clickbait

Old questions about the headline you did not see: Why didn't press spot royal 'fetus bump'?

Old questions about the headline you did not see: Why didn't press spot royal 'fetus bump'?

For years, it was one of the most painful, divisive journalism questions faced by reporters and editors, a question that they couldn’t look up in the Associated Press Stylebook — the bible of most mainstream newsrooms.

The question: When is an unborn child an “unborn child” or a “baby”? When should reporters use the supposedly neutral term “fetus”?

Here is the top of a recent news story that serves as a perfect, and tragic, example of this journalism issue:

A grieving widower has revealed why he shared photos of his dead wife and unborn daughter after they were killed by an allegedly drunk driver.

Krystil Kincaid was eight months pregnant with her daughter, Alvalynn, when their car was struck on a California highway on Sept. 9. Her heartbroken husband, Zach, who lives in San Jacinto, Calif., decided he wanted the world to see the unsettling images of the 29-year-old mother and their little girl lying in a coffin together at their wake.

That’s a tragic example of this journalism issue.

Here is another new case study, drawn from current celebrity clickbait news. After all, it’s hard for journalists to ignore a royal baby bump.

In this case, the New York Times headline proclaims: “Prince Harry and Meghan Markle Announce She’s Pregnant.” The lede is where we see the “problem.”

LONDON — Another royal baby is on the way.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, are expecting a child in the spring, Kensington Palace announced.

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What were the 'religious reasons' why a couple allegedly refused to get help for their infant?

What were the 'religious reasons' why a couple allegedly refused to get help for their infant?

The Washington Post reports — in an aggregation/clickbait kind of piece — that a 10-month-old died after her parents allegedly refused to get help for religious reasons.

By aggregation/clickbait kind of piece, I mean that this is a story made up mainly of links to other media reports and social media. There's not much original reporting. This is mainly a web search aggregated into a quick report designed to get internet clicks.

I offer that background not as a criticism (although it's admittedly not my favorite form of "journalism") but to lower the expectations for the quality of material that a reader might expect to find.

Still, I think the reader who shared the link with GetReligion asks a relevant question, even for this gutter-level form of news. More on that question in a moment.

First, thought, the top of the Post report offers the basics:

In video sermons, the man railed against vaccines, “bad medicine” and doctors whom he deemed to be “priesthoods of the medical cult.”

And he explained why he refused to vaccinate his children, saying: “It didn’t seem smart to me that you would be saving people who weren’t the fittest. If evolution believes in survival of the fittest, well then why are we vaccinating everybody? Shouldn’t we just let the weak die off and let the strong survive?”

On a Facebook page matching his name and likeness, Seth Welch of Michigan spoke of his religious beliefs, which he shared with his wife, Tatiana Fusari. Those beliefs may have contributed to their own child’s death, according to court records.

Although the circumstances surrounding the baby’s death remain unclear, the couple were charged Monday with felony murder and first-degree child abuse after their nearly 10-month-old daughter, Mary, was found dead in her crib from malnutrition and dehydration, according to court records cited by NBC affiliate WOOD.

Now, back to the reader's question:

Any particular church or denomination? Implies they're Christians but what if they're not? Early story? 

So the reader wants to know the specific details concerning the vague "religious reasons."

Me, too!

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Not the right kind of paper to report both sides? About that story on fired Catholic teacher

Not the right kind of paper to report both sides? About that story on fired Catholic teacher

Just last month, I highlighted a quasi-piece of reporting by the Washington Post on a pastor "lighting into" President Donald Trump with Vice President Mike Pence sitting in a front pew.

I noted that it's often difficult these days — even in the Post — to tell what's supposed to be real news and what's simply clickbait and/or aggregation.

Well, here we go again ...

A reader emailed us about a new Post story that raises some of the same "What is this?" questions as the earlier piece.

The latest story — with the headline "‘Not the right kind of Catholic’: Private schoolteacher fired days after same-sex wedding" — prompted a GetReligion-style analysis by the reader who emailed us.

I thought I might share highlights of the reader's thoughts and respond to each.

