First was the inverted pyramid. Describe the story in a sentence. Then summarize the most important point. Keep going, in order or importance, so an editor can snip the story, from the bottom, and always have the gist of it.
Second was a circle. Grab the reader in your first paragraph. Then walk around the story until it’s told. Deliver a sting ending, a thank you for reading. This was my specialty. It worked great in magazines.
In 2021, the Internet has two different ways of delivering the news.
The first is what I call the “oh no.” This has replaced the inverted pyramid. If it’s good news, say “yeah, but” in the first paragraph, then describe how things are likely to go bad. If it’s bad news, scream “oh noes” and describe how things can only get worse.
The second is what I call “hide the pickle.” This has replaced the circle. Promise you’re going to say something important in the headline. Then don’t say it. Lead the reader on for paragraph after paragraph, page after page, filling their eyes with ads, until you finally get to some point (always less than was promised).
In neither case is the reader informed or reassured. In neither case are they given anything resembling a service. In neither case is objective reality accurately described. (Same dude as before, only in 2018.)
Both these styles come from clickbait.
The first derives from political kant. It’s aimed at making you feel helpless, at seeing some perceived enemy, some subject that can be easily attacked. (When this is applied to business or sports news it’s sort of funny. When applied to entertainment news it’s simply cruel.)
Hiding the pickle is how you do features. It’s why articles on food never get to the recipe. It’s why articles about celebrities, or history, never get to the point. The idea is to see how many pages they can make you view, how many ads they can deliver, before you give up. Providing what 20th century writers called “the service” never enters the equation.
The reason for this is the business model. The news site only wants your time. To get it they maintain a scare on you. It’s talk radio. The features site only wants your eyes. They make so little on each ad they must throw 100 at you to afford the time to produce the page.
At no point is any news organization really aggregating people around a place, an industry, or a lifestyle. The demographics no longer matter. The search engines have taken care of that. Quality is irrelevant. Only quantity counts.
A machine can write this stuff, and increasingly machines do. Look at stories describing games and financial stories describing trading patterns. They’re produced by algorithms. They’re untouched by human hands.
What can change this? The same things I wrote about 25 years ago, when I first got onto the Internet Commerce beat at Interactive Age, NetGuide, and then my own A-Clue.Com newsletter. Stop selling ads as billboards. Create sales for trusted business partners, which create loyalty among your readers, and a virtuous circle replacing today’s vicious one. That’s the promise of companies like Red Ventures. Let’s see if they fulfill it.