Thursday, October 27, 2016

THE CLICKBAIT DEBATE: MYTHS AND REALITIES


HOW quaintly nostalgic to see this page from FIVE YEARS ago to illustrate a piece on how clickbait is “killing journalism”.
Also included in the case for the prosecution were other well-thumbed pieces of evidence that have previously amused the anonymous posters of the mediarati.
But what is the truth about clickbait and listicles in the regional press in 2016? This original research may surprise, irritate or even disappoint the doom-mongers of journalism as we knew it.
It is a chapter from the same book as the original piece above. Save up for your copy now. Lost for Words: Can journalism survive the slow death of print? published by Abramis Academic Publishing in January 2017.

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JOURNALISM'S newest dirty word is clickbait, now shorthand for anything that isn’t traditional, ‘proper’ journalism, especially but not totally confined to online media. But what is really going on deep inside regional newspaper websites? ALAN GEERE gets his hands dirty

THE HEADLINES TELL THEIR OWN STORY
Departing Northern Echo editor Peter Barron warns that future of local journalism cannot be built on 'clickbait'
Spiked column by star writer on Leicester Mercury railed against 'risible' standard of clickbait online journalism
Online journalists' survey: 'Public will soon live off attention-seeking, fact-free, gossipy clickbait'
Once we had comment. Now we have clickbait

WHAT IS CLICKBAIT?
The academic community is surprisingly united in its definition of clickbait and its desired effects. “Clickbaits are articles with misleading titles, exaggerating the content on the landing page. Their goal is to entice users to click on the title in order to monetize the landing page. The content on the landing page is usually of low quality,” say Biyani, Tsioutsiouliklis and Blackmer (2016) in their research paper "8 Amazing Secrets for Getting More Clicks: Detecting Clickbaits in News Streams Using Article Informality”.
Similarly Chen, Conroy and Rubin (2015) assert that “Clickbait refers to content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page and has been implicated in the rapid spread of rumor and misinformation online”.
Chakraborty et al (2016) maintain that Clickbaits exploit the cognitive phenomenon known as Curiosity Gap.  “Headlines provide forward referencing cues to generate enough curiosity among the readers such that they become compelled to click on the link to fill the knowledge gap.”

WHAT ARE THEY SAYING?
Peter Barron left the Northern Echo after 17 years as editor with a valedictory editorial. In it he reflected on his successes but cautioned readers as follows: “The future of local journalism cannot just be built on 'click-bait' – stories which attract the biggest number of hits online.
“There will be those who call me a dinosaur but if I see another 'stomach-churning compilation of the best spot-squeezing videos' on a 'news' website, I may well take a hammer to my computer. Exploding spots may get lots of hits, and that may attract digital advertising revenue, but it isn’t news.”
In the Midlands Lee Marlow, the writer behind the hard-hitting Fred Leicester column, also wrote a piece when he was made redundant, but the editor at the Leicester Mercury chose note to run it.
Edited highlights of that column are as follows: “We have a website which is updated all day, every day, constantly. Yet it’s a website festooned with so many ads that you try to access it on your phone and it’s barely readable.
“And on that website there will be not just all of the news from the paper, but other ‘news’, too. Stories about Apple iPhone batteries. Product recalls. Some stuff about how people are comparing Leicester City to Donald Trump. (No, really. Apparently, they are.)
“This is ‘internet only’ news. Clickbait. You may have heard of it. It doesn’t have a good reputation and its reputation is deserved, if you’re asking me.
“But you can also see how these stories have been shared. This one had been shared more than 8,000 times on Facebook and Twitter. Click, click, click, click. In this brave new world of digital journalism, this is what counts. The click is always King. It doesn’t matter that your readers are laughing at you when they click. It just matters that they click.”
In South London, reporter Gareth Davies took to Twitter after accepting his redundancy cheque from the Croydon Advertiser to bemoan the direction his old paper was going. “A paper with a proud 147-year history reduced to being a thrown together collection of clickbait written for the web,” he tweeted.
He added: “What do readers get? A website focused on live blogging everything, with reporters told to ‘write like they speak down the pub’. Well, it breaks my heart. I couldn’t stick around to watch the paper be destroyed & I would not help them do it.”

