Whatever Happened to the Olympic Spoiler Alert?
February 10, 2014
February 10, 2014
“New Hampshire’s Bode Miller 8th in Olympic downhill”
That’s the headline my fiancé uncovered on Sunday morning plastered in big, bold font across the top of the boston.com homepage.
Whatever happened to the Olympic “spoiler alert?”
Of course, working with a nine-hour time difference makes real-time enjoyment of the 22nd Winter Games difficult. Most of us aren’t glued to our TVs to watch NBC’s 3 a.m. live broadcast of women’s curling or men’s luge, no matter how interested in the games we are. We’ve had years to get used to the fact that news about the medal recipients is going to get out when the games are played while fans in the U.S. are sleeping.
But even as recently as the 2010 games, online outlets treated Olympic results with more delicacy. Warnings of, “Don’t Click if You Don’t Want To Know,” usually preceded any news of the day’s events and medal ceremonies. But for some reason, the Sochi games are illuminating a new, almost blatant disregard for readers who may actually want to wait to watch the events in primetime, in exchange for the almighty click-through and staying competitive in the face of social media.
As a media professional, I understand the fervent need for clicks. I understand that in the face of Twitter and Facebook, news outlets are desperate to remain viable, and to do so requires that they continue to be a destination for breaking news and analysis. And because an event like the Olympics captures the global conversation like very little else, it’s easy to take an “everyone else is doing it” attitude towards event results. After all, if readers can’t avoid results on Twitter, why should news outlets be cautious about them on their homepages?
But there are clear and easy ways for outlets to gain traction, earn clicks, and optimize SEO without writing headlines that leave nothing to the imagination and remove almost any need to watch the event in the first place.
“Results for Miller, Team USA in men’s downhill,” “Surprise result for Miller in men’s downhill,” or even something as leading as “Disappointing finish for Miller in men’s downhill” will each let the reader know the results are in. And more importantly, these headlines combine the right keywords – athlete name, event, “results” – to show up in search results and garner traffic, but without giving away the ending.
Or, if outlets simply must announce the tiniest detail of the results in a blaze of glory, keep the result-specific headlines to the Olympics landing page, and keep the homepage headline slightly more mysterious, using it to simply direct the traffic. CNN.com is using this strategy, keeping its headlines less explicit and choosing to use photos and adjectives like “ecstasy” and “agony” to get readers clicking.
It’s a tough media world out there, it’s true. But when media outlets show more caution over revealing Walter White’s end game than the accomplishments of Team USA, it’s time for news professionals to find solutions that strike a balance between spoiling the result and spoiling the bottom line.