I wrote a piece for AlterNet a couple of days ago titled 4 Reasons I'm Glad I Came Out as an Atheist, which has gotten a lot of positive attention and, I'm told, will be re-published in the next edition of Freethought Today, a newspaper (an actual newspaper, printed on, like, actual paper — talking about freethinking!) put out by the Freedom from Religion Foundation. "Also-ran" mention goes to Salon, which picked up the AlterNet story (as they often do) but then managed to cheapen the entire thing by tweeting it under a grossly misleading headline: "Being an atheist sets a better example for your child than being a Christian." Um, yeah, WTF? I literally never said that, never implied that, and don't remotely believe that. In fact, one of the fundamental messages of my book is that it doesn't matter what you believe — it's how you treat people that matters.
So what gives?
Clickbait, that's what.
Apparently just writing about atheism — a subject as likely to divide people as any other — is just not controversial enough for Salon. They needed to make sure to offend as many people as possible.
Hey, you know what really sets a good example for your kids, Salon? Not being dick on Internet.
I'm not the first writer to be subjected to this nonsense. In April of 2014, for example, Salon took a Pujiba post titled Walter White, Jamie Lannister, and How We Morally Process Murder and Rape Differently by Dustin Rowles and changed it to Why the “Game of Thrones” rape scene caused fans to respond in the worst possible way, turning Rowles into a punching bag for Internet trolls. You can check out Rowles' thoughts on the headline switch here.
Luckily for me, I haven't received any hate mail. In fact, maybe readers are becoming more savvy (or at least Salon-savvy) in general because a good number of tweeters already have called out Salon for misleading people.
It's not like am a Pollyanna when it comes to headline writing. I've been writing for news organizations a long time, and I get that headline writing is an art form. I don't get bent out of shape by slight embellishments or lose sleep when headline writers extrapolate a bit too far — morphing the point of the story into something slightly different than what I'd intended. I understand that there are millions of stories on the Web right now and every one of them is competing for my attention. I appreciate the fact that these folks are trying to get eyes on my writing. I even acknowledge that there is a place for clickbait in the world.
But for an online magazine that is actually publishing a l0t of really good, thoughtful writing to basically lie about the contents of those stories just to drive a little extra traffic — well, we deserve better. We as readers. And we as writers.
Come on, Salon. You're smarter than that. It's time to start acting like it.