As a rule, I have an allergy to rules. I’m ok with guiding principles and I have three that I try to apply to work and to life generally.
The first is to try to do it properly the first time because ultimately, it’s more satisfying and less time consuming. The second is to listen at least as much as I talk. The third is to never argue with someone who knows less about the topic under debate than I do because I’ll learn nothing from the exchange. Stupidly, I may have disobeyed the third of these principles in an argument in the pub last night.
In the days of analogue journalism, we had things we called ‘sidebars’. The sidebar sat alongside the main story in a newspaper or magazine and presented additional, related information. This information was usually secondary facts, figures and tips that couldn’t be smuggled into the main story. Sidebars also had a secondary purpose, which was to fill what would otherwise be white space on the page and help the overworked reporter achieve the editor’s required word count.
The Internet has made sidebars a primary medium of ‘citizen-journalistic’ endeavour. I call it ‘list journalism’. Today, we’re inundated with all kinds of lists, such as “10 top tips …”, or “nine easy ways …”, or “eight simple steps …” or “seven important lessons … “ or “six key reasons …” Blogposts and marketing emails are full of them. Even social media carries, spreads (sorry, shares) and promotes them.
You may have figured out by now that I’m not a big fan of list journalism, which brings me back to the discussion in the pub. The person I was debating with has never bought a newspaper in his life. His news is served up daily online and he believes that list journalism is an excellent way to pass on information, to educate and inform people quickly and easily. That was the nub of our disagreement. IN truth, we were really debating the concept of people expecting to consume quality journalism without ever having to pay for it, but that’s another discussion for another day.
I described the growing trend of lists as ‘Knowledge for Dummies’. This, I suspect, was a cultural reference that went over his internet-addled head. I used terms like ‘dumbing down’, ‘the quality of free’ and other such concepts. As we were leaving the pub, he offered a wager that I couldn’t come up with 10 good reasons why I hate list journalism. So, here are ten things I hate about “list journalism”.
10.This is lazy journalism produced by lazy writers for lazy readers.
9. List journalism is mostly context free and therefore insight light.
8. The points made are often duplicated or repeated on the list.
7. Lists are produced to generate online clicks rather than knowledge.
6. Usually, two or three of the points are the same, just written differently (see!).
5. Most of these lists are too earnest, lacking any charm or humour.
4. They’re like a McDonalds Happy Meal: ok at the time but you’ll feel unsatisfied afterwards.
3. The people that write them are seldom true experts.
2. Lists have become the stable collateral for social media ‘marketers’.
1. You feel cheap and dirty after reading more than one.
I look forward claiming the forfeit, which I seem to remember is three pints of the finest lager the landlady at the Cheery Tree public house can serve up.