I’m not a journalist, but I pretend to be. As the managing editor of USC’s satirical newspaper The Sack of Troy, I deal in lies. As a pretend journalist, I was told to follow the money, and the money is in clicks. Website clicks seem to have come to dominate the landscape of modern journalism more than news itself. But this isn’t a new phenomenon, nor is this phenomenon new to me; however, I reached the proverbial last straw when I read a hastily put-together article from my campus’ edition of The Tab, a “news” website made for and by college students that currently has over 45 campuses under its wings.
The Tab is a college campus’ version of the longform articles that Buzzfeed puts out. These articles are the most insidious of Buzzfeed’s three heads, being listicles, videos and articles (and yes, much like Dante’s Satan, Buzzfeed also has three heads). But this isn’t another one of those self-aggrandizing millennial thought pieces lamenting the death of classical journalism — this is just a shout into the void that is the internet.
Clicks rule the internet, and out of this, clickbait was born. These articles are so bad because they don’t tell us anything. The inciting incident here for me was an article from The Tab that was about a USC student who had eggs and racial slurs hurled at him one weekend and wrote a several paragraph-long Facebook post about it. USC’s Tab staff, just as instructed, took this important story and churned out an article about it as fast as possible. The only problem is that it didn’t say anything at all. It was a paraphrasing of the Facebook post and nothing more. It was like a TL;DR for the post that was longer than the post itself. This wasn’t journalism, or at least “investigative journalism.” No interviews were taken, no points of view were expressed and no research was done at all.
I feel that this trend of turning out content in lieu of substance is indicative of a larger problem. Who’s first is what matters now, not who’s best, and that’s a problem. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein didn’t tweet about Watergate as soon as they noticed something wasn’t right. They researched, checked and double-checked sources and proofread before publishing, and thanks to their exhaustive work, the public actually got to the bottom of one of the largest presidential scandals in U.S. history.
Another scandal that The Tab recently covered was Undergraduate Student Government Sen. Jacob Ellenhorn’s recent epistle challenging the impeachment charges brought against him by the Program Board. Aside from creating his own hashtag “#SaveJacob,” Ellenhorn is most well-known for providing a meretricious platform via the USC College Republicans for bigots and sexists like Ben Shapiro and Milo Yiannopoulos. Opinions are good, but giving an uninterrupted platform to such a divisive point of view is harmful, and that’s exactly what The Tab did when they hastily published Jacob’s missive complete with his point of view and his alone. By not waiting for the opinions of the other parties involved to be heard, or giving interviews to anyone else but this one man, they once again placed brummagem content over true substance and perpetuated a harmful slant.
But I digress because good journalism still exists in the world, papers are still made and good articles are still published. I just think that we should be mindful of what we consume and mindful of whether it’s clickbait or substance. The fact that VICE, a publication that made its name by going further and investigating deeper than any other source, has now relegated itself to mostly millennial think pieces, sex stories and drug diaries is a paradigm of this trend.
But again I digress, because what can I do? What can anyone do when Buzzfeed’s estimated net worth tops $1.5 billion and VICE’s $1.4 billion, and newspapers are going out of style?
Managing Editor, The Sack of Troy