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General News    H4'ed 9/1/17

Why Are Newspapers and Books Waning? Clickbait is One Reason

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"People won't pay to read yesterday's news." Ouch. The remark came from a media analyst discussing the death of the daily printed newspaper and the death of home delivery of the daily printed newspaper. (See: milkman; coal delivery)

Even more painful is a cartoon of an old person wearing a paper hat made out of a newspaper and barking to a young person reading his phone, "Can your online news do that?"

Clickbait threatens newspapers and books
Clickbait threatens newspapers and books
(Image by Martha Rosenberg)
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Joining the New Orleans Times-Picayune and Christian Science Monitor in abandoning print altogether is the Village Voice whose writers like Alexander Cockburn, James Ridgeway, James Wolcott and Eliot Fremont-Smith, practically shaped the face of edgy, countercultural journalism in the 1980s. Alex was my editor at Counterpunch.

Clearly hard copy news is on the wrong side of history. Until the 1980s, when you'd board a commuter train you'd encounter the "newspaper curtain." (Some of us remember Dad or Granddad shrouded behind the Daily News.) The morning and evening newspaper curtains were such a defining feature of American "businessmen" in their day, Allen Ginsberg reportedly spoofed them by poking a whole in his newspaper and peeping at others on the train.

Board a commuter train in 2017 and the only people without ear buds consulting their phones are those born in the 1960s and before.

Most people want to blame the internet for clickbait-- sensationalistic and dumbed "news" hawked with headlines like: Watch! Flight Attendant Wets Pants. But the blurring of lines between news and entertainment dates back to at least 1980 when newscasts were suddenly followed by the likes of Rona Barrett on Entertainment Tonight. The seamless transferring of an audience for real news into an audience for news/gossip only flourished with the introduction of cable TV, dish TV and of course the internet.

Look at a book written before TV existed and you'll see it rambles and is not afraid to "bore" the reader because it is the only game in town. It is not yet competing with the Ed Sullivan Show or Lawrence Welk Show. Books written before the internet have similar faith in their hold on readers' time and attention. Not competing with CNN yet, they do not have manic sidebars and constant appeals to keep your attention like infomercials. Wait--there's more!

Flash forward to the real time world and anything new is by definition better than what preceded it whether a new call or text on the phone or headline scrolled below a TV show.

Needless to say the book business is struggling with nonreaders and how long a book takes to produce. They are old before they are new. Time-tested authors like Tom Wolfe, Eric Schlosser, Barbara Ehrenreich, Elizabeth Gilbert and even Bob Woodward no longer "chart" like they once did.

Of course the reason real news is losing to clickbait is the metrics themselves. Since traffic, comments----even angry ones----and the chance to go viral monetize online news sites, the temptation to go tabloid can't be resisted. Even death is entertaining and monetizing. The signature of such stories, of course, is "how well did you like this story?"

Imagine asking "how well do you like this story about new North Korea missile launches?" and you see how far we have descended.

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Martha Rosenberg Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by Random (more...)

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