THE NEW NUMBERS
Online audience, not unsurprisingly, continues to grow while print sales fall.
The latest figures for  daily average unique browsers in regional publications (Jan-June 2016) show Newsquest with the biggest group-wide jump over the six months to the end of June, with a 24 per cent rise year-on-year to 1.575m daily uniques, 23 per cent up on the last half of 2015.
Johnston Press was up by 22 per cent year-on-year while Trinity Mirror, which boasted the biggest number of daily uniques at 2.471m, was up 19 per cent year-on-year. The Local World Network, owned by Trinity Mirror, was up 13 per cent year-on-year to 1.393m daily uniques.

THE RESEARCH
For the purposes of this chapter we returned to scene of the crimes above to examine the websites and determine just what sort of job they are doing. They are by definition a snapshot and concentrate on the ‘splash’ page or opening page of the site where by definition any clickbait would reside. Each site was monitored for quantity and quality with a verdict delivered at the end.

NORTHERN ECHO

Newsquest
Accessed Friday September 9 2016 at 09.12
Opening page has 25 news stories, four videos, 20 in the Most Popular column.
Sport – 17 stories
National sport – four stories
Four ‘others’ inc the infamous Headline Challenge started by Peter Barron, who lives on it its blurb [see illustration]
Ents (that’s what it’s called) - seven stories
Echo memories – seven
Business news - seven
Trending across the UK – seven stories from other Newsquest titles
National news – seven, although the most recent was 9 hours ago
Most popular (again) – top 18
Social media
Twitter: 41.4k followers, 29.6k tweets, Followers Per Tweet (FPT) ratio 1.4
Very handy Twitter directory of all staff, plus their number of followers, including the ex-editor Peter Barron leading the way with 13.9k followers. The current editor Andy Richardson is still listed as Business Editor with 0 followers, probably because the Twitter name given @bizecho links to a baby supply store in Indonesia.
23k Facebook likes
Verdict: Lots to look at and lots to read, a la DailyMail.co.uk, with a big landing page that takes quite a bit of scrolling through.
Clickbait score 0/10

LEICESTER MERCURY
Trinity Mirror/Local World
Accessed on Friday September 9 2016 at 09.50
The top of the opening page has three stories, which are not labelled, one Latest News and two Editor’s Choices.
The lead is a timeline of a fatal crash on the MI, which happened that morning, lively updates with pix and maps.
Sport – seven stories (all Leicester City)
News – seven stories
Entertainments: Features - seven, events - five
Social media
Twitter: 72.7k followers from 75.3k tweets with a FPT ratio of 1.03
Facebook: 45k likes (although link takes away from website)
In common with all Trinity Mirror/Local World sites readers have to “Answer a survey question to continue reading this content”. However, the advice on getting around the survey is neatly provided by the paper on its Facebook page.
Verdict: Practical, purposeful and if anything, a little understated. Plenty going on, but nothing that jumps out at you. The ads are there but aren’t intrusive.
Clickbait rating 0/10

CROYDON ADVERTISER

Trinity Mirror/Local World
Accessed Friday September 9, 2016 at 08.40
Splash page has three stories plus another headlined Worth The Money?
The lead is a court story with picture taken by reporter
Sport – seven stories, all Crystal Palace
Editor’s Picks – two
More news – six local stories inc ‘The insane giant milkshakes you can now buy in Croydon’ with one comment, which was spam
Most read – five stories (three Crystal Palace)
What’s On - seven features, five events
‘9 things you'll know if you were a regular at London nightclub Fabric’ was more than 1,200 lovingly crafted words by written by a staff member and actually deserved better than the lame listicle headline. Not local though.
Social media
Twitter: 11.8k followers. 15.7k tweets FPT ratio .75
Facebook 19k likes
Verdict: Plenty to read, well written and from a visit later in the day updated regularly. Sponsored content (Staples back to school), some ads but nothing obtrusive.
Clickbait score: 1/10 just for that ‘9 things’ headline

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In the interests of fairness, we also looked at titles from the other two big groups, Johnston Press and Archant – this time selected at random from a numbered list using random.org number generator.

