Society of Professional Journalists Net Worked Blog: Clickbait vs. Long-form: What Do Readers Want?

I hardly ever click through on ‘clickbait’ – but that’s just me.

Maybe it’s because I know the tactic well, having studied the art of a compelling, click-driven tweet in my journalism classes at Ohio University. Or maybe it’s because all these “9 things you never knew about leaving guacamole in the refrigerator” articles are starting to wear me down, as a news consumer.

Where are the stories that make me think? Where are the articles so long they blur the line between news and novella? Where is the journalism that’s journalism – and not cute GIFS of cats rolling around in confetti?

And I’m not the only one wondering.

According to a recent article published on Re/Code – a fabulous, media-focused news source, I might add – Internet wanderers are starting to flock towards long-form, speciality content instead of the assumed clickbait publishers think we want.

A report from BuzzSumo, referenced in the article, claims that long-form articles (3,000–10,000 words) have a significantly higher share-rate than short-form articles (less than 1,000 words).

The author of the article, Joe Hyrkin (CEO of Issuu), also notes how the Internet has successfully fueled a “niche market” of information, where news consumers of varying age and interests find their own corner of the online world and like to linger there awhile.

“Clearly, vibrant subcultures are gaining major momentum online and offline,” Hyrkin writes. “The members of these communities crave content that is relevant, thoughtful and teaches them something new. They are hungry for content that dives deep and adds to their sophisticated knowledge base. For enthusiasts, ‘snackable’ is not enough.”

While, yes, I am one of those news consumers who prefers the long, in-depth review of a particular issue I’m interested in, I have a few hesitations about this “death of snackable content” claim.

Going back to the BuzzSumo survey: Since when did sharing clickbait prove whether you were reading clickbait? While posting a BuzzFeed quiz result is a nice addition to your Facebook feed every once in awhile, I’d wager that most people are selective about their clickbait share choices.

It looks more impressive to your audience or friend group if you share a thoughtful, long-form piece (even if you didn’t actually read it all the way through), instead of sharing every “Which Disney Princess Are You?” clickbait quiz you took.

And another observation, made by one of my brilliant journalism professors – and one I happen to agree with. Think of the motives of Hyrkin and why he might be making this argument about the death of clickbait content.

Issuu is an online magazine publisher’s platform, and magazine pieces are typically long-form features. Of course Hyrkin would be arguing (and hoping) for long-form content to be “in.” His company and livelihood depends on it!

Overall, I’m encouraged to hear that clickbait may be on the downward spiral, and niche, hobbyist-driven content may be on the rise. How refreshing would my Twitter feed be, without the constant threat of clickbait material, forever lurking in my timeline?

As the Internet redefines my generation’s “reading for pleasure,” I just hope it saves some long-form links for me.

This blog also appears on SPJ Net Worked

*The views expressed in this blog post are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital executive, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

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