Regular readers of the Billings Gazette might be wondering, “Who is this new writer who seems to know so much about Montana?”
I am referring to Jessica Wick, whose byline reads “For The Gazette.” I plugged her name into the Gazette’s search bar and got hits on 32 stories, all published this summer. Every story under her byline follows the same pattern: the five best of this or the six best of that, all with a Montana theme.
I didn’t really notice her name until a couple of weeks ago, on a story headlined “5 Montana bars where the food is even better than the drinks.”
I don’t want to pick on Ms. Wick, I really don’t, but this story struck me as the worst kind of click bait, something written by a person who, seemingly, had never been to any of the bars mentioned in the story, and made up for her lack of experience with 10 or 15 minutes of “research” on the Web.
This, for instance, is what she had to say about the Mint Bar & Grill in Lewistown: “There’s a running joke that the mark of a good mid-sized Montana town is a Mint Bar & Grill on Main Street (Belgrade, for one, also has a Mint). None of them are likely to disappoint, but the food menu at the Mint in Lewistown is more appealing than anything on the drink menu.”
I couldn’t tell if she was dissing the drinks or raving about the food, but I’m reasonably certain she has never set foot in that joint.
So I googled Jessica Wick, to see what I could learn about her. Aha. She is a writer for a website called Only In Your State, a massive collection of click bait from every state in the union. When I went to the Montana page, I found (by my count) 278 stories, with headlines like “There’s No Chapel In The World Like This One In Montana” and “There’s No Attraction In The World Quite Like This One In Montana.”
I opened 20 or 25 stories in the Montana section and found Jessica Wick’s byline on each one, but I can’t say for certain whether she wrote all 278 stories.
Here’s the most depressing part: If you click on “Write For Us,” you will learn that “While we can’t currently offer monetary compensation at this time, contributors will get all the benefits of having their content read by thousands of OIYS readers.”
Ah, yes, the old “exposure” line. I wonder how many unpaid writers tell their landlords, “I can’t currently pay you any rent money at this time, but I can put you in one of my stories at Only In Your State, which will get you tons of exposure!”
Right after saying they can’t pay “at this time,” however, there is some slightly encouraging news: “We also regularly hire contributors who consistently show that they’re a great fit on OIYS.” Good luck figuring out what that means. Are you a “good fit” after you write 10 free stories or 300 free stories? Only OYIS knows for sure.
I don’t know if the Gazette pays to reprint this stuff, but in any case (sorry, Jessica!) the vast majority of it doesn’t deserve to see the light of day. Unfortunately, those “best of” headlines reel in the readers. Wick’s stories are often among the best-read stories in the online Gazette, so I don’t expect her “exposure” to go away.
It’s just discouraging that the biggest newspaper in Montana can’t avoid the temptation of clogging its site with blatant click bait.