NORWICH EVENING NEWS
Archant
Accessed Tuesday September 6 2016, 12.34
Under ‘Latest’ 10 items – crime, news, views, education, motoring, all time stamped
Mustard tv promo
‘More’ – five items, one sport
Photo galleries – six items
More ‘more’
Most read – top five
Revealed: The number of parents fined at every Norfolk school for taking children out of class was a super FOI story with comments, facts and figs
Social media, reached by big, bold links not the usual tiny symbols
Twitter: 39.7k followers, 59.6k tweets FPT ratio .66
Facebook: 13k likes
Verdict: Bright, accessible page. Interesting to see sport mixed in with other content, although readers can click through to a dedicated page.
Clickbait score: 0/10

NORTHAMPTONSHIRE TELEGRAPH
Johnston Press
Accessed Tuesday September 6 2016 at 14.36
Hot Topics – seven items
Followed by Sky promotion and ‘Supermarket price war’ credited to Offbeat
Sport – eight stories
What’s on – three stories
Essential daily briefing from inews – five stories which open in new window
Lifestyle three stories (two local)
Trending now nine stories (all local)
Promoted stories (nine) ‘Promoted link by Taboola’
Social media
Twitter: 12.1k followers, 39.2k tweets FPT ratio .31
Facebook 25k likes

Verdict: Register to leave a comment clearly is a put-off with just four comments on whole of news page. A neat story on organ donation surrounded by ‘sponsored links’. Felt far more commercial that the other sites looked at.
Clickbait score: 2/10

SO, WHERE ARE WE WITH ‘CLICKBAIT’ AND THE REGIONAL PRESS?
As this research shows claims for the pervasive influence of clickbait appear to be exaggerated. All the sites visited showed an honest commitment to providing local news, sport, information, comment and entertainment to the highest standard.
If anything, they were somewhat prosaic, lacking the, er, buzz of buzzfeed.com, the sheer breadth and depth of dailymail.co.uk or the clickbait heaven (or hell) of cosmopolitan.co.uk.
Perhaps because of the eternal ‘time constraints’ or the effect of job cuts throughout the industry engagement with the audience via website interactivity or through social media was low. Perhaps it’s time for the regional press to get off its high horse and start to realise the full potential of the ‘new media’ at its disposal.

Note on the contributor: Alan Geere is a journalist, academic and international editorial consultant. He was editorial director of Northcliffe Newspapers South-East and, as editor, led the Essex Chronicle to two successive Weekly Newspaper of the Year awards.
As an editorial executive he worked in the UK, Canada, United States and the Caribbean and his consulting career has taken him into 200 newsrooms worldwide.
He was head of the Media, Communications and Journalism undergraduate degree course at Victoria University in Kampala, Uganda and taught journalism at City, Westminster and Worcester Universities. Alan was also a member of the board of the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ).

REFERENCES
Biyani , Tsioutsiouliklis and Blackmer (2016) 8 Amazing Secrets for Getting More Clicks": Detecting Clickbaits in News Streams Using Article Informality. Proceedings of the Thirtieth AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence (AAAI-16) pp 94-100
Chen, Conroy, and Rubin (2015) Misleading online content: Recognizing clickbait as false news. Proceedings of the 78th American Society for Information Science Annual Meeting: Information Science with Impact: Research in and for the Community pp 15-19
Chakraborty, Paranjape, Kakarla and Ganguly (2016) Stop Clickbait: Detecting and Preventing Clickbaits in Online News Media IEEE/ACM International Conference on Advances in Social Networks Analysis and Mining (ASONAM)
  • This piece is a chapter from Lost for Words: Can journalism survive the slow death of print? to be published by Abramis Academic Publishing in January 2017.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

The Regional Press: Reasons to be cheerful Part 4*

LIKE a lot of the ex-editor brigade – and there are now enough of us for a whole regiment – I’ve followed events in the regional Press with a mix of sadness, bemusement and more than a little irritation.
READ ALL ABOUT IT: The Northern Scot pool car in Elgin
Of course I was saddened to see my old stomping ground of weekly papers in the south-east dismantled and excellent editors (no coincidence that they are all lovely people too) dispensed with.
And seeing once proud papers reduced to following the crowd online – “Watch this dog lick an ice lolly!!” – makes me fear for the future of journalism as we know it.
But all is not lost. As I wrote on this blog in October 2014 after an expedition to a bunch of papers in Ireland, Journalism is still fun. I’ve just completed two humbling weeks in the Scottish Highlands and there is still a lot to be cheerful about.
Here are some headlines:

It isn’t all about young people 

There were some lovely trainees and people making their way up the greasy ladder but there were more journalists near, and even beyond, what we used to call ‘retirement age’. The years have done nothing to dim their enthusiasm and the experience and maturity they bring doesn’t often get listed in a job ad.

