Tag Archives: clickbait

Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump

The marketplace has spoken. WordPress statistics clearly show that Donald Trump is a Proven Clickbait Solution. So in lieu of my usual (cough) trenchant analysis of the issues that matter, we bring you Random Notes On Donald Day.

Because if Vermont’s largest newspaper can succumb to clickbait mania, why not theVPO?

Screen Shot 2016-01-07 at 1.08.55 PM

Ah, journalism in action. And speaking of food, the Kountry Kart Deli is offering a today-only special: The Donald, a stacked-high bologna sandwich with B.S. (bacon slices) on white bread. Perfect. Meanwhile, North End stalwart Nunyuns Bakery was stymied in its effort to cash in:


More @Trumpnado madness after the break.

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So, Bernie.

I don’t want to sound churlish here, but I probably will. Yesterday’s Bernie Sanders campaign kickoff was a nice event. If nothing else, it was a celebration (and validation) of #FeelTheBern’s unlikely political career; whatever else he accomplishes is gravy. If he can fight the good fight and push progressive issues into the mainstream political discourse, he will have done something meaningful.

My problem is this. In advance of the kickoff, the Vermont media was stuffed to the gunnels with Bernie coverage. The most ardent Bernie outlets were the Burlington Free Press and VPR, which previewed the event as though it was a combination of the Gettysburg Address and Woodstock. Both outlets posted previews entitled “What You Need to Know About Sanders’ Campaign Kickoff” or something like that. To which my response was, “I don’t need to know anything about that.”

Nothing against Bernie. I just can’t get excited about an opening gambit in a year-and-a-half-long process. And I can’t get excited about reading endless, breathless Bernie coverage. I already know what I need to know about the man and his politics.

For the Vermont media, Bernie’s presidential bid is the best kind of clickbait. It draws eyeballs AND it’s certifiably “important” in journalistic terms. There’s a corner of the editorial heart that curdles a little bit whenever they have to post another Heady Topper piece or foodie listicle; when they can have their clickbait cake and eat it too, as with Bernie, well, it’s open season.

After the last few days of #BernieBernieBernie, I’m already tired of it. And I’m sure I’ll be reading a whole lot more over the next year or so.

Well, actually, I won’t be reading it; I’ll be skipping over the Bernie coverage and looking for other news.

As for this blog, I’ll write about Bernie on occasion, when the spirit moves. But I won’t be following his every move, posting his every press release, or seeking his comment on campaign happenings. There’s not enough hours in the day, and there’s lots of other stuff to write about.

The art of the overblown headline

Ah, clickbait, thy name is Burlington Free Press. Today’s headline:

Accused Shelburne meat marauders cited

Wow. The mind reels. Was this a vicious gang, going around marauding meat? (Whatever that means.) Or were they an even more vicious gang, turning people into meat?

WIth breathelss anticipation, I clicked the link.

What a letdown.

Two people tried to steal $333 worth of meat from a supermarket.

Yep, that’s it.

Not only was the crime unworthy of the “marauder” monicker — they got caught!

“Marauders,” ny Aunt Fanny.

Mikey Pom-Poms has a sad

Boy oh boy, us bloggers and Tweeters must have really gotten under Michael Townsend’s skin. Because normally, he and the other denizens of the Burlington Free Press like to pretend that no other news outlets actually exist. Except when another outlet screws up.

I can explain everything.

I can explain everything.

But today, the Freeploid’s Executive Editor and Chief Gannett Cheerleader sent out a burst of self-pitying defensiveness under the title “Editor explains changes at FreePressMedia.”

Which is a first in itself: Townsend feeling the need to explain things. Collars a bit tight? Knickers in a twist? Not enough oxygen in the Freeploid’s seventh-floor digs?

The first thing I need to do is correct misinformation swirling around on social media as we go through a significant staff reorganization.

Oh, those nasty evil denizens of Social Media!

Hey wait, isn’t the Freeploid — er, sorry, FreePressMedia — in the midst of a headlong dive into social media-driven journalismism? I guess “social media” is a good thing except when it rises up to bite you in the ass.

He then denies “rumors and speculation that we are abandoning coverage in Montpelier.”

I don’t think anybody said you were, Mike. We just pointed out that you were shuttering your Statehouse bureau and lost your two Statehouse reporters when you told them they wouldn’t be covering the Statehouse anymore. See the difference?

I’m sure you will continue to cover the Statehouse. You’ll send a crew down from Burlington whenever you think there’s a sufficiently clickbaity story. But I’m equally sure you won’t have anyone there on a daily basis, and that will affect the quantity and quality of your coverage.

And this is an undeniable fact: the Burlington Free Press has de-emphasized Statehouse news over the past couple of years at least, concentrating more of its resources on its home base of Chittenden County. I’ve been expecting the departure of Terri Hallenbeck and/or Nancy Remsen for quite a while, because it’s obvious that the Free Press is publishing a lot less Statehouse news than it used to.

The Burlington Free Press used to be the number-one source for state political and policy news. It isn’t anymore, and it’s about to get significantly worse.

