficient is being reflected in the work being produced. And so say all of us.

My friend predicted a large cull of sites that rely too heavily on clickbait (which also happen to pay shit wages). He wasn’t too specific about the timeline, but he implied this cull would happen sooner rather than later. On the whole I agree, but I think clickbaiters and news regurgitaters have over a year left. I say the cull starts in early 2016 and intensifies after the 2016 US election.

This is a topic we have discussed before on the phone and in email. Today’s talk reminded me of something I had written to him a few days ago in reply to an observation of his about a web site (which shall remain nameless and unlinked here) that appears to be rely on clickbait items more and more in the last couple of months, stuff about quirky viral videos featuring cute animals or obnoxious children or funny moments from TV game shows, etc. What news there is on this site is simply rehashed from other sources.

Here’s an excerpt of my reply (trigger warning, snark ahead);

Look, we know what’s going on. The only people with job security in journalism now are the editors at the very top. And they really do nothing, or not much, except write the occasional column and keep track of click counts because that’s what their jobs depend on. If you want to write you have to kiss their asses at the time of your hire and then not kick up any dust after that. Just keep the clicks coming and we’ll all get paid. In a way, it’s like a new internet bubble. But it will eventually burst when publication owners, or those with money who seek to influence the society, start to realize that “the stars” of the new journalism are actually bloggers being “paid” by direct donation. I think this will apply to organizations like [delete] as well. Why donate to their foundation when you can send the money directly to your favorite writers? This is a big change that has not been commented on too extensively, I think because its full impact is not yet felt. Back when a lot of these foundations and non-profits started, donating money to them was a way of funneling money to writers who entertain, enlighten, or just support your own thoughts. I think Steyn is an unwitting bellwether in this trend of high profile writers looking to cut out the middle men.

Rereading this a few days later, I’m not so sure I agree with myself. I could add that in my pipe dream these high profile bloggers then morph into editors and we all start again fresh, anew, reborn, in a shining new house on the hill. But maybe this is wishful thinking. Maybe the powers that be and the public in general don’t think they need to invest in writers to influence public opinion because nobody is changing their minds about anything and what the hell most everybody is stoned on legal anti-depressants anyway and I’m not so sure they’re… oh look, a kitten mimicking human gestures! That’s adorable!