Plain Talk: The history of clickbait

Ben Smith, a veteran of publications such as BuzzFeed, The New York Times, and Politico, and the founder of Semafor, joins this episode of Plain Talk to discuss his new book, "Traffic."


MINOT, N.D. — You've all heard the term "clickbait" before, uttered derisively, and not always deservedly, toward online content designed to prioritize earning a click or view or listen, over everything else, including the truth.

But how did things get this way? What's the history of clickbait?

Ben Smith, one of the founders of a new news venture called Semafor, joined this episode of Plain Talk to talk about it. He's a pioneer of early blogging, a veteran of Politico and The New York Times, and he was the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News, a position from which he made the decision to publish the now-infamous Steele Dossier.

Smith is also the author of a book called "Traffic: Genius, rivalry, and delusion in the billion-dollar race to go viral." It's a history book, spanning roughly the last two decades of internet journalism, from the Drudge Report to the Huffington Post, from Breitbart to Gawker, and how it was all shaped by a relentless drive for traffic. Attention. Clicks.

If you want to buy Ben's book, you can do so here.


If you want to subscribe to Semafor (I do), click here.

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Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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