It’s hard to miss the trend. Local news consumers, often ones that pay to subscribe to particular publications, are unhappy with click-baity headlines that end up being completely irrelevant to them.

Not to pick on McClatchy, but they publish North Carolina’s two biggest daily newspapers — the Charlotte Observer and the Raleigh News & Observer — so they’re a good local example.

Both of them are receiving a lot of pushback for publishing and presenting articles that look like they’d be relevant to their audience, when they are not — the definition of click bait.

One article from the Charlotte Observer this week was about a fast-food chain in financial danger. From the headline and picture, it was unclear which chain and where it is located. I kind of want to click to find out. Don’t you?

But thankfully, one reader saved us the time, reading it then calling them because it was about “an Ohio-only chain with 6 locations.” The reader then sarcastically added that “This is the kind of important local news Charlotteans subscribe for.”

Another reader mocked them, saying, “we lead local” and showing an image of where the chain’s locations are in Ohio.

Across the state in the Triangle area, readers of the Raleigh News & Observer had similar complaints this week. Veteran North Carolina political attorney Gerry Cohen commented that he had to read “TEN paragraphs” to learn which bakery the article was about, only to learn that it was also not in North Carolina. He ended by asking the paper to “Do better.”

Among those experiencing similar frustrations was former NC GOP executive director and Carolina Journal columnist Dallas Woodhouse, who just said, “Same.”

Giving a sense of how the practice is not just irritating readers but also employees, Luke DeCock, a sports columnist for the News & Observer, chimed in to vent as well. He said, “It’s not from us,” calling it “garbage syndicated stuff from corporate” that “reads like AI.” DeCock admitted, ultimately, that it makes “US” (implying the journalists at McClatchy) look bad.

Another reader shared a different article from the News and Observer warning that a Florida kiwi recall might also affect New Yorkers. Why North Carolinians would find that relevant, since they live in neither Florida nor New York, was not clear. But after reading the story, the reader found that North Carolina was indeed one of the states affected by the recall. The social media managers at corporate, though, apparently couldn’t be bothered to change the wording when publishing in different locations.

There were many other complaints about this practice. One called it getting “McClatcheyed.” Some called it “syndicated click bait” or “fluff filler,” and others pointed to the website “” as the source of some of the material.

The comment, “I canceled my subscription, I’m not paying for syndicated click bait,” should be the most sobering for McClatchy and its employees. It’s a short-term victory to get someone to click on a link, but it isn’t a net win if it leads that person to get angry and vent their frustration against you online.

Others will see the disappointed customers, and your reputation is harmed. In the news business, losing the trust of your readers (or watchers or listeners) is your death knell. It’s why trust in media is at an all-time low, as seen in the Axios chart below. It’s also why so many everyday people derisively mumble “fake news” when you mention certain outlets.

Click bait is only of many reasons for this collapsing trust. Other reasons are bias reporting, lazy coverage, and shelving important stories that disagree with disfavored narratives. Click bait is particularly harmful because it creates a sort of Boy-Who-Cried-Wolf effect. It says, “This is important! I swear! Click and see!” And then, when we do, we feel tricked. Each time an outlet does that, we get more cynical about their motives and trust them less. And without media we can trust to give us the real scoop, it’s hard for citizens to know how to vote, which states it’s safe to eat kiwis, and what to think about the world around them.

These are hard times for newspapers. Many are resorting to automation and AI to fill their publications, but this blowback shows the limits of those strategies. Those in corporate offices in New York or LA should recognize the damage they do to the reputations of local papers with strategies like this. Because some of the those they successfully bait into clicking may never click again.