No need to go back to basics 

Some are already there. When I asked one dapper gentleman what he did at the paper he proudly replied: “I’m the court reporter.” No lists of mad, sad and bad people provided by some court official here, just stories by the bucketload. So, be warned, if you get caught waving your willy around anywhere from Macduff to Tomintoul you’ll probably end up in the paper.

The one-person office is alive and well 

The places where people worked read like the lower reaches of the Highland League table – Buckie, Keith, Huntly etc – and it was charming to find they rejoiced under the title ‘Chief Reporter’. Most of the time they were ‘Only Reporter’ filling the paper single-handedly from front to back and all points in between. And they approached that task with deftness, expertise and a sense of responsibility.

Remember staff photographers? 

In all the rush to dispense with the staff photographers and replace them with freelancers who bear an uncanny resemblance to the displaced staffers we seem to have lost sight of what having an in-house team can bring. The gala season is in full swing in Scotland so the papers are full of people doing whatever it is you do at a gala – but they all seem to be having fun. They love seeing themselves in the paper and also like to have a pictures to keep. Yes, photosales is alive and well too.

It's not all about the money 

Ok, so we all want what we want and need what we need but there is more to it than that. These folk in the Highlands were actually quite a disparate bunch, some from all parts of Scotland and others further afield in the UK. They were drawn by the opportunity to live in a lovely part of the world and contribute to making the wheels go round in their communities. Not sure money can buy that. 

I have been asked to contribute a chapter to a book due be published early next year called ‘Is Print Dying?’ The suggested title I’ve been given ‘Is the local press destined for the knacker’s yard?'.
Uhm, maybe not quite time to reach for the gluepot just yet…

* Headline in homage to Ian Dury, the original Billericay Dickie, or was that me...?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

FLYING PAST: Anyone seen my caption?

FEEL THE POWER: Captions can say so much
SUPER picture of the Flying Scotsman in full steam passing by Holy Island in Northumberland in the i newspaper.
But why no caption for the 99 per cent of readers who have no clue where this is and no picture credit to recognise the work of increasingly put upon photographers?
In fact, the missing caption is endemic in i. Perhaps it's time to recognise what an important function it performs and insist on one wherever possible?
As those poor souls who have attended one of my ‘caption workshops’ will testify, the caption is the hard-working undersung hero of the design toolbox able to draw readers in and say so much more than just identify what is in the picture.
It’s been a fun few days up here chasing the Flying Scotsman up and down the coast with some tremendous pictures posted by amateurs and professionals (is there still a distinction?) alike, including this one below from Raoul Dixon of North News in the Sunday Express.
I’ve asked the i for an explanation of their missing captions. Watch this space…


PROFESSIONAL: Raoul Dixon’s spread in the Sunday Express


AMATEUR: My picture taken from the other side of the tracks as the un-captioned one




Monday, April 25, 2016

“Authoritative, provocative, opinionated, sarcastic, entertaining, frank, well-informed” – let’s hear it for the columnists

JUST when you think life can’t get any better I was offered the chance to help judge the ‘Columnist’ category in the Regional Press Awards.
The finalists were announced today but if you’re not sure what a local paper columnist is up to these days below is a summary of their activities provided from their own citations on the entries, which are in italics.

Authoritative and provocative she takes a light-hearted look at unusual events and writes with warmth and wit.
Provocative and opinionated he entertains and provokes in equal measure tackling observational slice-of-life issues with a dry, often sarcastic but always entertaining take.
A mix of hard-hitting material and a bit of tongue-in-cheek humour pulls no punches and asks no favours in a frank, well-informed and satirical soundbites of commentary on life.
Expressly intended to make the reader smile he has the uncanny ability to hit readers directly on the funny bone, taking a wry look at the what’s been making the news.
Someone who has his finger on the pulse of the city, a columnist who is light, amusing and yet makes you think. His modus operandi is to entertain through humour yet there is usually a serious purpose behind that humour.

As columnists from Addington to Zanesville will attest I am a tough crowd to please. “No more columns on your wonderful mother/father/grandparents/children/cat/dog/war veteran neighbour/helpful shopkeeper/etc etc please,” I would advise from the comfort of the editor’s chair. “In fact, no more columns at all would be best.”

Monday, February 29, 2016

Would YOU help a child actor being bullied in a newspaper set-up?


