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Study of Upworthy headlines claims negativity drives website clicks. We have some thoughts.

Let us give you a peek behind the editorial curtain here.

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Photo by Egor Vikhrev on Unsplash

Let's talk about what makes people read articles.

The adage, "If it bleeds, it leads," refers to the media's tendency to headline stories involving death or violence, but it can also be used to point to people's negativity bias. Simply put, people tend to pay more attention to negative news stories than positive ones.

A new study seems to reinforce this idea. And much to our surprise, it's centered on headlines used in Upworthy stories.

Using a public archive of Upworthy headlines and traffic data from 2012 to 2015, two separate teams of researchers analyzed whether people's click tendencies changed with negative or positive words in headlines. In those olden days of Upworthy, a handful of headlines for a single story were tested on the website to see which one would receive the most clicks. The research teams analyzed those results and found that negative words in headlines led to more people clicking on a story (2.3% more), and positive words in headlines led to fewer clicks (1.0% fewer). They also found a preference for headlines that express sadness over those that express joy, fear or anger.


The two research teams submitted their findings to the journal Nature at the same time in a bit of kismet shared here: "Two Research Teams Submitted the Same Paper to Nature – You Won’t BELIEVE What Happens Next!!" (For those outside media industry circles, "You won't believe what happens next," is a mocking pseudo-headline that came into use during the past decade and has generally been used to degrade the editorial choices of Upworthy and similarly-minded publishers in the early days of social media news.) The teams ended up combining their results in a joint study whose title sums up its conclusion: "Negativity drives online news consumption."

While we appreciate the researchers' work, we're not convinced that 10-year-old Upworthy headlines and traffic are the most appropriate data to draw such a conclusion from. From our perspective, "negativity drives clicks" isn't a clear takeaway here due to the fact that 1) the fast-changing media landscape quickly makes data obsolete, 2) the increases and decreases in clicks were quite modest, which matters a lot since 3) a negative word being used in a headline does not automatically equate to "negativity."

To illustrate these points, let us offer a peek behind the editorial curtain here.

Upworthy gained unprecedented fame in the early 2010s for mastering the "curiosity gap" headline, and for a hot minute, it was incredibly successful. The "Upworthy-style" headline became all the rage and was emulated to some degree by media outlets of all stripes before losing its novelty and falling out of favor somewhere around 2014.

That was a decade ago.

A lot has changed since then, both in media at large and here at Upworthy. "You won't believe what happens next," is several proverbial lifetimes of change in the way all media outlets, including Upworthy, approach storytelling and how our audiences engage with that content. Headlines that got people clicking in 2013 wouldn't be written or clicked on the same way today at all in our experience. So, it feels like conclusions about people's click habits are being drawn from outdated data (a bit like comparing the respective value of a thrift store TV antenna with optimizing your 4K Netflix stream).

People have pointed out some irony in a seeming preference for negative words and sadness here at Upworthy, a website branded as a "positive news outlet." However, that's a simplistic characterization of our content. Upworthy has always shared positive, uplifting stories, to be sure, but it's an ongoing misconception that Upworthy only covers "positive news."

The original idea behind Upworthy was to "change what the world pays attention to" by sharing meaningful stories that highlight our common humanity, and that core ideal hasn't changed. Often, yes, that means telling feel-good stories. But it also means shedding light on and exploring solutions to challenges facing humanity, which aren't always positive or uplifting. Sometimes it means sharing a viral celebrity story that touches on an important issue or an experience many people can relate to. Sometimes it looks like tapping into people's curiosity to help us all better understand the world we live in. We tell stories that uplift and stories that deserve to be uplifted, and our headlines reflect that range of storytelling.

So what should we take from an Upworthy headline study that found people were a little more likely to click on headlines with negative words and sadness in them?

Honestly? Not a whole lot.

We already know negativity bias exists. None of this is revelatory to us (except perhaps the finding that anger does not appear to drive more clicks—that one was a bit of a surprise, to be honest). We've always known that if we wanted to, we could sell our souls and exploit the crap out of people's baser tendencies with our headlines to drive cheap clicks and make bank from it. But we don't, because that's not who we are.

Upworthy's current editorial team takes a different approach to headlines than the folks who were here a decade ago. We don't test multiple headlines anymore to see what clicks. Our process is more organic and intuitive, partly due to our own experience, partly due to lessons learned from our predecessors' data-driven approach and partly due to appreciating the art of a conscientious-yet-effective headline.

Speaking of which, the term "clickbait" gets thrown around with the Upworthy name a lot, including in the study. We have some thoughts on that, too.

