5 Reasons People Need to Stop Complaining About List Articles

Categories: Writing

listarticles1.jpg
In list form, because pfffffffft.

Lately it seems my newsfeed on Facebook is full of a charmingly hipsterish attitude regarding list articles. The words "hack" and "not real journalism" seem to come up a lot, but I'm a perfectly professional writer who is more than capable of laughing off such knocks against a writing style I happen to enjoy, as witnessed in the screencap above.

Setting aside my self-esteem issues for a second, there is really no point in hating on list articles as a whole, nor do they represent the dumbing down of journalism any more than Cosmopolitan or NaturalNews.com do. Which brings me to my first point...

listarticles2.jpg
Not All List Articles Are Equal: When people lump all list articles in the world together, mostly they're talking about Buzzfeed, and when it comes to Buzzfeed, the term "list article" is hardly accurate. Here's a perfect example: 14 Ways You're a Modern Day Hustler. Should this article make you weep for more in-depth writing? No, it should make you weep for any writing at all.

Things like this are not articles. They're collections of pictures and gifs with headlines. At best this is a slideshow. All told, if you add up the words in the piece, they clock in at under 300 total, not to mention that if they're strung together in order, it actually becomes a bizarre free-form poem told in the second person. There's also the fact that every word in the title, aside from the number itself, is hyperbolic half-truth.

Simply put, you can't compare something like that to, say, a 2,500-word article from Cracked.com. Just because they both start with a number doesn't mean that they have anything overly substantial in common, any more than different wines taste the same because of the shape of the bottle. In the end, you actually have to read a story and decide its worth (and by proxy the worth of the source). Get used to doing that, to because...

The Internet Really Likes Lists: Did you know that Buzzfeed does actually produce in-depth, quality content like interviews and this piece on the mermaid program at the Florida Aquarium? They do, just like the same guy who brought you the Top 5 Video Game Farts is perfectly capable of turning in 5,000 words on a movie about Dean Corll. So if outlets are able to do things like that, why do the farts and gifs thing?

Because the Internet loves to share lists, and unless you want us to hide all the content behind a pay wall, those pageviews featuring ads are how outlets pay for everything that's generated. Take Chris Lane, for example. After we ran a series of his tour diaries from his days playing in Bozo Porno Circus, he started a blog called Trailer Park Ninja since he got a good response for his writing. His first pieces were well enough received, but when he started doing things in list format, those entries immediately more than doubled in views over the other writings he was putting out.

Hell, my own most successful story on Houston Press was a list of things I want to tell my daughter about sex that don't involve the purity movement. When I say most successful, I mean to the tune of at least hundreds of thousands of views over the next-most successful piece. The Internet has spoken, and it wants a lot of things ranked in order. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

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15 comments
Paul Hudson
Paul Hudson

Lists are retarded....no research is done....no rhyme or reason behind the order. They seem to be put together in a style similar to a daily horoscope. Close your eyes, reach into a hat and pick

Eric Weathers
Eric Weathers

It's a template for lazy writers on a deadline. Lazier even than the Introduction-Three supporting paragraphs-Conclusion format we used in school to knock out an essay we had a month to write but all of a sudden was due in the morning. Your points are as follows: First, word count somehow makes an article more valuable. Second, that list articles are almost as popular on the internet as dick pill advertisements. Third, you provide a single anecdote of a list article you personally consider well done. Fourth, writers love list articles because they're so easy to write. And there was no fifth point, you used that one as your conclusion because you still haven't evolved as a writer past Mrs. Johnson's English class.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

How 'bout the number one reason: People read the heck out of them. Complain all you want, but for every one person complaining about another fucking list, at least five more are reading the entire thing. We've got the charts and other statistical mumbo jumbo to prove it.

misi
misi

You would only say "How about 10 ways to go fuck yourself?" over the internet. How about an article on how "big" people are over the web. Pussy move sir.... Pussy move.

leonard_bruce_esq
leonard_bruce_esq

List articles are favored by writers as all that extra white space means that they have to exert much less effort than usual. 'Content is king' say the editors who inflict this fluff on readers...

Anse
Anse

You make some good points, but honestly, these don't apply to probably 90% of the lists published by the Press. Top Five Drive-Throughs? Seriously? Is this really a thing? When you guys write a truly in-depth investigative story you can run circles around the Chronicle. Some of the best stuff I've read I've found on the pages of the Houston Press. But I guess it's hard filling a web page that is accessed 24/7. I'm trying to be sympathetic...

Eddie_Snow
Eddie_Snow

Eric took Jef to the burn unit on this one. Nicely done sir.

Anse
Anse

@KaitlinS Believe it or not, some of us do read things before forming an opinion of them. And after reading list after list, I feel comfortable agreeing with the other posters here: they're mostly fluff. I mean, jesus, that Top Ten Drive-Throughs list includes such amazing insights as Taco effin' Cabana. Lordy. For all those hipsters who didn't know how hip Houston is, we've got Taco Cabana! I applaud you for getting five web pages out of that. That's content. Oodles and oodles of content!

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@Anse @KaitlinS The fact that you didn't like it doesn't negate the fact that you read it...which is why we keep doing them...

CoryGarcia
CoryGarcia moderator

@Anse @KaitlinS You can dislike lists. You can think that they're fluff. That does not negate the fact that by and large people really like lists.

Anse
Anse

@KaitlinS @Anse It's frustrating. The only way I can tell you that Nicholas Sparks is a shitty novelist is because I actually read The Notebook. But in the internet age, that kind of logic doesn't fly, I guess. 

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