Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Down the Clickhole

Abbey Knupp

Back in the day, news used to be black and white. Literally. Newspapers used to be the primary form of journalism. Nowadays, people get email updates, twitter notifications, and even snapchat’s news feed at the touch of a button. With the influx of mediums and channels for communicating information, it is hard to distinguish the truth-value of the content, and it is even harder to define what constitutes journalism.

According to Stephen J.A. Ward in Digital Media Ethics, there are a few ways to distinguish journalism from other forms of writing. One approach, which Ward calls the normative approach, insists that journalists must have a high level of skill achieved through some sort of education and they must follow ethical codes.

So, where do online publications like BuzzFeed, Clickhole, and the Onion fall in the journalistic spectrum? The publications are known for their humor, their satire, and their ability to be relatable to all kinds of audiences by featuring pieces such as BuzzfFeed’s 'Whine About It', where Matt Bellassai gets drunk at his desk and complains, and Clickhole’s 'Heavy Lies the Crown', a piece about a 10-year-old boy trusted with a hotel key.

They articles are meant to make people laugh and keep them clicking. When even one article is shared on Facebook, it can lead the casual internet browser down an endless clickhole of funny videos and stories, where hours are wasted looking at amusing content on the internet.

However, if Ward’s definition of journalism is taken into account, it is difficult to determine whether these pieces qualify as journalism. While they are not reporting things that a normal publication would consider newsworthy, the writers are highly trained and only one ethical value is truly called into question.

Both Clickhole and the Onion are satirical publications written by highly trained staff. They are put forth to provide commentary on life and political issues while entertaining the public with their outlandish content and amusing titles. Since both of the publications are transparent and open about the level of truth in their stories, they do not outwardly generate harm. However, many unknowing browsers might come across the information and take the stories as truth instead of satire, which could be problematic.

In the mid 1890s, there was a surge of sensational journalism in the publication war between Joseph Pulitzer and William RandolphHearst. To compete for readership, the two would sensationalize news events in order to make their papers more appealing to readers. They would also publish serious news, which would challenge the truth and transparency values of journalism ethics by potentially causing harm.

Clickhole and the Onion are both open about the type of content they generate, being very clear that they are satirical publications and all persons involved in the stories are given fake names unless they are a public figure.

BuzzFeed’s quizzes, lists, and articles do not violate any of the journalism ethical codes of transparency, truthfulness, or minimizing harm. The main point of BuzzFeed, like most magazines, is mostly to entertain the public, while providing some commentary about society.

While journalism used to be a cut and dry profession of publicizing important facts, events, and information, the emerging media clickbait articles do nothing to damage the reputation of the journalistic craft as long as the publications are treated for what they are.

If readers are aware that the content they are reading is satirical in nature and only meant to entertain, then there is nothing wrong with taking some time out of their day to fall, like Alice, down the clickhole.

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