Upworthy pioneered a specific headline style that drove a ton of website traffic and lots of people copied that style because it was effective. But a headline that makes people want to click on a story and read it does not automatically make it "clickbait." As long as the story itself is solid, a "clicky" headline is simply a good headline. There is no point in writers creating articles for a website if no one clicks and reads them, and a good headline will make people want to click and read. That statement shouldn't be the least bit controversial.

Genuine clickbait is when a headline promises something that isn't delivered in the story. It's a bait and switch, purely to rack up pageviews. That is not and has never been Upworthy's MO. Of course, we want people to read our stories—we wouldn't be here if we didn't think what we share was worth reading. But headlines are not articles, and every detail of a story can't be included in a 90-character headline. Being misled by a headline and clicking into a story that doesn't deliver is a clickbait problem. Having to actually click on and read an article to get the full story behind a headline is not.

Okay, back to negative words in headlines. Do we ever use them today? Of course, but not for clicks. The top negative words analyzed in the headline study were wrong, bad, awful, hate, war, worst, sick, fight, scary, and hell, and some stories honestly lend themselves to including such words in the headline. And more importantly, a headline with negative words is not necessarily negative.

The researchers point out that they removed headlines that included both positive and negative words to avoid muddying the waters. But searching our website archives from the time period in question for the negative word "wrong," for example, reveals headlines that are not actually negative (unless you think proving an incorrect assumption wrong is a bad thing).

"The classic image of a farmer is a man. These stunning pics prove that wrong." (Certainly not a negative story.)

"5 times Jimmy Carter proved the haters wrong" (This one has two negative words, "hate" and "wrong," but still isn't actually a negative headline or story.)

"The world tells us there's something wrong with us if we don't want to have sex. One chart proves the world wrong." (The word "wrong" in here twice—still not really a negative headline and definitely not a negative story.)

We could go through countless examples like this, not to prove that negativity bias isn't a thing (because we know it is) but to show that not all negative-word-including headlines are created equal. There are headlines in the archives that we'd never write today, some of which truly were negative, but many included a "negative" word but weren't actually negative at all. In light of that and considering the small increase in clicks for headlines containing negative words, we're not convinced that our archive of decade-old headlines is the best measuring stick to use when determining whether people are more drawn to negativity than positivity in news headlines.

We're also not convinced it's a particularly useful question. What we're most interested in is whether people are drawn to content that highlights our shared humanity, connects people around important causes, brings people together in celebration of joy and helps them learn something fascinating about the world we live in. And sure enough, our audience keeps proving time and again that that's what keeps them clicking, reading and sharing our stories, regardless of how many "positive" or "negative" words we include in our headlines.

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10 anti-holiday recipes that prove the season can be tasty and healthy

Balance out heavy holiday eating with some lighter—but still delicious—fare.

Albertson's

Lighten your calorie load with some delicious, nutritious food between big holiday meals.

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The holiday season has arrived with its cozy vibe, joyous celebrations and inevitable indulgences. From Thanksgiving feasts to Christmas cookie exchanges to Aunt Eva’s irresistible jelly donuts—not to mention leftover Halloween candy still lingering—fall and winter can feel like a non-stop gorge fest.

Total resistance is fairly futile—let’s be real—so it’s helpful to arm yourself with ways to mitigate the effects of eating-all-the-things around the holidays. Serving smaller amounts of rich, celebratory foods and focusing on slowly savoring the taste is one way. Another is to counteract those holiday calorie-bomb meals with some lighter fare in between.

Contrary to popular belief, eating “light” doesn’t have to be tasteless, boring or unsatisfying. And contrary to common practice, meals don’t have to fill an entire plate—especially when we’re trying to balance out heavy holiday eating.

It is possible to enjoy the bounties of the season while maintaining a healthy balance. Whether you prefer to eat low-carb or plant-based or gluten-free or everything under the sun, we’ve got you covered with these 10 easy, low-calorie meals from across the dietary spectrum.

Each of these recipes has less than 600 calories (most a lot less) per serving and can be made in less than 30 minutes. And Albertsons has made it easy to find O Organics® ingredients you can put right in your shopping cart to make prepping these meals even simpler.

