5 Reasons People Need to Stop Complaining About List Articles
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...
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.
A Good List Article Isn't a List Article at All If you clicked on that Cracked.com link earlier, you would have seen it was David Wong's "5 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person," and like everything Wong writes, it should be required reading for all human peoples. The title does not lie. It is a collection of five harsh truths.
That said, they are presented more like the chapters of a book or the acts of a play. A good list article has no truck with that mishmash of Buzzfeed captions. Instead, it follows a good narrative from beginning to end, with brief stopping points right where the story beats should be. There's a flow, and you can use the format to say an awful lot of things.
Again, it's a question of quality. You can put a guitar in the hands of a 14-year-old who has just discovered "Smoke on the Water" and put the same guitar in the hands of Yngwie Fucking Malmsteen* and get totally different results. Here's a hint: It ain't the guitar.
*This is not profanity. Malmsteen's middle name is "Fucking" 
List Articles Allow Writers to Talk About Things That Aren't News: Have you ever come across something years after it debuted and wanted to share it with everyone you know because it's an awesome thing? That happens with writers, too, and sharing awesome things is our bread and butter, not to mention our Laffy Taffy and cheap wine.
There's a problem, though. That awesome Tetris musical you just found on YouTube? It's not current news and no one is going to care four years after it was released. It's just not timely enough. So what do you do? You wait until the anniversary of the game rolls around and you throw out the "7 Best Covers of the Tetris Theme".
That's what I and so many other pop-culture writers love about the format. If you come across something you think is neat, all you have to do is find four or nine things roughly like it in some way and then you can show it off. It's a wonderful method of getting tiny pockets of trivial greatness a little press and love in the world.
Ranking Fosters Debate: Everyone who writes a Top 10 anything article knows the very first response he or she is going to get: "You forgot thiiiiiiiiis." This is usually followed by calls for the writer's termination, sometimes from life itself, and a general hatred of the news outlet expressed in poorly spelled expletives.
Amid all the noise that this generates, though, you often get to see how people really feel about a particular subject. Readers will fervently argue their preferred recognition of video games or songs or whatever is on the table, and such argument actually does lead to new insight. For a writer, it's a good way to find a cultural pulse.
Undoubtedly the comments on this story will feature people explaining the five ways list articles tongue-bath the odious rectum of a donkey, and some of them will probably be at least partially right. Regardless, there's nothing inherently wrong with presenting your story in the format. Like rectum-licking, it all depends on the skill and care of the person doing it.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Houston, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.