I’ve been blogging for 12 years, which is crazy to think about.
Along the way, I’ve learned a few things about writing for the Internet, including the importance of titles and headlines. If you are going to get noticed on the Internet, you need to do it well.
A blogging friend of mine once confided in me that he’ll spend hours crafting the perfect title for a blog he has written–sometimes spending as much time crafting a title as writing the article itself. That is how important the skill has become.
But it makes sense.
In a world where billions of new pieces of media are being published every day, a headline may be the only opportunity you have to grab a potential reader’s attention. And your words are only helpful if they are read by someone else.
Choosing headlines and titles that can grab a person’s attention enough, to cause them to stop their lives to read what you wrote, is one of the most important skills for writing on the Internet.
That being said, I think it is important, from time to time, for all of us to take a step back and remember how hard websites are working to grab our attention to increase clicks and views. There are a number of different things a publisher can do to grab our attention—and not all of them are healthy for us as individuals or for us as a society.
For example, hysteria drives clicks (and viewers).
Manufacturing hysteria is not usually helpful or beneficial for a society. But websites and media outlets use it all the time to grab our attention.
It is, after all, more likely that we would click on a news article proclaiming the end of the world than an article reporting everything is going just fine.
I’ve been taking note of some of the headlines I’ve seen over the past few weeks. Here are just a couple:
Most Daunting Virus in Half a Century.
Virus Outbreak Sparks Toilet Roll Panic!
Refugee Crisis Could Break the EU.
Investor Massacre May Be Near.
Mechanized Bots Amplifying Denialist Messages.
Bumblebees are Going Extinct.
Within each article, there is important news, and some of the information is certainly serious. Don’t misread what I am saying here.
But in almost every case above, the overstated hysteria of the headline is designed for one purpose: to grab attention and garner clicks.
Of course this might all be fine and good if the practice was not causing any harm. But the effect of constant overstated hysteria is not good for us as individuals or a society.
There are numerous studies connecting consumption of newscasts with anxiety—reflected in uncontrolled fear, physiological hyperarousal, sleeping difficulties, and fearful thoughts. Constant overstatement of the danger surrounding us is causing personal harm and division among us.
It is important to stay informed and I am not encouraging you to bury your head in the sand, ignoring world events. It is wise for each of us to read and stay educated on current happenings.
Additionally, I do suppose there is a chance, that at some point in the future, the world will end by some great catastrophe or political leader. At that point, hysteria will be warranted.
But at this point in time, from everything I can tell, most of the hysteria we see on websites and news channels is entirely manufactured for the purpose of grabbing attention and garnering clicks (or increasing viewership).
See through their manipulation. Your heart and soul will thank you for it.
Dana C says
Hear, hear! I concur completely. Just a few short years ago, my husband worked for an online “news” website that made the bulk of its profits from “click-bait” types of headlines and “articles” (primarily on social media–before such platforms began cracking down on such practices and the spread of “fake news”). It was disgusting…and he didn’t last long there, I’m thankful to report. Thank you, Joshua, for sharing your insights and viewpoint in this piece. Stay safe in the desert! =)
Lisa Bloom says
This is literally what they teach you to do in Journalism classes. I guess bloggers and other internet writers wouldn’t understand that if you’ve never taken one of those classes. Good article otherwise.
Wise words. Thank you for this post.
You are SO right and thanks for addressing what I’ve been thinking all along. It’s very sad how many people are buying into the craziness of it all. While the virus is real, there were way more deaths last year from the flu and we heard nothing about it last year.
Thank you. Unfortunately there are too many people who make a lot of money with hysteria.