Enjoy!

eggs and green veggies in a skillet, plate of baconNot quite green eggs and ham, but closeAlbertsons

Breakfast Skillet of Greens, Eggs & Ham

273 calories | 20 minutes

Ingredients:

1 (5 oz) pkg baby spinach

2 eggs

1 clove garlic

4 slices prosciutto

1/2 medium yellow onion

1 medium zucchini squash

1/8 cup butter, unsalted

1 pinch crushed red pepper

Find full instructions and shopping list here.

bow of cauliflower ham saladGet your cauliflower power on.Albertsons

Creamy Cauliflower Salad with Ham, Celery & Dill

345 calories | 20 minutes

1/2 medium head cauliflower

1 stick celery

1/4 small bunch fresh dill

8 oz. ham steak, boneless

1/2 shallot

1/4 tspblack pepper

1/4 tsp curry powder

2 tsp Dijon mustard

1/4 tsp garlic powder

3 Tbsp mayonnaise

1/8 tsp paprika

2 tsp red wine vinegar

1/2 tsp salt

Find full instructions and shopping list here.

tofu on skewers on a plate with coleslawPlant-based food fan? This combo looks yums. Albertsons

Grilled Chili Tofu Skewers with Ranch Cabbage, Apple & Cucumber Slaw

568 calories | 20 minutes

1 avocado

1/2 English cucumber

1 (12 oz.) package extra firm tofu

1 Granny Smith apple

3 Tbsp (45 ml) Ranch dressing

1/2 (14 oz bag) shredded cabbage (coleslaw mix)

2 tsp chili powder

1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp salt

Find full instructions and shopping list here.

frittata in a cast iron skilletSometimes you just gotta frittata.Albertsons

Bell Pepper, Olive & Sun-Dried Tomato Frittata with Parmesan

513 calories | 25 minutes

6 eggs

1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted

2 oz Parmesan cheese

1 red bell pepper

1/2 medium red onion

8 sundried tomatoes, oil-packed

1/4 tsp black pepper

1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp Italian seasoning

1/4 tsp salt

Find full instructions and shopping list here.

plate with slices of grilled chicken and a caprese saladCaprese, if you please.Albertsons

Balsamic Grilled Chicken with Classic Caprese Salad

509 calories | 25 minutes

3/4 lb chicken breasts, boneless skinless

1/2 small pkg fresh basil

1/2 (8 oz pkg) fresh mozzarella cheese

1 clove garlic

3 tomatoes

1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

4 3/4 pinches black pepper

1 1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil

3/4 tsp salt

Find full instructions and shopping list here.

four stuffed mushrooms on a plateThese mushrooms look positively poppable.Albertsons

Warm Goat Cheese, Parmesan & Sun-Dried Tomato Stuffed Mushrooms

187 calories | 35 minutes

1/2 lb cremini mushrooms

1 clove garlic

1/2 (4 oz) log goat cheese

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded

2 sundried tomatoes, oil-packed

1 1/4 pinches crushed red pepper

1 tsp extra virgin olive oil

1/4 tsp Italian seasoning

2 pinches salt

Find full instructions and shopping list here.

plate with open English muffin with goat cheese and sliced baby tomatoes on topMove over, avocado toast. English muffin pizzas have arrived.Albertsons

English Muffin Pizzas with Basil Pesto, Goat Cheese & Tomatoes

327 calories | 10 minutes

3 Tbsp (45 ml) basil pesto

2 English muffins

1/2 (4 oz) log goat cheese

1/2 pint grape tomatoes

3/4 pinch black pepper

2 pinches salt

Find full instructions and shopping list here.

pita pocket on a plate filled with veggies, meat and cheeseThis pita pocket packs a colorful punch.Albertsons

Warm Pita Pocket with Turkey, Cheddar, Roasted Red Peppers & Parsley

313 calories | 20 minutes

1/4 (8 oz) block cheddar cheese

1/2 bunch Italian (flat-leaf) parsley

4 oz oven roasted turkey breast, sliced

1/2 (12 oz) jar roasted red bell peppers

1 whole grain pita

3/4 pinch black pepper

1/2 tsp Dijon mustard

2 tsp mayonnaise

Find full instructions and shopping list here.

plate with toast smeared with avocado and topped with prosciuttoDid we say, "Move over, avocado toast?" What we meant was "Throw some prosciutto on it!" Albertsons

Avocado Toast with Crispy Prosciutto

283 calories | 10 minutes

1 avocado

2 slices prosciutto

2 slices whole grain bread

1 5/8 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil

1/8 tsp garlic powder

1/8 tsp onion powder

Find full instructions and shopping list here.

bowl of chili with cheese and green onions on topVegetarian chili with a fall twistAlbertsons

Black Bean & Pumpkin Chili with Cheddar

444 calories | 30 minutes

2 (15 oz can) black beans

1/2 (8 oz ) block cheddar cheese

2 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes

2 cloves garlic

2 green bell peppers

1 small bunch green onions (scallions)

1 (15 oz) can pure pumpkin purée

1 medium yellow onion

1/2 tsp black pepper

5 7/8 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 tsp cumin, ground

1 tsp salt

1 Tbsp virgin coconut oil

Find full instructions and shopping list here.

For more delicious and nutritious recipes, visit albertsons.com/recipes.

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@shawtgal49/TikTok

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