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It’s time to separate the click bait from the news

Chuck+Todd+illustration+of+Huffington+Post+founder+Arianna+Huffington.+Bay+Area+News+Group+%28TNS%29%0A%0A
Chuck Todd illustration of Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington. Bay Area News Group (TNS)

Chuck Todd illustration of Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington. Bay Area News Group (TNS)

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Chuck Todd illustration of Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington. Bay Area News Group (TNS)

By Timothy Nerozzi / For The Pitt News

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“Jeb Bush Continues ‘Death Spiral’ at GOP Debate”

“Could Hillary Clinton Be a Sociopath?”

Thanks, Republicans! Your insane war on Planned Parenthood keeps making reproductive rights more popular”

What is the most troubling aspect of the headlines? Is it the unprofessional wording? Is it the overhyped vocabulary that misrepresents situations? Is it the clear bias that pushes an agenda on the reader?

No, it’s the fact that they do not describe themselves as personal essays or opinion pieces. These are actual “news stories” from BuzzFeed, The Blaze and Salon, respectively.

Better yet, the sites published these stories in their news sections as unbiased current events.

On its “About” page, BuzzFeed claims to provide “social news” to its 200 million-member global audience. The Blaze, founded by Glenn Beck, is a “news and information website,” with its own 24/7 television network and radio broadcasts. Meanwhile, Salon describes itself as “an award winning news site,” and has more than 17 million unique visitors a month.

Where is the journalistic integrity in having these opinion pieces in news sections?

I don’t take issue with these sites for publishing partisan thoughts. We all want to hear from our own camp on an issue sometimes. But the idea of publishing partisan think pieces as current events hurts those who cannot distinguish this biased nonsense from impartial news.

In the realm of one-sided online media, there appears to be two whose controversial popularity sits supreme: Breitbart News, which was founded by media madman Andrew Breitbart, and former journalist Arianna Huffington’s personal blog turned news outlet, The Huffington Post.

Breitbart is a controversial news outlet known for heavily right-wing slanted articles on the topic of American and international politics. Eric Boehlert, the founder of Media Matters for America, described its late founder Andrew Breitbart as “the leading figure in this right-wing creation of a parallel universe of lies and idiotic conspiracy theories.”

Meanwhile, Michael Goldfarb, conservative political writer and former contributing editor for The Weekly Standard, celebrates Breitbart as “the most dangerous man on the right today.” Breitbart News uses brutal, narrative-pushing headlines to spark outrage and entice conservatives into clicking on their links.

On Oct. 31, for instance, Breitbart News released an article linking actor Seth Rogen’s most recent film’s flop to his critical remarks against Republican candidate, Ben Carson. It’s a relatively mundane topic and surely not one that would drive much traffic. That is, unless the headline was, “Box Office Bloodbath: Everything Flops and Seth Rogen Spooks Audiences.”

The rather “in your face” style writing of Breitbart articles and titles, not relevant news, is what draws in clicks. The seductively brutal headline scams the reader and hands them a false lens through which to read the story.

The Huffington Post is a sort of liberal parallel to the type of conservative-minded click bait that floods Breitbart’s homepage. Instead of crude headlines that demand conservatives’ attention, The Huffington Post sometimes uses passive, misleading headlines that portray social ills or Republican candidate corruption to stir up liberal tempers.

On the same day as Breitbart’s article, The Huffington Post released an article titled “Ted Cruz Wants Only Conservatives to Moderate Future Debates,” penned by Samantha-Jo Roth. This headline is based on a quote from Ted Cruz in which he stated “How about instead of a bunch of attack journalists, we actually have real conservatives?”

The Huffington Post makes the assumption that he wants “only conservative” moderators. Yet, Ted Cruz isn’t asserting anywhere in the actual quote that nonconservatives shouldn’t moderate debates — the language of the quote is far more specific than the title suggests. The snappy, unbelievable headline misrepresents a political figure to drive traffic.

Clicks, traffic and shares on social media fuel the engine that runs these sites. This may seem harmless — a company wanting as many people as possible to see its material — but assuring this goal with such methods is inherently anti-consumer.

They misinform readers and further divide liberals and conservatives by making accusations against one another. This disregard for ethics in journalism and exploitation of the uninformed is rampant and needs to end.

The modern media consumer can fight this by staying informed and doing their own fact checking — just because a publication has a flashy, sleek website and nice structure doesn’t mean you can trust it.

When a story is too perfect, the author is probably cramming it into a narrative they were hoping to publish since before they wrote the piece. Ask yourself, “If the report is true, would this story be headline, breaking news?”

If you find yourself answering yes, but are only finding this shocking, unbelievable story on a few sites, it’s probably misconstrued nonsense and not worth looking at.

The new media information frontier is confusing and predatorial. Politics has become a hot new trend, and sites from all over the web are hunting for views and curb opinions with shoddy, unethical journalistic standards.

Be careful. It’s a jungle out there.

Email Timothy at thn17@pitt.edu

Editor’s note: In the original version of this story, The Pitt News wrote that The Huffington Post’s writer, Samantha-Jo Roth, did not talk to Ted Cruz for an article titled “Ted Cruz Wants Only Conservatives to Moderate Future Debates.” Roth did speak to Ted Cruz during a press conference held following the Iowa GOP’s Growth and Opportunity Forum. The Pitt News regrets this error.

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It’s time to separate the click bait from the news