Michelle Boag and click bait

Posted January 6, 2017

How many times have you read a headline in an online news story that looks exciting, but ends up quite misleading if you bother to click the link for more detail. This is called click bait and has the sole intention of getting you to read further.

The recent coMichell Boagntroversy with Michelle Boag’s ‘Barely coffee-coloured’ comment is the latest of many examples. She made the comment in relation to a specific claim by the women accusing Peter Leitch of racism. The woman said Leitch only approached her because of her colour. In that context, Boag’s comment that she was ‘Barely coffee-coloured’ made more sense, even though she shouldn’t have used that particular language.

This context was never explained in the first round of news stories. And if you followed it, you will have seen that most online stories used the headline, “Barely coffee-coloured.’ You had to read deeper into the story, or follow-up stories to get the whole picture.

This click bait phenomenon is becoming more common as advertising revenue demands that visitors read the entire story. The headline has to bait them into reading further by clicking the link. This raises the stakes for media spokespeople, particularly in difficult situations.

If you say something that could be quoted completely out of context to make you look bad, there is more pressure on the media outlet to use it that way in the headline to get as many eyeballs to read the whole story as possible. Also remember that it’s not always the reporter who writes the headline. This is exactly what happened to Boag.

Often if a reader does click the link, they realise you are not the unreasonable person that the headline suggested. But what about the majority who don’t read on? They will only remember the headline and that could batter your reputation.

This shows just how important news media skills are in today’s world. If you stray off message for a few seconds or say something that can’t stand by itself if used alone, you could be in trouble.

Also remember that people already complain about being quoted out of context all the time. This may be in the headline only, or throughout the story. This will only happen more frequently as reporters and sub-editors come under more pressure to write interesting and clickable stories.

Some news websites in the US already pay reporters bonuses for getting more clicks on their stories.  The answer is to dress up the points you want to make into media-friendly language and make sure that everything you say can stand on it’s own without being reliant on more information. That means short and sharp message points (said in a variety of interesting ways) that allow both you and the reporter to impress audiences.

This isn’t something that can be mastered overnight. But a good media training workshop with lots of subsequent practice can do wonders and allow you to change your mindset from seeing media interviews as threats to seeing them as major opportunities.

If you want to learn the five steps to pain free media interviews, download my White Paper at this link.


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