As Townsend says himself in his little counterattack, Statehouse coverage will come from an “accountability/watchdog” team whose responsiblities will be at “the regional and state levels.” They’ll have a lot of ground to cover, and only part of their effort will go to state-level news.

Indeed, considering the Freeploid’s stated focus on arts, culture and food, and its lack of dedicated Statehouse/political reporters, you could say that its new nickname ought to be “Seven Days Lite.” After all, Seven Days still has a full-time reporter on state politics and policy.

For those keeping score, that’s Plucky Weekly 1, Established Daily 0.

And meanwhile, the Freeploid’s Chief Content Whore — er, I mean, “business reporter” — Dan D’Ambrosio is spending his day reporting on the grand opening of the LL Bean store in Burlington. Five days after my Sunday Freeploid came wrapped in a plastic advertisement for the grand opening of the LL Bean store in Burlington.

Plastic: an ironic medium for a retailer with a green, outdoorsy image.

(Come to think of it, the plastic Bean Bag was an unsightly, almost illegible washed-out gray-and-white. Bean really got its money’s worth there.)

I guess I’m supposed to think the wall-to-wall coverage of a major advertiser is a coincidence. And continue to think so when I get my morning paper tomorrow and find a big fat article on the grand opening of the LL Bean Store in Burlington on the front page.

Much of Townsend’s column is devoted to explaining the changing media environment and the need of newspapers — sorry, media companies — to evolve. I sympathize. I get it. I don’t expect the status quo.

What irks me, though, and makes me critical of the Free Press in a way that I’m not of, say, the equally diminished Times Argus, is the following:

— A big part of the Free Press’ financial trouble arises from the fact that its profits are siphoned off to satiate Gannett investors.

— As I’ve said before, “With great power comes great responsibility.” The Free Press continues to occupy a dominant position in Vermont’s media landscape. As long as it does, there’s a lot less space for other sources to emerge and grow.

— The inhumane process that Free Press workers had to go through. Re-interviewing for their own jobs. Jobs “offered purely based on numerical ratings,” as Townsend himself put it.

In the words of Number Six, “I am not a number — I am a free man!”

— And, worst of all, the clickbait-driven approach to journalism, which extends so far as to require staff to rewrite stories after they’re published to goose the pageviews.

I can tell how much the criticism has gotten to Townsend, because he actually went so far as to name the reporters who’ve departed the Free Press. This is never, ever done in the media: you don’t want to give your audience any reason to miss the people who have gone.

But there, in print, are shout-outs to Sam Hemingway, Terri Hallenbeck and Nancy Remsen.

(He didn’t mention Lynn Monty, who refused to go through the “demeaning and degrading” process of re-interviewing, or Tim Johnson, who simply failed to post a high enough number.)

I can’t really blame Michael Townsend. Part of his job is to take Gannett’s chicken shit and convince us it’s chicken salad. But he is fair game for criticism, and his response fundamentally mischaracterizes the criticism.

A picture is worse than a thousand words, I guess

Where do you draw the line between journalism and exploitation?

I know where the Burlington Free Press draws it, after reading its downright grisly, torture-porny article on yesterday’s testimony in the Allen Prue murder trial. The article colorfully entitled:

Medical examiner: Jenkins looked ‘beat up’

The Freeploid was happy to report WCAX’s mistaken broadcast of a crime scene photo that showed the murder victim’s body. (Or, as the ever-sensitive Mike Donoghue put it in a Tweet, “naked body of slain teacher.”) Which was wrong, and WCAX News Director Anson Tebbetts fell all over himself apologizing for it.

So, it’s wrong to show a picture. But apparently it’s all right to publish every detail of Medical Examiner Stephen Shapiro’s testimony, including the following phrases:

“Jenkins’ bruised and marked body”

Shapiro “…told the jury about the marks left by different types of strangulation. Shapiro said he determined Jenkins’ official cause of death to be manual strangulation, meaning done by hand.”

Gee, thanks for that clarification. I wouldn’t have guessed.

‘She looked beat up,’ Shapiro said, later adding. ‘She did not do this to herself.’

“Shapiro used a laser pointer to highlight different scrapes and bruises… including six circular marks.”

This was followed by a thorough retelling of the effects of a stun gun on a human body:

Shapiro said the effect of a stun gun is not quite the same as a Taser, since the Taser almost instantaneously incapacitates the person. The stun gun, on the other hand, causes pain but does not incapacitate.

“A stun gun that’s pressed up against your body is more of a compliance weapon,” Shapiro said.

You can almost feel the burn, can’t you?

The first sentence of the story began with “Several loved ones of Melissa Jenkins inhaled sharply and covered their eyes…”

If they happen to read today’s Free Press, I think they’ll be inhaling sharply and covering their eyes all over again.

I know how the Free Press would defend itself. It’s a high-profile murder case, the trial is open, the testimony is fair game, and The People Have A Right To Know.

But do we have to know every detail? Or is this another case of Clickbait Uber Alles?

To me, this story crossed a line. And it makes the Freeploid’s sanctimony over WCAX seem downright hypocritical.