Listicles: Ugh.

Posted By Mary Lynch on December 16, 2014

By now we’re all familiar with listicles—short articles executed as lists. They’re BuzzFeed’s bread and butter. It seems to me more and more news outlets are using them, in a fashion, to aggregate news for their readers.

Now I love a list as much as the next person. A list is an easy, streamlined way to convey news that is informative in breadth without delving too deeply in the minutia.

Aggregating important information is useful—we do it for our clients regularly. No one has time to read everything out there, so a well cultivated media monitoring report enables our clients to get a general sense of the media landscape with respect to their business without bogging them down in useless or irrelevant news.

But lately, it’s too much. When I’m actively watching the morning news and it’s interrupted by a news bulletin telling me the top three developing stories happening in the news, well, it gives me pause. Is the overuse of listicles and content aggregation insidious?

If my news outlet is telling me the “Five things to read right now,” what does that say about all the other articles they’re sharing that didn’t make the list? Should that particular top five list be followed by: “Five articles to read in a little bit,” then “Five articles that are just okay,” then “Five articles to read when you’ve run out of other recommended articles to read” and finally “Five articles not worth reading?”

Importantly, I think the more we get used to reading “10 things to know about vaccines” or “10 game-changing start ups” or “13 simple tricks to a long and happy marriage,” the more we might allow ourselves to be misled into thinking that there are only 10 things to know about vaccines or that there are only 10 start-ups worth paying attention to or that there are only 13 tricks to a long and happy marriage and if you’ve exhausted all 13, well, time to throw in the towel.

Granted, I don’t think the writer behind “Mariah Carey’s 15 most heartbreakingly gaudy outfits” is responsible for any diminished journalistic discernment in the reader drawn to that particular listicle (and, to my mind, the fact that she was able to narrow it down to just 15 shows a tremendous amount of journalistic restraint). But, I do think the increasing tendency toward listicles to catch readers’ attention and to convey important information dulls the sense of exploration and inquisitiveness that is necessary to cultivate an audience of a curious, well-rounded media consumers.