From the reader:

The article is about a teacher fired from a Catholic school after she married her same sex partner. The opening few paragraphs make it clear whose side the writer is on by carefully describing the upcoming wedding, then dropping the bombshell of her being fired.

Certainly, the lede is sensitive to the teacher's situation and seems designed to evoke a response from readers. But honestly, I don't have a major problem with the lede. It's the rest of the story and the much-delayed and incomplete reporting on the other side that concerns me, from a journalistic perspective.

More from the reader:

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WPost reports on pastor 'lighting into' Trump with Pence on front row, but basic question unanswered

WPost reports on pastor 'lighting into' Trump with Pence on front row, but basic question unanswered

These days, it's often difficult to tell what's supposed to be real news and what's simply clickbait and/or aggregation.

That's the case this week with a quasi-news story from The Washington Post that makes no attempt to hide its tabloid-esque approach.

I'm talking about a piece that ran with this not-so-subtle cry for page views:

Watch a pastor light into President Trump — with Vice President Pence sitting in the front pew

Um, OK.

By the way, I realize this is the second GetReligion post today related to Mike Pence. If you missed the first one (written by Godbeat legend Richard Ostling and focused on media coverage of the VP's faith), it's insightful and definitely worth your time.

But back to my musings: My frustration lies with the fact that the Post goes for the easy clickbait but fails to answer a basic question. More on that in a moment.

First, though, the Post's lede (which provides a few details before the paper goes into aggregation mode):

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Newsweek twists message Elizabeth Smart has been sharing with Mormons about sex

Newsweek twists message Elizabeth Smart has been sharing with Mormons about sex

The people who manage modern, digital newsrooms are -- to say the least -- under all kinds of pressure to print a never-ending stream of content with headlines and snappy story hooks that try to inspire readers to click, click, click those computer mouses (and maybe even visit an ad website every week or two).

This has led to all kinds of "you won't believe what happens next" editing, both in "news" reports and in graphics.

This has led to an increase in an old kind of news confusion.

In the past, it was perfectly normal for readers to wonder, every now and then, how a strange news headline ended up on top of a perfectly normal story. Your GetReligionistas have often reminded readers that reporters rarely, if ever, write their own headlines. Editors can make mistakes, too.

These days, it's no surprise that there's lots of confusion -- especially in newsrooms where journalists are asked to crank up their daily production count with various kinds of quickie articles. Often, the goal is to take a hot-topic story seen somewhere else, perhaps in a video that can be accessed online, and then combine a bit of that and a little more of this and quotes from other articles (attributed and backed with a URL) into a news product that rarely even requires a telephone call.

Hopefully, with a jazzy headline, this results in clicks.

I think that's what happened with a recent Newsweek article about a young Mormon woman who, after surviving a hellish kidnapping, has been speaking out on the need for religious leaders to be more sensitive when dealing with issues of sexuality, abuse and even trauma.

The headline that caught our reader's eye: "Elizabeth Smart, who changed Mormons' views on sex, is wary of religion."

Uh, #REALLY?

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The demon of clickbait: Daily Telegraph sensationalizes UK's 'boom' in exorcisms 

The demon of clickbait: Daily Telegraph sensationalizes UK's 'boom' in exorcisms 

Which comes first? The chicken or the egg?

A hackneyed phrase, I admit. But the question it poses is relevant to several important questions in the newspaper business.

What comes first, advertising or content?

Do you tailor your content to generate the greatest number of readers (or "hits" or "clicks" on-line), or do you generate content that attracts readers seeking balanced reporting?

Do you seek advertisers first, or readers whom advertisers seek to reach?

This question loomed large in my mind as I read a recent article in The Daily Telegraph entitled “'Astonishing' rise in demand for exorcisms putting mental health at risk, report finds.” In this story, the Telegraph has chosen to sensationalize an item rather than report faithfully.

The title of the piece recycles the war between science and religion so beloved by bores. Not hirsute, feral pigs, mind you, but the dreary sort of folk one comes across in the chattering classes.

The suggestion raised in the title is softened slightly by the lede -- moving the problem from the war between science and religion to the war between science and the religion of immigrants. It states:

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