Do Headlines Matter at Frankly Curious?

ClickbaitMatt Yglesias no doubt thought he was being very clever when he published, 13 Ways of Looking at a Clickbait. Of course, he makes some good points. One is that people have taken to claiming that any article they don’t like is “clickbait.” That certainly is not true. But I think that Yglesias is wrong to try to turn “clickbait” into an all purpose word meaning “effective headline writing.” The word is a pejorative and it should remain one.

To me, clickbait is a form of false advertising. And it usually consists of opinion. “The 30 Best Game of Thones Characters.” People only click on such articles to make sure that Tyrion Lannister in listed at number one. But the worst — and most effective regarding myself — are lists of things I supposedly do not know. “17 Hollywood Stars You Didn’t Know Were Gay.” There ought to be a law against such headlines. They abuse the disabled. My disability is that I know everything that is worth knowing. And while it is true that I won’t even know who 14 of those “stars” are, I will most certainly know the ones I recognize are gay.

But the whole thing did get me thinking about headlines here at Frankly Curious. I hate writing headlines. But Yglesias is right: it is a new world and websites are like magazines. The purpose of headlines are not to summarize the article but rather to entice the viewer to read the article. For a long time, I’ve been under the spell of Jakob Nielsen — the usability guru. His point has always been that people come to a website to get information. But that isn’t so much true of Frankly Curious. But to be honest, I’m not sure why people come to the website.

One thing that I’ve noticed is that the articles that get a lot of attention do so because the content is good, original, provocative. Ultimately, I think that is what most matters on any website. But it probably is true that this site doesn’t get as much traffic as it would if the headlines were better. There is a problem here though.

Frankly Curious does not publish articles about the ten best ways to fight belly fat or the eight greatest generals of the Civil War. Most articles here are broadly essays. They are not about stuff — they are about my reactions to stuff. And what is the best way to entreat a potential reader to follow along? I really don’t know.

Then again, I don’t have a clue what people want to read about. So I simply write — generally at a furious pace. And I figure that some people will be interested in some of what I have to say. And given that I don’t know what people are going to want to read about, I don’t see how I can be expected to write headlines that will encourage them to even try. It would probably take me as long to write a good headline as it does to write an article.

But there is a difference. If you go over to Vox or Crooks & Liars, you will see that all you are offered are headlines. This is a big trend on the internet to make websites more like magazines. But Frankly Curious not only has the actual articles on the front page, it rarely puts any of the articles “below the fold.” So people can just scroll down the page and see if anything looks worth reading. So maybe headlines don’t matter so very much — at least not here.

8 thoughts on “Do Headlines Matter at Frankly Curious?

  1. The “clickbait” accusation is annoying. It’s usually leveled at writers trying to present an original point of view while ads all over the place provide actual clickbait. So, never have a point of view, I guess. If you’re running an ad, that’s honest; an essay must be clickbait because essay writers try to express things not commonly accepted.

    I wonder if we’re truly headed towards a post-literate society or if the last remaining people capable of stringing sentences together will be granted undue respect simply because they can appear to tie things into other things:

    • I wrote about clickbait just hours before putting put ads on the website. And I may take them down soon if they don’t start offering advertisements that are more appropriate to this site. Regardless, I’m just trying to get my phone bill paid every month.

      I was listening to a Chris Hedges lecture and I became convinced that all hope is lost. And he meant it as a positive look at society. But I’m afraid that the power elite have won. They have figured out to game the system. And the vast majority of the rest of us would be lost if we didn’t the illusion of the noble elite who tell us what to do.

  2. Watching a bootleg version of an old “Star Wars” movie and I like the bit where the short, mute robot gets fried by a outlet so the tall, gay one tells him “Artoo! You know better than to trust a strange computer!”