AT THE risk of coming over all Glenda Slagg - Undercover investigations using actors: Dontcha just love ‘em?  Undercover investigations using actors: That’s surely not right.
Enter stage left Britain’s newest daily newspaper The New Day which has a spread in its launch issue headlined ‘Would YOU help a child being bullied?’
The premise is quite straightforward. Four children acted out a bullying scene to see if ‘Good Samaritans might be a dying breed’ while a reporter and photographer lay in wait to see who intervened and who walked on by.
Among the women who did wade in one was left ‘very shaken by the confrontation’ and another admitted she was ‘scared’.
It makes for a good read with decent ‘real’ pictures too. But is it really something that journalism should be practising in these troubled times when the eyes of the world are on our activities?
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good set-up. Would the shiny unlocked bike get stolen? Would the ‘lost’ wallet be handed in? Been there, done that with both student journalists and reporters who didn’t want to go out on rainy days.
But putting people in a threatening situation with potentially explosive consequences might get a few post-Leveson tongues wagging.
Next week, we’re told in a trailer, we seem on safer ground. How did strangers react when an old lady struggled up the stairs with a heavy suitcase? (my question mark, by the way). We shall see…

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Late Night Final: Wake me up when we get there...

I HEARD about my new job as editor-in-chief of Late Night Final when I was on top of Halidon Hill overlooking Berwick-upon-Tweed.
A fitting venue indeed, as it saw one of the bloodiest battles in history between The English (winners) and Scots (losers) in 1333.
BATTLEGROUND: Now peaceful view from Halidon Hill
Now all I have to do is keep warring factions from Britain's Big Four regional publishers happy - plus their embattled newsrooms troops - as we head towards the launch of this brave new world, as outlined so well by Steve Dyson in his HTFP column.
Of course, I've history here. More than 20 years ago I ran the prescient Thomson Online Features Service (TOFS),  sending material to the far-flung parts of the then great Thomson Regional Newspapers empire. With a doughty team of journalists - some experienced, some less so, but everyone unfailingly enthusiastic - we sourced top quality content for showbiz, food & drink, fashion and even gardening pages. 
Biggest problem wasn't getting the stuff - everyone from Kylie to the Queen was happy to be featured - it was convincing the editors that this was a help, not some threat to their independence.
We had some great take-up from the Press & Journal and Scotsman right through to the Belfast Telegraph and Western Mail, with a readership in the millions. A great testament to everyone involved at all ends of the operation.
Now we're getting ready to do it all again, with common features supplied to all part of the UK that will give the nationals a run for their money.
It's gonna be a helluva ride; wake me up when we get there...

Thursday, November 05, 2015

'Soft Skills of Journalism' or 'Being Nice Gets You a Long Way'

THERE always seem to be some strange looks when I turn up in the newsroom or classroom to do a session on the 'Soft Skills of Journalism'.
That all sounds rather pompous so I'd rather call it 'Being Nice Gets You a Long Way'. I talk about how to cover death knocks by teaming up with a neighbour or relative before bowling up with your 'We'd like to write a tribute' speech and the importance of making friends with the really important people like security staff, drivers, receptionists and even the tea lady, if there is still such a thing.
The assistant at the care home who will help you gain the confidence of a 100-year-old; the teacher's aide who will let you into the classroom; the Minister's flunkey who will let you get close enough for a walkabout question and the policeman who will tip you the nod past the cordon.
I am reminded of this by a story now running on HTFP that has got the mutterati at it again. 'Weekly reporter files complaint against police over house fire cordon' runs the headline about  Reading Chronicle reporter Courtney Friday, who has done just that.
He set the ball rolling with a couple of tweets:


Followed up by the HTFP story, which spawned a rich variety of comments. Some talk about police heavy-handedness, others about the reporter's naivety or  the part the editor is (or isn't) playing.
I may humbly suggest that filing complaints never gets you very far and it certainly doesn't get you the story. Readers have no interest in the inner working of police-media relations; our job is to get the story out there on their behalf.
Back when I was a boy reporter the common wisdom was that Ernie the Cleaner knew everything that was going on. He was indeed a mine of information from  the comings and goings in the Managing Director's office to when the funeral director was calling with his latest warm death notices.
Sadly Ernie went the way of a lot of 'support staff', replaced by agency workers who swept in and swept out. But the modern days Ernies are still out there; you just got to work hard at finding them. They may even by manning a police cordon near you...