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Tuesday, 24 March 2015

So outrage clickbait is to become a niche offering?

I'm sitting here with the rain pouring down so that the Lend Lease towers of south Barangaroo with their cranes are standing up like upside-down dog-robots (you've seen the ones: they're in all the YouTube videos in social media) in the white mist of water streaming through the air above Sydney. And I read a really interesting Slate story about the way that outrage-driven pieces of journalism that have proliferated to accompany popular "issues" will decline in relevance. The reason for this is found on page 2 of the story (it wouldn't do to offer up the answer too early in the piece, at least not until you've served up the ad that appears when you click through to the second page): "advertising that is carefully and tightly coupled with its surrounding content".

In other words what they call "native advertising" where links to customers' product write-ups is embedded in stories, and the stories are written in such a way that it becomes easy to do this. Advertorials, in other words, but the Slate story author does not use that word in any place in his story.

I have had people approach me in the past to include links to advertisers' content and in each case I declined the offer. I suppose I am behind the times, or at least I'm not really taking advantage of the opportunities that are out there to "monetise" my content. In any case, to me the idea of providing comfortable content for the support of advertisers' branding material is so alien to my journalistic DNA that I find the whole idea merely revolting. Of course, we know that, for writers, just asking people for money can often be distinctly less than perfectly successful. See, for example, the 'Donate' button I put on this blog. Total amount of money donated since placing the button on my site in 2013: $0. So I will instead put up a paywall around the site and hope that at least some of my readers will have the intestinal fortitude to put their money where their eyeballs are.

You should be grateful. It seems that in future, if the Slate story is correct, more and more journalism will just be tricked up advertising material. And don't expect the publications to visibly flag this content somewhere on the page in front of you, as they have done in the past. If their future is to rely on fooling readers with comfy content designed just for advertising copywriters, they will not hesitate to jump across the line that separates ads from real journalism.

More's the pity. For me, journalism is an essential service. If people think they can just blithely carry on being members of successful democracies without it, good luck to them. I anticipate that, in its absence, they will become members of totalitarian states where the strongest only will have a voice. If that appeals, don't ever pay for journalism. Otherwise, cough up boy-oh.

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