Zahle’s Gymnasium in Copenhagen invited me over to do an interactive workshop on headlines. We had lots of fun. But there was also a more serious purpose.
Writing headlines that ‘stick’ and get people to ‘click’ has always been a fine art. But in recent years it has also become a data-driven science. Also for the types of headlines that send readers on to articles that don’t deliver anything of substance.
The public sphere has become an arms race between ever-more-crafty headline writers in media organisations, and ever-more-savvy readers.
On the one hand, readers are less and less likely to click on headlines due to the increased number of headlines competing for attention on all platforms. To counter this, news providers are using advanced A/B testing methods, focus groups, and differentiated headlines for different target groups.
The winning headline-makers hope to have their headlines stick to the reader. Sometimes the headlines don’t have the underlying content to back it up, making them ‘pure’ clickbait. Sometimes the headline and content together are so outrageous or likeable that the stories are shared by a large percentage of readers, making them go ‘viral’ on social media.
In the workshop which I did for N. Zahle’s Gymnasium with the title “Clickbait! The dynamics of headlines in the era of tweets” I showed students how headlines ‘exploit the curiosity gap’ – a gap in the headline’s narrative – to get readers to click. And I showed how, especially Twitter, can be a training ground for clickbait, for better and for worse.
I presented a series of stories without headlines on screen, which they then in real time, wrote headlines for. Everyone could see each others’ headlines, and we tried collectively to find the ones that will bait the clicks, before comparing with the one that was ultimately chosen by the media.
Vaccination against clickbait
It was all great fun.
But students said afterwards that they came out of the workshop more knowledgeable about the workings of the media, and less likely to fall for the kind of headlines that are just fishing for their attention. Who knows? Maybe I helped to ‘vaccinate’ some of the participants against clickbait in the future.
In the meantime, if YOU have been baited and really need to read the flying dildo story above, it is here!
Are you a gymnasium/high school teacher in Denmark? This workshop is suitable as part of a career development learning module “karrierelæring”, or the multi-subject coursework “Almen studieforberedelse – AT”.
It takes 2-3 hours and costs DKK 7,000 excl. moms.
Call + 45 30 66 31 21 or write firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
How do you find, report and share news? See Mike Young Academy’s course in Journalism for non-journalists.