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People gravitate toward extremes.

Extremes make for interesting reads, which is why the media devotes so much energy to skyrocketing darlings and train wrecks. Of course, the best story is the skyrocketing darling that becomes a train wreck.

Meet Theranos.

The media spent months building up the startup as the best thing since sliced rye.Theranos Fortune Cover 02-16Then, a Wall Street Journal piece in October took issue with the science behind the company, which triggered an avalanche of bad press.Theranos WSJ Article 02-16But when does the piling on cross the line into bad journalism and click bait?

Business Insider answered that question last week with the article titled, “Theranos wants to hire a writer who can ‘solve problems through the power of excellent storytelling.’” The article implies that the press pummeling has taken such a toll on Theranos that it is now resorting to “storytelling” to turn around the company.

But check out the actual job listing.Theranos Job Description Expanded 02-16The company isn’t expecting this writer to play McKinsey and point the way to IPO riches and a happy ending.  Instead, “solve problems” refers to areas such as translating technical information so it can be understood by the average person and refuting what the company considers false claims in the media.

Yet, without the context of the full job description — and I might add capitalizing on storytelling techniques as the new black in business communications — Business Insider paints a picture of Theranos trying to spin its way out of turmoil.

As job descriptions go, the one from Theranos is better than most, though far from the Medium benchmark. I thought the requirement for “strong knowledge of Microsoft word” was a bit weird. Maybe they take their line spacing seriously at Theranos.

Back to Business Insider. This isn’t the first time I’ve taken the publication to task. Last summer I pointed out that a BI story on the fast food chicken wars was not finger-lickin good.

But maybe these types of stories fit the Business Insider model. The publication is not angling for Pulitzers. It wants to generate the greatest number of clicks with the least amount of cost (time by the journalist to write the article).

I’m guessing BI’s Lydia Ramsey dedicated 20 minutes or so to the Theranos story. By this standard, the Theranos story was a winner. BTW, 64 minutes later Re/code published a more tame version of the Business Insider story (naturally with no attribution to BI).

Looking at the big picture, the mega German publisher Axel Springer shelled out around $450 million last year to acquire Business Insider.

I suppose that’s an argument for focusing on the click.

The bait doesn’t matter.


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