IN 1898, at the birth of the Philippine republic, the United States press oppressed the new nation with its newly minted “yellow journalism.”
One hundred nineteen years later, the US press is using on the Philippines today its newfangled weapon of “clickbait journalism.”
The office of the historian of the US Department of State filed this report on the events of 1895-98:
“During the heyday of yellow journalism in the late 19th century, it was one of many factors that helped push the United States and Spain into war in Cuba and the Philippines, leading to the acquisition of overseas territory by the United States…
“The battle between Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal for greater market share gave rise to the term “yellow journalism.”
“Once the term had been coined, it extended to the sensationalist style employed by the two publishers in their profit-driven coverage of world events…
“Yellow journalism is significant to the history of US foreign relations in that its centrality to the history of the Spanish-American War shows that the press had the power to capture the attention of a large readership and to influence public reaction to international events. The dramatic style of yellow journalism contributed to creating public support for the Spanish-American War, a war that would ultimately expand the global reach of the United States.”
Flash forward to the present day. The US press is waving at the Philippines the weapon of “clickbait journalism.” In the age of the Internet, US journalism has the impudence to demand that the Philippine republic bend its policies to its wishes. “Release Sen. Leila de lima,” declared the New York Times.
Most Filipinos are unmoved. They like the thought that DU30 has an unusual vocabulary for rebuff.
Clickbait to stop falling revenues
In contemporary journalism, the term “clickbait journalism” is more recent than “fake news” and “post-truth politics,” which were crowned as words of the year by the Oxford Dictionary in recent years.
Economics was the driver of yellow journalism in the 19th century. Economics is similarly driving clickbait journalism in the 21st century.
Clickbait is the offshoot of the frantic effort of media organizations (particularly print media) to find an availing response to the devastation wrought by the Internet on advertising revenues, readerships, and bottom lines.
According to Wikipedia, “Clickbait is a pejorative term describing web content that is aimed at generating online advertising revenue, especially at the expense of quality or accuracy, relying on sensationalist headlines or eye-catching thumbnail pictures to attract click-throughs and to encourage forwarding of the material over online social networks. Clickbait headlines typically aim to exploit the ‘curiosity gap’, providing just enough information to make readers curious, but not enough to satisfy their curiosity without clicking through to the linked content.”
The practice and methods of clickbait were developed because of the interest of advertisers and media buyers in the volume or number of clicks generated by certain stories and news analyses; it was thought that clicks were the virtual equivalent of readers, though clicks do not necessarily mean that the stories/ opinions are read.
The sensational writing, headlining and angling of stories are designed to induce the reader to click to the story or message.
From here, it’s a short leap of imagination to see that communication strategists and public relations practitioners would develop clickbait strategies in their communication campaigns.
Although clickbait was first started by social media, mainstream media quickly caught on and realized the potential of clickbait journalism to generate more readers and stem falling revenues. Soon every mainstream media had its own digital site and edition. In combination with fake news, clickbait journalism was potent.
Distorted view of the Philippines
Over the past eight months, I have diligently gathered in my files the many reports and analyses of Philippine developments by Western media. I can honestly say that I have read and reviewed them all.
It amazes me that what many Filipinos perceive as a time of hope (a chance) for our country, is casually dismissed without thorough analysis by Western media as a national disaster.
Thus, I have concluded that the Philippines and President Duterte have been both targets and victims of clickbait journalism. As our new government has struggled to cope with the challenge of governing a nation of over 100 million, there has been a counterpart movement—loosely composed of opposition groups, international media and international organizations—that has sought to control the narrative and eventually tried to bring the nation down.
It is not coincidental that the publication of multiple stories on the Philippine drug war and President Duterte’s bold policies, has happened alongside criticisms leveled at our new government by the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and international human rights organizations. It is not accidental that they all use the same numbers, level the same charge, and make the same demands from the Philippine government.
The entire communications effort is organized, directed and managed. And it’s mostly taking place in and from New York City, where a large international community of journalists, communicators and experts are based, and the whole community of nations can be reached.
Ms Loida Nicolas-Lewis and her group of Filipino propagandists operate from NYC. Together they work on US media and the UN; they have turned the New York Times, the Washington Post, the International Business Times, Time magazine, the New Yorker, the Atlantic and other publications into complaisant channels for critical pieces of what is happening in the Philippines.
From this perspective, the New York Times’ recent analysis, “Becoming Duterte: The making of a Philippine strongman” and Time’s earlier report, “Night falls on the Philippines” have the same DNA.
It seems unbelievable that such prestigious publications would allow themselves to be used for dishonest journalism. They all fell for the line that Duterte has perpetrated over 7,000 extra-judicial killings (EJKs) in his murderous war on drugs.
In a way, Duterte was (is) a dream subject for clickbait journalism. He is outrageous, out-of-control, and uncouth, and the more outrageous he is, the more clicks he will generate.
This is the reason why international media have eagerly given him space. The wonder is why they never bothered to report on Duterte and the Philippines properly through serious fact-finding, investigation and fact-checking. They remain as blind and clueless as the UN and the human rights lobby.
Backlash against clickbait
Not surprisingly, there has lately emerged a backlash against clickbait journalism. The modus operandi of clickbait has been exposed by alert media critics and fact-checkers in the US and UK.
In a revealing critique of clickbait journalism by the International Business Times, Mother Jones magazine reported that IBT journalists are subject to constant demand to produce clickbait; one former employee reportedly complained that management issued “impossible” demands, including a minimum of 10,000 hits per article, and fired those who couldn’t deliver. Of 432 articles published by IBT Japan in a certain time interval, 302 were reportedly created by copying sentences from Japanese media and combining them, “collage-style,” to create stories that seemed new.
Similarly, IBT employees told The Guardian in 2014 that at times they seemed to operate more as “content farms” demanding high-volume output than a source of quality journalism. At least two journalists were allegedly threatened with firing unless traffic to their articles increased sharply.
Katherine Viner, editor in chief at the The Guardian, declared that “chasing down cheap clicks at the expense of accuracy and veracity” undermines the value of journalism and truth.
Others have concluded that clickbait could be the death of journalism.
Alarmed by the trend, Facebook and Google have taken measures to reduce the impact of clickbait on their social network and internet service.