#HotTake: It’s time to end the ‘hot take’ epidemic

Shaun C. Koiner is chief product officer at Perform Media

No one likes hot takes — and that may be the entire point of them.

They make readers angry, they make writers lazy, and oh yeah, they make websites money. Lots of it.

We’ll get to that.

Not sure what a ‘hot take’ is? You probably read a few over the past year after Michael Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams. Or maybe more recently with ‘Deflate Gate’ and the New England Patriots that had news organizations saying “Isis who?” and “What plane?” You might be reading one right now.

Tomas Rios wrote a piece deconstructing the term as it relates to sports media, which is my current focus. It’s titled “A Brief History of Bad Sports Writing.” Hot takes are holier-than-thou judgments masquerading as journalism, and sport is their breeding ground. Phone calls, research and context? Nah. Readers want their takes served piping hot. That way, they can yell at the top of their lungs about just how bad writer ‘X’ or writer ‘Y’ is – and you’ll find a long line of content producers who will happy oblige them.

Yet while hot takes themselves are nothing new, the descriptor has only picked up steam in the past couple of years. Do a quick Twitter search for #hottake and you’ll find that the social community has established an adjunct neighborhood watch for these crimes against journalism. Stories like DOC to ESPYs: Lauren Hill’s courage trumps Cait Jenner’s and NBA’s ‘zero tolerance’ hypocrites feast on Sterling’s carcass have come under withering criticism.

Of course, not everyone hates hot takes, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many of them. If you care a lot about traffic to your websites, and you’re willing to make certain journalistic compromises, hot takes are the greatest thing since Google. And did I mention their timely, hollow nature also make them ideal candidates for high search traffic volume?

As for the #hottake police, they do a bang-up job of further incentivizing websites to keep the ill-informed armchair analysis coming. Two things happen when a #hottake is called out in social media: The author couldn’t care less and the linked story rakes in more referrals. Hot take hate shares!

Sporting News, one of the brands I oversee, is no innocent bystander in the hot take hysteria, but we’ve taken steps editorially to encourage a more measured and informed approach. Sure, page views are great, but they also can be bought. It’s tougher to put a price on credibility.

If you want better journalism, reward work that earns your attention. Stop linking to stories like Skip Bayless Claims Rape Charges Helped Kobe Bryant Sell Sneakers (“This isn’t even a FRESH HOT TAKE,” wrote one commenter). Stop tweeting out headlines like A history of Skip Bayless reminding people LeBron James isn’t clutch after every one of his game-winners (hmm, beginning to see a trend here?). Stop prompting those fan-baiting videos of chief #hottake purveyors.

They want you to hate it. Then they want every ad impression and every unique visitor you can give them.

That’s the point.

(Now, make sure you #hottake this Hot Take; I could always use the traffic.)


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