Mediawatch special: Clickbait and the death of a child

When Mediawatch writes interminably about clickbait, it generally means f*** all. It’s inconsequential and as lightweight as candy floss. A little sickening perhaps but essentially harmless. It’s just football. It’s just the internet. It’s just chasing of Google Trends. It’s just clicks.

And we do it all with tongue firmly in cheek because we all chase clicks to some extent, even if a little less nakedly than others. We are all trained in following certain SEO rules and the old-fashioned inverted pyramid of news-writing has given way to information buried deep in stories written to a certain length to satisfy the advertising department and the Google gods.

When it comes to football, we write considerably more about Liverpool and Manchester United because their fanbases dwarf those of other clubs. Like supermarkets stocking the most popular items, it simply makes business sense. So we can empathise with the pressured search for content related to those more popular clubs and Google-friendly global superstar footballers.

Our patience is tested a little by ‘local’ newspaper websites who are slaves to populist, positive coverage that desperately reaches for ‘aren’t Liverpool/Manchester United just bloody fantastic?’ headlines like ‘Liverpool performing better than 2019/20 Premier League winners as title advantage emerges’, which on another day we would enjoy destroying line by line.

But they know their market and they are happy to exploit that market, even if it leaves you wondering what they will write when Liverpool are no longer bloody fantastic.

So we may gently rib those who clickbait a little harder than we would ever dare – while still making sure ‘Ronaldo’ appears in the headline – but it is gentle ribbing and we are very much punching upwards at media organisations that are far more successful than ours.

It’s all good, clean fun until, well…

I can’t think of too many grander errors of editorial judgement than this headline and story. Clickbait be dammed.

— John Brewin (@JohnBrewin_) December 6, 2021

Yes, that’s clickbaiting death. And not just death but the death of a child. And not just the death of a child but the sickening, heartbreaking death of a child at the evil hands of his supposed care-givers.

Imagine for one second the thought process of seeing a video of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes wanting to be a footballer for Liverpool (and then Tottenham and England) and thinking that would make an excellent headline for the Liverpool Echo website? Imagine making sure you put ‘Liverpool FC’ in the headline and in the opening line. It’s little wonder the SEO editor earns a joint byline with the Birmingham Live reporter who first wrote the story on their sister Reach website.

Mediawatch expected not to find that story on the Echo website on Tuesday morning after the Twitter outrage on Monday but there it is. After all, there are still clicks to be mined from this tragedy and the connection with one of the biggest football clubs in the world. And the snowflakes of Twitter will soon move on to their next outrage.

So the story remains.

They might argue that the Mirror website (also Reach) had already sunk to those same depths three days ago with a headline of ‘Tragic Arthur shares Liverpool football dream in video as stepmum and dad jailed’. Tragic Arthur also shared Tottenham and England dreams, of course, but neither of those search terms have the same value.

When even The Sun (‘Sweet video shows little Arthur Labinjo-Hughes reveal footie star dreams before being murdered by cruel stepmum’) emerge with more credit from a ‘story’ that encompasses both tragedy and Liverpool then you really should know that you have got it very, very wrong. Shame, shame, shame on you.

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