Inside The Mind Of A Click-Bait Writer

There is a wide belief that one of the worst professions that any writer can take up is working for a click-bait publication. There is nothing more maligned in the world of writing than producing click-bait content. Click-bait sites have been accused of putting quantity over quality in hopes of creating tons of articles in a single space of time that are often deemed tasteless, exploitative, or just poorly written. Click-bait writers are considered to be among the moral-less scum of the earth.

And I’m one of them.

I suppose I should start this piece off by explaining why exactly I work for a number of such publications. I am currently a 21 year old college student and I started venturing my pursuits as a freelance writer this past summer when I was 20. At a time when I needed money, but my college schedule wouldn’t allow me to take up a regular 9–5 job — maybe that’s my fault for taking 5 classes each semester — freelance writing just made sense in my predicament. My English degree certainly gave me the skills and I needed a job that would allow me to write within my own convenience while still allowing me time to work on my school curriculum commitments. Unfortunately, at the time, I had no professional writing experience to my name and so no one hired me. I was able to snag an internship with an online startup travel agency, but after a month of working for them, they decided that such a small site didn’t need such a big team of writers. And guess who was one of the first guys on the chopping block? The guy with the least amount of pro writing experience: me.

Afterwards, I found myself back on Craigslist looking, searching, praying for a writing publication willing to hire and keep me despite my lack of experience. And low and behold, I found one. I came across an advertisement looking for freelance writers. To my dismay, a further evaluation of the website showed me that the site’s primary content was directed towards the young male pop culture loving demographic. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Well, maybe it is when the bulk of the site’s titles include articles along the lines of “Hottest Nip-Slips” and “Sexiest Actresses with Big Cleavages.” There were also keywords like “Shocking” and “Unbelievable” which, depending on the context of the title, gave me second hand embarrassment.

And yet, I still applied to the job. Because why not? I was running out of options, running out of money, and running on fumes. I needed this job and I got this job. For obvious reasons, the publications that I write for will remain nameless. Perhaps I’m being a hypocrite in acknowledging the immoralities of websites I still actively work for, but struggling college student has got to pay the bills somehow. It actually pays well too. Obviously not as well as the more lewd and provocative click-bait topics, but it’s better than nothing. Not only do these publications pay well, but I’m good at my job. I say that because I’ve been promoted twice from my main publication in just the last 6 months of working for the site and I feel like, in a strange way, I’ve improved as a writer because of my work ethic on the site.

Rest assured that I have never created exploitative pieces that demean different race/sex groups nor have I written material highlighting anything of the overtly sexual nature, as so many click-bait articles have done in the past. For the most part, I find myself writing about movies, wrestling, tv shows, and even crime cases. I try my best to write about things I find genuinely fascinating and might make for a good think piece if nothing else. Of course, it kind of sucks when I’m giving an assignment job with negative connotations (i.e. movies that suck) to fit the nature of the site, but I take that as a challenge. A challenge to write outside of my own realms; push myself to write something with negative undertones when it is normally hard for me to be negative about anything given how I’m an overly positive and optimistic person both in my writings and real life. But even an optimistic critic like myself struggles to look entirely on the bright side of working for a website attach to such a dirty word like “click-bait.”

More often than not when I write these sorts of articles, I feel like I have sullied the art of writing. Sometimes, I find myself writing about mundane topics not because I find them worth talking about or worth creating a conversation about, but because they will do well on the site in terms of traffic. Or worse, because I know it would get a strong, negative reaction out of people. The views and shares for negative articles are ridiculously higher than for positive articles. A “best of” list or even a motivational list won’t do as well as a “worst of” list or a “things only assholes like you do” type of list. I find myself justifying writing for these kinds of articles by telling myself that I will get a big paycheck at the end of the month. It makes me feel dirty.

Then again, not all is lost. The more I’m able to improve my writing skills through this site and building my resume up with different articles, the more likely I’ll be able to continue my dream career of being a writer/journalist. More likely to snag myself a legitimate publication to work for. Who knows? Maybe this click-bait stuff will get me one step closer to working for a news publication or some major writing website. By time I finally graduate from college, I’ll have the tools and resources necessary to pick up a full time writing job and perhaps leave my click-bait publications in favor of better prospers. It makes me feel like that there is a light worth reaching at the end of the tunnel the more that I continue to write for click-bait sites. And why I will continue writing for these sites until something better comes along or the day that I’m fired, get up the courage to quit, or, God forbid, my companies unexpectedly shut down.

So that’s my story. I can’t speak on behalf of all click-bait writers and I still can’t in good conscience defend my profession, but again, it is a small means to a bigger end.