What is clickbait?
I don’t know, and I’m tired of trying to figure it out. I do know that countless writers—those who cover sports, news, weather, etc.—get accused of producing it daily.
I’m certain most readers don’t know what clickbait content is, either, but they sure do think we, the writers, benefit greatly from creating it.
I’m here to set the record straight.
I’ve been a Steelers writer for 13 years, and believe me when I tell you that there is no benefit, no incentive, for me to write clickbait articles—not unless there’s a great benefit to being called “baldy” a lot.
When readers say, “Clickbait!” I think they picture some grand conspiracy involving editors and writers to publish content that is going to drive traffic and also be of great financial benefit to everyone involved.
I may or may not have been sure of the myth of clickbait benefits before August 2015, but I definitely became aware of it after the Steelers signed Michael Vick to be their backup quarterback.
Bruce Gradkowski, Pittsburgh’s second-string quarterback heading into the preseason, suffered a season-ending finger injury in an exhibition game against the Packers and was subsequently placed on Injured Reserve.
The Steelers, still not quite sure about Landry Jones, a fourth-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, went searching for a veteran insurance policy to back up Ben Roethlisberger for the 2015 campaign. Who would they sign? None other than Michael Vick, an NFL veteran who certainly had a sketchy and controversial past.
You know what Vick’s sketchy past entailed, so there is no point in rehashing it here. But since you know about Vick’s history, you likely remember the backlash the Steelers organization faced for signing him on August 25, 2015—ironically enough, the 27th anniversary of the passing of the team’s founder and original owner, Art Rooney.
Despite Vick signing with his third team since being released from prison six years earlier, Steelers fans acted as if general manager Kevin Colbert went to Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary and made a deal to have Vick released under his supervision—kind of like in the old hit TV show, White Collar.
Fans immediately vowed to turn in their season tickets, mail in their Terrible Towels and boycott the 2015 campaign; fortunately, this was the first and last time Steelers fans ever threatened to do any of those things...
Anyway, the clincher for me was when some woman on Twitter hoped and prayed that the plane Vick was flying to Pittsburgh in would crash—an ironic statement considering what she was angry about in the first place.
The overall reaction to the Steelers signing Michael Vick inspired me to write an article about how the fans needed to get over themselves.
Damn, that headline was fire, son!
Even though it wasn’t an attempt at clickbait on my part—I was sincere in my beliefs, and there wasn’t anything clickbaity about my article—you can certainly see why that headline would have baited readers into clicking on it.
Boy, did they click on it.
Just how many people read (or at least clicked on) that article? Try over 80,000 in four days. Not only that but it was retweeted 163 times and “liked” (or shared) on Facebook over 50,000 times. I’m not sure if that’s an example of going viral, but it’s certainly the closest I’ve ever come in 13 years.
I was simply amazed by the response. I spent countless hours refreshing BTSC’s traffic page just to see the latest numbers for my article.
As you might expect, the backlash I received for writing about the backlash over the Vick signing was extensive. I can’t tell you how many people slid into my DMs to call me mean things—including “baldy.”
I received dozens of emails from readers telling me that I was supporting a murderer (I kindly encouraged those people to look up the definition of that word, btw).
So many people found me on Facebook and sent me nasty messages over the summer that I eventually lost track. Fast forward to three years later; I met a woman at a wedding and fell just short of “closing the deal.” I was sitting around a few days later and thought, “Hmmm, maybe she sent me one of those message requests on Facebook.” As desperate as that sounds, this actually happened to me previously, so I figured I’d give it a try. Instead of a message from the woman from the wedding, I found a three-year-old rant from someone regarding the Vick article. Not only was this person enraged over my article, but they openly hoped that my family would be involved in a horrific car accident.
What’s my overall point in rehashing the Vick story? As the title of this piece suggests, if ever there was an article of mine that would have benefitted me greatly to the tune of financial spoils, it was that one. I think it's cute and adorable when some of my fellow BTSC writers share traffic success because I can’t imagine any published content in the history of the site being more successful than that article.
I kid you not, that article did so well in terms of traffic, I genuinely thought I would receive some sort of bonus.
I did not.
Not only did I fail to see a financial bonus, but not a single person connected with BTSC, SB Nation or Vox Media even acknowledged the traffic that my Vick article generated—I didn’t even get so much as an “attaboy!”
I was making less than $100 a month in 2015, and it would be another two years before my compensation reached triple digits.
Therefore, if that article didn’t benefit me financially, why would I ever think that anything else I published in the future could?
It’s almost like I do this stuff for fun because I am passionate about the Steelers, passionate about writing, and love to get my thoughts out there for the world to see.
Would I love to do this for a living? Yes, but it’s been 13 years, and my ship has yet to come in, so what I do is the very definition of a labor of love.
I’m going to say this one last time:
You can trust me when I tell you that I do not benefit one bit—not financially and not in terms of accolades from my peers and bosses—from baiting you into clicking on my articles.