Click-bait stories are bad news for readers, the PR industry and its clients

I read an article about how a fire had devastated the Moria migrant camp on Lesbos.

Nobody is winning from click-driven news, argues Sarah Taylor
Nobody is winning from click-driven news, argues Sarah Taylor

13,000 people, already in a desperate situation, were left without shelter, clean water, or hope. The situation was, according to reports, catastrophic.

Refugees had fled, some in need of urgent medical attention, while others were left behind trying to sift through the rubble of their already shattered lives.

Days later, I looked for an update. I wanted answers to the questions raised in the initial reports.

What measures have been taken? Did everyone escape with their lives? Will the camp be rebuilt and where will people go in the meantime?

I came up short. There were no answers, no follow up, no further comment.

It was, quite literally, yesterday’s news.

Incidentally, on the same day as this devastating fire, the Kardashian family announced the end of their reality TV show.

That story kept rolling and, if anything, it gained momentum as reporters searched for answers.

Why now? Who pulled the plug? Was Kanye’s bid for the Presidency and subsequent breakdown the straw that broke the camel’s back?

With our lives linked to pop culture and news linked to ad spend, it’s little wonder that the news cycle for celebrity-driven stories is longer than it is for current affairs.

The time we give to unfolding events is dictated by clicks rather than an assessment of editorial importance.

Coverage based on what’s in the public’s best interest to know has been replaced by a system of supply and demand.

From a PR perspective, the challenge to insert our clients into the news cycle has changed.

The news often moves on before the story is brought to a close or, when reader response is favourable, it lingers on a subject and strips it bare, often mining for details and creating a bandwagon on which the opportunists among us can jump.

But does this serve the reader? Does it serve our clients?

I’m pretty sure it doesn't serve the editors or journalists who are subjected to pitches such as “What the CEO of [insert generic brand name] learnt from the Kardashians in the COVID era".

This click-driven news cycle leaves us trying to tap into the latest cultural phenomenon and fit our content into that narrative rather than pitching well researched and fleshed out content.

We find ourselves facing demands for a celebrity connection or a bigger brand tie-in in order to make the story ‘newsworthy’.

But if something is not interesting enough without a known name, it is probably not interesting enough with it.

So do we work with our clients to develop the story further? Do we flesh it out with facts, figures and undeniable proof points?

Or do we whack a Kardashian or ‘COVID’ in the title and get it over the line?

The latter comes with more guarantees and less potential time wasting but we collectively risk sacrificing public interest and informative news in the name of clicks and consumption.

Sarah Taylor is client partner at futurefactor

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