Man Seeks Smoking Gun, Instead Encounters Sea Serpents

There are moments when it is just time to salute the enemy.

That is forthcoming. Let me just begin by saying that I am not as hardened and soulless as I sometimes might seem.  Though I have long toiled in the finding-fault-with-others industry, and sometimes appeared a bit flinty or irritable or slightly intolerant of, uh, everything, the fact is I have softs spots, too. There is blood coursing through my veins.

Sometimes I like things. Such as, I dunno, Skittles. And VE Day.

I can even occasionally muster a certain appreciation for people, places and things that ordinarily do not impress me. For example, I despise Oliver Stone, for obvious reasons, yet "Natural Born Killers" is a masterpiece, is it not? While I typically eschew mixed drinks, on the grounds of why would you ruin perfectly good liquor by contaminating it with candy, I have been known to consume a margarita…or 9. Very refreshing and delicious.

And, though I was no big fan of George H.W. Bush, I can never stop appreciating his principled stance on broccoli. You'll recall he once let slip that he disliked the stuff, resulting in a total freakout from the lobbyists for Big Broccoli, but the commander in chief remained resolute: "I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I'm President of the United States, and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli!"



 He should be on Mount Rushmore for that, in my opinion.

The point being, while admittedly persnickety, I have the capacity, in my mind's eye, figuratively speaking, to click on Like. This gets to today's subject: stuff you train your cursor on. As my worldwide cult of acolytes well knows, I take every opportunity to sneer at the category of content called “clickbait.” On the editorial side, I find it demoralizing that the likes of  Huffington Post (“Did You Know These Stars Identify As Bisexual?”) and BuzzFeed -- and pretty much everybody else -- generate traffic with silly lists, pix of kittens, boobs, celebrities and other populist attractants. Versus news and information of substance.

This doesn't surprise me; its cynicism simply disappoints me.

What enrages me is when ostensibly reputable publishers use such links, disguised as editorial content, in “Around the Web” sections leading readers into ad pitches. No need for me to belabor this. I've been ranting about it for months.

But for all my flying spittle, I do have to acknowledge the significant skills of the folks who write those headlines. They are often very, very good at their jobs. So often I -- five-alarm infosnob -- have felt my mouse moving, Ouija-like, in the direction of a headline that offers no insight on the economy, Iranian nuclear ambitions or the schism within the GOP.  

Now, headline writing was always regarded as an art form -- ahem, “Headless Body in Topless Bar” -- but except in the New York City tabloid wars, the stakes have always been low. Nobody got any richer or poorer based on the hed drawing readers to a story. But now clicks are currency, so you can say goodbye to “Area Man,” “Solons Convene” and “Council Considers.”

There's money in them thar links. It's Ouija time.

Truth be told, my intention today was to locate a whole mess of brainless, trashy, empty Internet calories on mainstream sites, and to again decry how editorial has been irrevocably corrupted by the Internet economy. Instead, at, I forgot my errand. In the right rail, I discovered these headlines.

Asteroid Seen on Collision Course With Earth

Mystery Blond Girl Found in Gypsy Camp Raid

Former Drug Lord Gunned Down by Clown

Second Sea Serpent Washes up in California

Scout Leader Who Toppled Ancient Rock Suing for Disability 

I defy you not to click on that bait. They were all legitimate stories, by the way -- albeit surely relegated to the inside pages of most newspapers. But come on…sea serpents? Clown assassins? Killer asteroids? (Spoiler alert: NASA says not to worry.) Of course, I read every single article. How could I not? Yes, I was suckered by sensationalism, but no hard feelings at all. I learned about oarfish and the Tijuana cartel.

Nice work, cynics. This time, you win.


9 comments about "Man Seeks Smoking Gun, Instead Encounters Sea Serpents".
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  1. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, October 21, 2013 at 10:11 a.m.

    Journalistic integrity, an oxymoron if I ever heard one! At least the moron part is believable.

  2. Nancy Brinson from University of Texas at Austin, October 21, 2013 at 11:50 a.m.

    It's hard not to fall victim to that stuff. As Nicholas Carr says, welcome to life in The Shallows...

  3. Zachary Cochran from CPXi, October 21, 2013 at 12:02 p.m.

    Enjoy your heyday, clickbait producers.

  4. Jason Klein from Selligent, October 21, 2013 at 12:20 p.m.

    Damn. I had already succumbed to three of these. I'm not sure whether to blame good copyrighting or my/our base instincts.

  5. Walter Graff from Bluesky Media, October 21, 2013 at 12:28 p.m.

    So what is so wrong with embellishing a headline in a world where nothing but headlines exist. Reminds me of a recent story slanted to make a teen look like a killer because he posted a selfy of him in a classroom with his teacher in labor pain in the background. The article deplored him and the comments were akin to a mass murderer. It was in fun. He was smiling. As for the articles, they are truthful.

    A Mystery blonde child was found in a camp raid and now the question of child trafficking is being raised.

    A former drug lord was gunned down by by a gunman dressed as a clown.

    An eighteen foot serpent-like fish did wash up in California

    And yes a scout Leader who toppled ancient rock did claim disability due to a car crash a few years ago.

    And yes, until the math is calculated an asteroid could hit the earth.

    I guess the headlines should have read:

    Blond girl found in camp, parents missing

    Drug Lord found dead

    Large fish washes up on beach

    Man who claims disability topples a large rock

    Asteroid night hit earth

    Frankly, I'll stick with the embellished headlines. You try writing a compelling title in seven words or less.

  6. Mike Bawden from Brand Central Station, October 21, 2013 at 12:48 p.m.

    There are boobs on the Internet? You mean, besides Congress, right? Who knew?

  7. Robert Rosenthal from Rosenthal Heavy Industries, October 21, 2013 at 2:36 p.m.

    Cranky Critic Succumbs to Batshit Bait

  8. Kevin Planovsky from Vert, October 21, 2013 at 2:45 p.m.

    I agree, but am willing to bet that if newspapers could have measured read-through back in the day, they would have been publishing lists, kittens, and boobs too…

  9. Christina Ricucci from Millenia 3 Communications, October 21, 2013 at 6:08 p.m.

    May I make a small correction, Bob? I think you found those stories on -- would be the site for abc-tv entertainment. And you forgot one really important headline on the ABC News site as of 5pm: "Everyone Poops, and Everyone Takes 21 Seconds to Pee." (Let's see if this comment makes it past the censors.)

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