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Confessions of a Clickbait Guru: 5 Ways Social Media is Destroying Journalism and Politics

Back in 2001 when I started Right Wing News (which is now a vanity website after it went out of business at the start of the year), the media landscape was entirely different. The Internet advertising market was too soft to interest big corporations; social media was a non-factor and many of the biggest conservative websites today didn’t exist.

What that meant was that if you were good, you could build an audience just doing 3-4 posts a day and you had a lot more fun doing it to boot. Back then, think tanks flew bloggers out to conferences; bloggers actually broke some big stories and we wrote about whatever we found interesting. It all went well enough for me that I was able to go full time in 2005.

After a few years of that, things started to change for me and for other bloggers for two reasons.

The first was that the conservative advertising market on the Internet got strong enough that it attracted people with money to spend on the game. Instead of everybody running blogs on a shoestring, you had professional people with hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend starting to compete. Eventually, that number climbed into the millions and it made it difficult for the stereotypical person blogging from home in his pajamas to compete.  I saw that coming back in 2011 and wrote a piece called “The Slow, Painful Coming Death Of The Independent Conservative Blogosphere.” Back then, a lot of people were upset because I was telling them something they didn’t want to hear. But today, I still have old-school bloggers mentioning that piece to me as it turned out to be spot-on.

That put blogs on the ropes, but the final death blow was the revolution that social media turned out to be. Why go to a blog to get one person’s opinion when you can go on social media and get lots of opinions? Right Wing News had a solid group of commenters before social media came along, but how could our group of a few dozen people compete with the millions of people chatting on Facebook or Twitter? Social media was not only a destination; it became the place you went to get more traffic for your website. Of course, as this Oatmeal cartoon shows you, that turned out to be a trap:

If paying Facebook more money than you can make back in advertising to make sure your own followers can see what you post sounds appealing to you, Facebook has you covered.

That being said, social media in general and Facebook in particular changed the game. That was doubly true for us because unlike the bigger Facebook pages at the time, we had already built a name for ourselves in the blogosphere. Since people had heard of us, our Facebook page grew relatively quickly (and mostly organically) to 3.5 million followers. As you might imagine, this made a huge difference in our traffic numbers. How huge?