Press "Enter" to skip to content

Reasons to Hate Internet News (A Lot of It, Anyway)

Author’s Note – Some may say I am railing against the very thing I am guilty of in writing this article; reporting without providing substantive evidence to back it up. So here is my evidence. Pew Research reported in 2021 “about three in ten Americans say they are ‘almost constantly’ online.” More to the point is the empirical evidence. Readers should compare the time they spend getting information from television, radio and the newspaper to the time they spend getting information from the internet. It should be all the evidence needed. 

Print and broadcast news have gone through a rough patch lately. People today have less time and less inclination to watch the evening news, listen to news radio or read the newspaper. Lower profit margins have reduced the number of journalists. The growth of cable news channels and expansion of television news hours have made reporter appearance even more important, to the detriment of good research and good writing. But the real cause for this rough patch is the rise of the internet, the now-ubiquitous force that has taken over so many lives.

With the internet, the line between news and entertainment has been blurred to such an extent there is a big, messy mingling of both at the center. Plus there is a whole pile of “pretend news” and “pretend entertainment” on the internet. The “pretend news” items provide a biased view of the story with little or no evidence. The “pretend entertainment” stories feature celebrities either showing off fashions or showing up at events. 

Newspapers have advertising and subscription revenue as their funding source. Television news and radio news have advertising as their funding source. All three have reasonable measures of their success, be they circulation numbers, Arbitron ratings, Nielsen ratings or other data sources.

Internet news has advertising – and the occasional paywall – as its funding source. But it has one main measure of success: clicks. 

Clicks are paramount to internet news; the more clicks, the more opportunities to put paid advertising in front of those browsing the internet. This quest for almighty clicks has caused internet news to toss the rules of traditional journalism out the window and replace them with new rules that are an embarrassment to journalism as a whole.

Let us start with headlines. Headlines are the tease; the “come-on” to entice readers, watchers, listeners and viewers to stick around for the story. Except on the internet, where headlines can be all tease and zero substance. Here’s one: “Warning over Daily Use of Common Drug that Could Cause Internal Bleeding.” The author of this headline from the internet had no intention of providing any information, he/she’s only goal was generating that click. Here is a different internet headline on the same story that got it right; “Over 60? Here’s Why You Should Not Take a Daily Aspirin.” 

There is a subset of headlines, usually for “pretend entertainment” articles, that uses readers’ lust or emotion to get them to click. Here is a recent example (with the name deleted to protect the guilty): “Blah Blah Shared a Magical Moment for Mother’s Day and it’s the Sweetest Thing We’ve Ever Seen.” Really? How nice for you. Why should the rest of us care? 

Then there is the lede, that first paragraph that SHOULD provide the gist of the news story (though not details). Newspapers – mostly - get it right. Television and radio news, though often dependent on “packages” (pre-recorded segments) also usually get it right. Internet news outlets – except those pulling directly from those other sources – frequently get it wrong. They want readers to move down the page, so they will see more paid advertising. A recent “In the Know (by Yahoo)” illustrates this perfectly. The key to the article, a list of things one should know about one’s partner after six months, was finally mentioned in the third paragraph. To get there, the reader had to navigate past six paid content links. Thanks a lot!

In a similar vein, but largely avoiding the issue of copy (because it uses so little), is the slideshow. These usually, but not always, can be found in entertainment news. To see the fashions stars wore to a certain event (one example), we have to click through a slideshow, each page of which shows one photograph, but more than one advertisement. Some of these slideshows have more than 50 pages. Of course there is no index; how could they get as many clicks as possible and show as many ads as possible if there was an index? 

Last, but by no means least, are photographs. Most of the articles that highlight photographs are “pretend entertainment” and most of them grab those photographs from places like Instagram or Twitter (not that celebrities mind; free publicity is why they are on those platforms). Amazingly, some internet articles publicizing a photograph don’t include the photograph being publicized! Incredible. InStyle (Hearst Magazines) and Prevention are frequent offenders, but there are others doing the same thing.

So what should we who look to the internet for news, whether occasionally or more than occasionally, do? For starters, subscribe to your local or regional newspaper, either in newsprint or online. Every place, big city or small town alike, needs a newspaper to inform and engage it citizens. Local news represents the heartbeat of a place and it rarely appears on the internet. If traditional broadcast media is preferred, then by all means watch local news on television or listen to local news on radio instead. Again, local journalists assign, produce, write and present the stories and they know the local landscape. 

Also, keep a “cheat sheet” near the computer to jot down those “lousy headlines, buried ledes, and missing photographs” websites, those “pretend news” websites that with biased, inaccurate reporting, and those websites with excessive “click bait”, or excessive advertising. Then avoid clicking on them. Maybe even e-mail the offending sites and let them know. Clicks pay the bills, and if enough people did this, websites might pivot in their ways. Of course, they may create even more irritating ways to drive their click counts, but we can hope for better. 

The internet is a great invention and it can be a great source of news. By taking a responsible and disciplined approach to internet news, we can help make internet news more responsible. 

4 Comments

  1. DAVE GOWAN May 31, 2022

    MARSHALL NEWMAN:AS MY DADDY ALWAS SAID”NEVER BELIEVE IN WHAT YOU READ AND ONLY HALF OF WHAT YOU SEE”.ALWAYS LIKED MY COUSIN CHARMIAN BLATTNER(WARD).SHE WROITE A SMALL COLUMN IN HOMER MANNIX’ ADVERTISER EVERY WEEK.TYPICAL NEWS WAS”ALTA VAN ZANDT AND ALICE GOWAN MOTORED DOWN TO SANTA ROSA AND HAD LUNCH AT “LENAS” RESTAURANT”…OR…….SHORTY RAWLES AND HIS CREW SHEARED SHEEP TODAY..GREAT NEWS

    • Marshall Newman May 31, 2022

      I always enjoyed Charmian’s column. Plus, Charmian herself was a lovely lady.

      • DAVE GOWAN May 31, 2022

        THANKS, MARSHALL. AND YOU KNOW WHERE DON AND ALTA LIVED

        • Marshall Newman May 31, 2022

          Indeed I do. Also have fond memories of “The Style Shop”, Where Charmian and my mother would occasionally get together for lunch.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

-