The following is a diatribe on list articles. I address this to no one in particular, but simply to the writers of the world.
Hello, writers of the world. Nice of you to come. Can everyone hear me? Even at the back? Good. Ok, so I’ve gathered you here today to ask you to reconsider list articles. You know the ones I mean. ‘You Missed These 22 Hidden Secrets In Disney Movies’. ‘21 People Who Don’t Have Time For Your Flirtatious Texting’. ‘22 People Who Should Have Definitely Not Taken The Ice Bucket Challenge’. ‘100 Numbers With Values Less Than 101’.
They work on a number of levels. We all know this. List headlines are super click-baity. Yum, look at all those hits. You can use stuff like ‘Which Of The 12 Types Of People Are You?’ and immediately everybody wants to know which one they are. Admit it, you want to read that article now, don’t you? You need to know which one of the types you are. And what about the ranking? Why are they numbered? Is it important or not? Is the last one ‘the best’, or is it the first?
I’m not disputing their popularity. They wouldn’t be so ubiquitous if they weren’t well loved. But it is ridiculous. It is ridiculous. I know this is hard to swallow because you love them so much, but (for example) on Wednesday, Buzzfeed posted an article called ‘26 Times Alex Salmond Wore The Same Tie’. Under no circumstances would this article have ever been published, were it not for the convenient list format. Imagine it as a headline on the front page a newspaper: ‘Alex Salmond Wears Same Tie’. Imagine it on a blog. Any blog. Actually, try and imagine it anywhere other than a really specific ‘Tie Fashion of Regional Party Leaders’ blog. D’you see? It only works because of the format. And if the format is the only thing keeping the article together, then maybe you need to take a second look at your content.
Where will it end? Inevitably, it’ll enter mainstream papers and TV news. It probably already has. Expect ‘11 Towns That Were Captured By The Islamic State Today’ or ‘7 Reasons Scotland Can’t Use The Pound’ and eventually ’13 Events That Happened Since The Last Time We Listed The Events That Happened’ on the BBC News by September.
Case in point: here’s a pretty good approximation of a list article. THIS IS BASICALLY WHAT THEY ARE LIKE AND YOU ALL KNOW IT. I now present to you ‘12 Things That Thinged The Thing’.
12 – Toy Story 3 – one of the greats
11 – Paris – would have been higher, were it not for the running time
10 – Constantly posting pictures of all their meals – up there with the most annoying social media faux pas
9 – Marcel Proust – Northwest becoming cyclonic later, 4 or 5, increasing 6, good, occasionally moderate
8 – When your favourite tune comes on – who doesn’t love to dance around the room to their jam, am I right?
7 – Roger Fitzalan, 2nd Lord Mayor of London – not always remembered, but definitely deserving of a place in the top ten
6 – Neville Longbottom – the bit where he opened that shop
5 – The Party Girl – watch out for this one!
4 – The Beatles with Rubber Soul – 36 minutes of awesome
3 – Flipping the pillow to the cool side – who doesn’t love this, am I right?
2 – The Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs – a close second
1 – Black Raspberry Jam – obvious
Here’s my message to all writers of the world, then. Don’t give up writing them if you don’t want to. Give the people what they want, sure. I would have to think an awful lot of my impact if I believed I could stop you. But next time you start writing ‘My 8 Favourite Hairs On My Head’, just pause for a second and think. Could I make this point in a more interesting way? Does it need to be a list? Couldn’t I, at the very least, just type a connecting sentence between each item and then wrap it in an introduction and a conclusion? Wouldn’t that be better?