All the news that's fit to click.


There is a trend in relation to news consumption I've noticed on the internet. and it is driven by Facebook's influence as a curated referral engine.

NZ Herald provocative headline and picture


We humans are very visual, there's a thing called the 'pictoral superiority effect' - attracted to shiny things or warning colours or whatever. It's primal. We also are attracted to attractive, cute or distressing things - kind visual hyperbole - because that how we hunted, fed and chose a mate.

Add in the desire to attract clicks to links then you get into the realm of creative storytelling - fiction. The sub-editor - or whoever s driving the web content at the Herald (or Buzzfeed, Huffpost or whatever) has a story that needs an illustration - thats a given - the page would look barren without and an attention grabbing headline.

'Greens want abortion freely available in first 20 weeks of pregnancy' is pretty outrĂ© alone. But the picture choice is interesting because it is of someone relatively unknown - is she pro/anti, is she pregnant with the spawn of a rapist. She looks distressed. Combined with the headline my guess was that she is a member of the Green party. So to use an unflattering picture panders to the conservative view that Greenies are somehow 'plain' - the lined face and earnest look - 'Oh no, I might have left the tofu pot on when I rushed out o get some flax to weave into a sustainable coal mine…' I'm sure the temptation was to use an image of a septic tank filled with fetal skulls but my hunch is that they're saving that for the Irish equivalent of Katyn Wood.

Editorial story telling is getting to be a lot more like advertising. There is convergence between news brands' and outlets' behaviour. Where once the tabloids led the way with salacious headlines about salacious stories (mainly because they didn't have access to the corridors of power) and the making up of things - now every news outlet does - they think they have too. My previous post illustrates how even mainstream TV news and current affairs shows are getting in on the game - where the prize is your attention and the dollars of advertisers.

The online convention of measuring everything is that the data will inform editorial decision - what words, colours, calls to action and images work best at getting your attention and inducing you to click?

It's the kind of thing that people use to think the dark art of advertising was all about - and it was but without the data.

Either way, the thing that separated good from bad is taste and a person in charge who understand what is interesting and cares about how the readers with think, feel and act as a result. Data can't do that and nor can competing on a race to the bottom.

This video is from the DVD that comes from the excellent book Brain Rules - if your work involves persuading others I recommend it to you. If you want to make sense of the weird behaviour of fellow passengers on this rock hurtling through space - well, good luck with that - but this might help pass some time.



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