    Mr. Frank! You know better than to read Chris Hedges in a bad mood! (Your bad mood, not Hedges’s. He’s always in a bad mood.) You can take the man out of the priesthood, but you can’t take the apocalyptic preacher out of some men. And I love him for it, but he needs to be dispensed in small doses. Preferably interviewing Dr. Noam, or with sad-but-hopeful cartoons by Joe Sacco. Full shots of pure Hedges uncut with less downbeat souls can be dangerous!

    A good take I read recently was a little book by Oreskes/Conway, the “Merchants Of Doubt” people. It’s a history book from the future, written in the voice of a Chinese historian some centuries from now, about why our time did jack shit about global warming. (It’s got a neat addition to your phases of denial; “warming is real, and it is human-caused, and the best way to stop it is through economic policies which allow countries to get richer, so they can afford clean energy” — namely, dirty energy, deregulation, the rest. I wouldn’t be shocked at all if that is the next company line.)

    Oreskes/Conway don’t assume humanity or civilization are doomed. What they predict is that the idiots who fear any democratic control over anything, because democracy inevitably leads to totalitarianism (yep, that’s Finland for you!) are making it more likely that totalitarianism flourishes in the future. Totalitarianism, after all, deals more efficiently (and more brutally) with a crisis than democracy, and corporate power restricting democracy today will not stop the warming crisis from becoming harsher tomorrow. The people railing against Big Gummint are making Big Gummint unavoidable. They’re throwing it an alley-oop!

    I’m sorry you have to use ads; that would make me very angry if I had a blog. The fuckers win again. But, you know, TruthDig has ads, The Nation has ads. I wonder if there’s any way to control what ads appear. “Best CD Rates” is pretty harmless in the grand scheme of things; what you don’t want is “Tax Refund From H&R Block Today!” And most actual clickbait is harmless, too. Most of your readers won’t be duped by “Top Ten Celebrity Swimsuit Mishaps.”

    I’m clicking through to Amazon, now. A guy at work watches “Seinfeld” obsessively; Lord forbid he doesn’t see it from 4:30-5:00. It used to be in syndication at that time; now we have to put on a DVD, and the only DVD we have is seasons 1 & 2 (granted, the seasons where those characters vaguely resembled human people, instead of the smug monsters they became later.) Everyone at work is vastly sick of those episodes. I’ll get more, now. Hooray, commerce! The invisible hand!

    • Thanks for the click!

      We’ll see how the ads work. They aren’t for the regulars. They are for the very many people who come here through search engines. I may move them to only individual pages, so regulars don’t have to see them unless they want to comment.

      Well, Hedges was sounding pretty positive after Occupy Wall Street. But the truth is that there is nothing more depressing than listening to a depressive trying to sound positive. That’s probably the problem. Of course, I completely agree with him.

      • I’ve been clicking through to Amazon for a while, yet most of my purchases are old books and CDs that sell for $0.01 plus shipping, so that probably doesn’t help.

        It is wild how depressive Hedges continues to function; maybe he has supportive friends. Lucky brain chemicals are definitely part of how Dr. Noam operates; “everything sucks ginormous ass, it probably will all get worse, I’ll write 20,000 more words today.” Being a super-genius no doubt helps him some, but it’s brain chemicals that make him able to think and write the stuff he does without going insane.

        • Actually, it does help. The percentage fee I get depends upon the number of sales. So even though I don’t get any money for a $0.01 sale, it can make me a lot more money indirectly.

          I think it helps people like Hedges to have a purpose. There seems to be a difference between the way he interacts with the world and the way that David Foster Wallace did.

  3. I come to your site to experience good writing about subjects I am knowledgeable on and some that I am not. I no longer go to sites such as Crooks and Lawyers because they do not have any original thoughts and opinions, just click-thrus. Headlines only matter to let the reader know what you are writing on next. The content is vital and keeps me returning. I agree with the comments on Chris Hedges, I love the guy but it is like listening to Mickey Newbury sing his sad songs, it can drive you to despair.

    • Thanks. I hope I provide something that others don’t. It does seem that C&L is a lot more like Media Matters these days. I’ve been wondering if I can managed to listen to the Hedges-Sam Harris debate without killing myself.

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