SENSATIONAL TITLES ARE RUINING TRUTH

It is hard to check your news feed now without seeing something about the infamous helicopter parents. You know the stories, a mom who lived in her son’s freshmen dorm room, or the dad who e-mails his 23 year old daughter’s boss, etc. And with sensational titles such as “ How helicopter parents are ruining college students or Five Reasons Why Helicopter Parents Are Sabotaging Their Child’s Careerit seems like the tides of overbearing parents and their incompetent children are ruining universities, workplaces, and the world. Yet this is just not the case.

I interviewed a co-worker of mine from the Como Pool on his experiences, mostly with regards to the parents present (or not so present) at the pool. In my first interview with Alexander Benson, a lifeguard for one year with already five saves under his belt, I started off by asking:

SC: If you had to generalize the typical person who is usually saved at Como Pool, who would they be?
AB: Almost all saves are of kids, usually around 4 to 12.
SC: So why are saves overwhelmingly just in this age group?
AB: Parents at the Como Pool do nothing, they let their kids who don’t know how to swim jump straight in to twelve feet water then turn their backs. There is a very noticeable lack of parental awareness and it makes my job 50x harder.

In his closing comments Benson noted that he feels pushed to his patience by the masses of unwatchful parents who stream in to the Como almost every summer day.

So at least in public pool settings its clear that helicopter parents are non-existent, but what about elsewhere?

A very popular argument that is perpetuated through the sensationalized-title blogsphere is that helicopter parents are too controlling during their child’s time at university. The argument is that if a parent is overbearing at university, a sort of buffer zone between childhood and the real world where young adults must learn how to function in society on their own, their children will lack accountability and skills needed to find and keep a job . This, in reality, doesn't actually happen. A survey conducted by The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), interviewed over 9,000 students at 24 different universities found that just 13 percent of college freshmen and 8 percent of seniors said a parent had frequently intervened to help them solve problems. Regarding the workplace, a study by Michigan State University found that more than 77% of companies “never had witnessed a parent while hiring a college senior”. Although helicopter parenting may have a harmful effect on children, it is clear that the extent of helicopter parenting is no where near the amount that most articles suggest it to be.

America was experiencing a news lull in the pre 9–11, 2011 summer, so when eight year old Jessie Arbogast was attacked by a shark off the coast of Florida on July 6, 2001 major news outlets jumped on the story right away. Thanks to the blockbuster Jaws and the rising popularity of National Geographic’s shark week, the american public’s obsession was self-evident and this was a story the public could really sink its teeth in. In the following weeks more shark attacks occurred; in Virginia, a 10-year-old boy was killed while surfing with his family, nearby a 28-year-old Russian tourist was killed and his 22-year-old fiance was critically injured after they were attacked by a shark. With not much else to report on media outlets snapped up these stories and churned them out at lightning speed, essentially causing a full on national shark panic.

The July edition of that summer’s TIME magazine featureda great white shark with its jaws open poised to bite dubbing that summer “the summer of the shark”. Shark experts became overnight celebrities as news shows brought them in from all over the world to feature them in interviews. George Burgess, director of shark research and the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History, said “I received 30 to 50 calls from reporters and countless invites for an interview every day that summer.” Yet as the summer settled and the world turned its eyes to a darker matter, the 9–11 terrorist attacks, the numbers became apparent: unprovoked shark attacks worldwide dropped to 76 in 2001, down from 85 in 2000. The number of people killed in shark attacks also dropped to five in 2001, from 12 the year before.

While admittedly these two examples are pretty anecdotal they show a trend that has been growing rapidly: using sensational titles to draw in viewers or in recent years “click baiting”.

Clickbait is defined by Urban Dictionary as “An eyecatching link on a website which encourages people to read on. It is often paid for by the advertiser (“Paid” click bait) or generates income based on the number of clicks.” As media becomes more and more digitized it becomes much faster and easier to consume. It is easier to go to reddit or your twitter feed than to walk down to the nearest corner with a newspaper display then buy the paper and walk ome, or to wait for the newspaper delivery service to arrive. And that is the problem, people do not want to pay for news on the internet like they used to before. In order to adapt most major news outlets have made their websites completely free to view. Where before you would need to pay for a weekly or monthly subscription, just to see the news monthly or weekly. Now you can access almost any news source instantly and for free. This poses two problems, revenue and competition. In order to continue with this business model these companies need some form of revenue to which most find in the form of advertisements. The company will rent out ad-space on their website to which people can pay to have their message seen by all who enter that specific website. The more time the ad is viewed, the more the company makes off the add. The thing is the person clicking on the article does not even have to read it for the website to make money, as long as the webpage has been loaded it counts as a view. This means that having an eye catching title is all you need to do to make money, you don’t need a well written article, you don’t need interviews, pictures, multi-media, and most important of all you do not need to be truthful.

Companies need to stand out. When there are thousands of articles splattered across the internet all on the same subject how do you get the viewer to click on yours to receive that precious ad revenue? As competition for viewership increases as more companies digitize news organizations forgo deep, informative essays about current events for attractive, eye-catching clickbait titles. As many traditional newspapers have seen a substantial decrease in profit these past year, more digitally integrated companies such as Gawker, Breitbart, and the infamous Buzzfeed profits have soared. We are in a time were journalism is reinventing itself, but not for the better. Clickbait titles are designed to pull readers in for the sole purpose of creating ad revenue. They do not provide informative news and push informative news sources out of business. Clickbait titles are leading us to a dangerous era of misinformation.

Clickbait becoming the new norm poses an even greater problem: a complete disregard for the truth. The past few months fake news has been a huge topic in the media, stemming of off thousands, even millions of shares on facebook many companies write articles that either twist the truth or just completely ignore it and write articles that will feed to people’s inherent (usually political) bias and throw on a sensational, eye catching title. When people with aligning ideologies read those kinds of articles they will most likely believe it, even without sources or facts to back up the claims, because that is their inherent bias. Often times it is shared through facebook, or other social media websites to the billions of people on the internet. It is viewed, hundreds, thousands, millions of time and by that time a third of the country believes that over a million votes in the 2016 election were casted by dead people. Whether the the writer of the article truly believes what they are writing or not does not matter, because at that point they have made a whole lot of money thanks to a catchy title and ads.

If clickbait is not stopped then real journalism will die out and be replaced by untrue, ad-filled, lazy articles that just feed to peoples inherent biases. In order to stop clickbait people need to be aware of their biases and need to only spread or read news from reputable sources. In time where even the highest power in the american government is creating fake news and lies this is more important than ever. If real news isn’t preserved it will become impossible to tell truth from lie.


Works Cited

Carr, David. “The Fissures Are Growing for Papers.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 08 July 2012. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.

Dempsey, Amy. “‘Summer of the Shark’ Was a Story Media Could Sink Their Teeth into.” Thestar.com. N.p., 28 Aug. 2016. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.

Dvorkin, Jefferey. “Column: Why Click-bait Will Be the Death of Journalism.” PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.

Oxenham, Simon. “One Amazing Reason Clickbait Can Be Bad For You!” Bigthink. N.p., n.d. Web.