News Goggles: Watchdog vs. clicks? Comparing two Sacramento Bee news reports

Grades: 7-9, 10-12+

News Goggles annotations and activities offer news literacy takeaways on timely topics. These resources feature examples of actual news coverage, including full news reports, headlines, breaking news alerts or excerpts. 

This News Goggles resource originally appeared in a previous issue of The Sift newsletter for educators, which explores timely examples of misinformation, addresses journalism and press freedom topics and examines social media trends and issues. Read archives of the newsletter and subscribe here. 

Journalists at the Sacramento Bee, a major daily newspaper in California, say they are pushing back against a controversial proposal that could tie their pay to the page views and number of clicks that their online stories attract. News of the proposal sparked swift criticism online , especially among journalists, who condemned the policy as “demeaning,” “shameful” and “so appalling.” A petition to “Stop Pay-for-Clicks” at the Bee has attracted more than 1,800 signatures as of Oct. 26, 2020.

In a letter dated Sept. 30 and posted to Twitter on Oct. 19, members of the Sacramento Bee News Guild — a group of unionized Bee employees — wrote that such a policy would “create incentives to pursue clickbait headlines over in-depth, accountable journalism that serves the community.” In this edition of News Goggles, let’s examine the controversy at the Bee by comparing two news reports mentioned in the letter. The first, according to the letter, represents the kind of headlines that generate reader complaints and do little to serve the newsroom’s regional audience, while the other exemplifies local watchdog reporting. Grab your news goggles. Let’s dive in!

 Featured News Goggles resource: These classroom-ready slides offer annotations and questions on this  topic. 

Discuss: How do “clickbait headlines” drive web traffic? Why is web traffic important? Why would journalists raise concerns about a “pay-for-clicks” model of performance reviews? How does the Taco Bell news report compare to the marching band coverage? In what ways can watchdog journalism that holds the powerful accountable bring about change? How can such journalism, which can be more expensive to produce, be sustained? 

Related: 

Resource: “Democracy’s Watchdog”  (NLP’s Checkology® virtual classroom) 

Have feedback about this resource? Or an idea for a future News Goggles? Please share it with us at thesift@newslit.org. You can also use this guide for a full list of News Goggles from the 2020-21 school year for easy reference. 


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