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OPINION | PHILIP MARTIN: Taking the (click) bait

by Philip Martin | July 13, 2021 at 4:22 a.m.

"Ninety-five percent of workers are thinking about quitting their jobs."

That's the headline on an Insider--formerly Business Insider--story that popped up on social media news feeds last week.

I was skeptical. Headlines can be deceptive even when the headline writer is not trying to produce click bait. Insider--a website owned by German digital publishing house Axel Springer SE--specializes in click bait. And what is called "native advertising" is a fancy way of saying that if you pay it enough it will craft a story to your specifications. It has also been known to make things up.

This is frowned on by journalists who strive for/pretend to ethical standards, but is neither unheard of nor a recent development. One of the few clear-cut victories of my professional life was in the 1980s when I convinced the publisher of a small chain of Texas newspapers to discontinue his advertising department's practice of selling political candidates a "campaign package" that, in addition to a number of ads, included a fawning page-one story about their dedication to public service.

I was less successful when trying to get the publisher to speak to a sports editor who made a practice of dressing in hometown school colors and standing on the sidelines with the coaches during high school football games. His reckoning was that Ol' Ted's ranting and cheering probably wasn't going to have any meaningful impact on the outcome of the game.

Besides, Ol' Ted hadn't minded getting fired from four or five big north Texas newspapers for brawling in press boxes and composing rooms; he probably wouldn't mind getting fired from some small-town semi-weekly.

"I'll compromise with you," the publisher told me. "You don't want him homering out and slapping Bobby Bootleg's butt after he jukes the strong safety and takes it to the house, you can tell him so yourself."

Ol' Ted was twice my age. I think I could have taken him. But that would have been an affront to both our dignities and a bad example for the eager young journalists we'd acquired through the Job Corps' on-the-job-training program. So I just let it go.

I did, however, finally convince Ol' Ted to hire a teenager to report the kids' soccer scores. Fine, he grumbled, so long as we ran them on the "wimmen's page" and not in the sports section.

Now you know why I lasted six months in newspaper management. Sometimes there are very good reasons to want to quit a job.

But 95 percent of us considering leaving our jobs? That's a lot of dissatisfaction. That's some bait to click on.

So I clicked on the link and discovered that what Insider was actually reporting was about a survey by the global employment site Monster.com. On June 14, the site polled 649 "employed U.S. workers" and 95 percent of them said they were considering leaving their jobs; 92 percent were open to switching careers.

How did Monster.com select this sample? It doesn't say in the Insider story, or in any of the half-dozen or so almost identical stories at sites like cnbc.com and goodwordnews.com and the Monster.com site itself, but it's fair to wonder if they didn't poll workers who had registered on their global employment site.

Or maybe they poll people who land on their "Monster Job Index" page.

Anyway, I'm not surprised that 95 percent of those who respond to a Monster.com poll are looking to leave their current jobs. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the remaining five percent of the respondents were, for one reason or another, without jobs to consider leaving.

Since Monster.com's business model depends on workers deciding to leave their jobs and look for others, it's good for them to perpetuate the idea that there's a lot of opportunity for people willing to switch jobs. They want you to sign up on their site and upload your résumé and provide other information so that they will have data to monetize.

The website provides lists of suitable candidates to employers willing to pay for such lists. The more people who volunteer their data to a job portal site, the more useful the job portal site can be to potential employers and the more they can charge for their services.

Monster.com maintains it "does not sell your personal information as that term is defined by the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018," which means that while it's trying to comply with the law, you probably consider the Internet a public square where anything and everything you do might be witnessed by amoral strangers.

That said, if I were looking to leave my job or switch my career, the first thing I would probably do is to upload my résumé to a few job portal sites like Monster.com. We all need to be circumspect about what we divulge online, but I'm not freaked out when, after I've wasted time checking out the high-end inventory of George Gruhn's guitar store in Nashville, ads for expensive acoustic guitars start popping up on my Facebook feed. I am willing to trade some some things for convenience; I like looking at expensive guitars and cars I will never own. Go ahead and target me, advertisers.

And I have no problem with how Monster.com does business, or even with its unscientific poll. More rigorous studies indicate that maybe close to half of employed U.S. workers are, in this anxious and possibly post-pandemic moment, re-evaluating the way their jobs fit into their lives. We might see some people re-ordering their work-life balance.

One job I wouldn't want to have right now is commercial real estate broker; some of us are wondering why we even need an office to go to anymore.

But at the same time, the Monster.com survey had no business popping up in anyone's "news" feed. It wasn't, and the fact that it was picked up and uncritically promulgated by so many news gathering organizations is distressing, particularly in an era when "fake news" is bandied about whenever someone doesn't like the content of a story.

I get about 15 pitches a day touting surveys and polls like the one that Monster.com sent last week. The PR people know that content producers are always hungry for material. Some of us will always bite.

The biggest problem with what people call the media isn't ideological bias or even reflexive cynicism. It's common laziness.

Some people ought to be thinking about quitting their jobs.


Philip Martin is a columnist and critic for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at pmartin@adgnewsroom.com and read his blog at blooddirtandangels.com.

Print Headline: Taking the (click) bait

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