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Six Ways Viral Listicles Will Doom Journalism And All Humanity

02/06/2017 16:32 BST | Updated 02/06/2017 16:32 BST
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List articles are not new, but in recent years they have dominated social and viral media. The main perpetrators are relatively lighthearted sites such as Buzzfeed and Cracked. Following suit, nearly all long-established news behemoths now have some form of jocund blog - take the BBC's 10 Things We Didn't Know Last Week section; "sliced and diced for your convenience" and full of vital trivia like "Former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond once played a ghost in a Bollywood soap opera" and "Australia's oldest man knits sweaters for penguins", not to forget a personal favourite "Police horses from Thames Valley can be named Odin, Thor or Hercules, but not Brian".

In case you've just migrated from Titan, listicles start with a brief introduction before numerically introducing points. What a ridiculous notion.

1. Click-bait Titles. In some twisted way it makes sense that the Information Age should be succeeded by the Post-Truth Age. To lure us away from fake-news, photos of our college crushes and videos of babies eating lemons for the first time, articles have had to step-up to stand-out from our livefeeds. The problem is, this pressure encourages exaggerated, sensationalist titles which (much like holiday romances, NYE parties, and political campaign promises) almost inevitably lead to disappointment. Sorry.

#neverforget

2. A Culture of Bite-Size Knowledge. While I hesitate to jump on the "Gosh-Darn-Millennials" bandwagon, I recognise that the internet's endless distractions have induced a culture of shorter-attention spans. Once upon a time, people trekked up mountains to seek wisdom from hermit-sage's, a far cry from today's insistence on readily-accessible, easily-digestible, numerically-ordered information. Real viral addicts (myself included), often won't even read full entries and will just skim the section-titles. So if you're reading this, kudos. Listicles' popular format is now increasingly adopted for tackling serious issues. For evidence of this, look no further than Buzzfeed's evolution from a hub of pun-laden cat gifs to a legitimate source of current affairs. Attempts at more substantive, independent research tend to fall flat too, as illustrated by today's attempts to read a Wikipedia entry on journalistic ethics. Suffice to say I never finished, and somehow ended up reading (admittedly rather extensively) about Harry Potter fan-theories.

3. Jack-of-all-Data. Viral news seems to be taking us towards a future where everybody knows a little about everything. We get exposed to so much information that it takes more to shock us. Once, we might have been amazed by an article about a beautiful secret beach. Now we're starting to numb to these once awe-inspiring discoveries. Just one won't do, we need to know:

"The 10 Most Mind-blowing Secret Beaches/Temples/Ruins/Sunsets/Houses/Holiday-Destinations/Castles/Insects/Diet-Secrets/Waterfalls/Anti-carcinogens/Deep-Sea Animals/Harry Potter Fan-Theories" or whatever else keeps your boat afloat.
As an aspiring journalist, I'd hate to argue that the spread of knowledge is a bad thing. But we can only read about so many discoveries before our minds don't quite get blown the same way.

4. Inadequate Space for Discussion. The format of listicles offers little opportunity to offer important responses and comparisons between entries. There is no space for thoughtful linking between different arguments, a vital step in progressing the collective narrative. By offering a series of unconnected points, there is no space to consider complicated issues holistically and comparatively. Which can leave readers with new knowledge, but without sense of its relative importance.

5. Not All Entries Are Created Equal. Listicles are popular because they are pleasing to the eye and they keep readers engaged by rewarding them with mini dopamine rushes. The downside to this is that each entry needs to be approximately the same length as the last - restricting writers to a limited space for each point. This is misleading because each entry isn't necessarily as important or simple as the last; some may be much more complicated and will require considerably more elucidation for sufficient understanding. But I don't really have time to explain that here.

6. Extremely Exaggerated Entries. Often list-based sites have a minimum amount of required entries, each of which are presented as being of roughly equal worth. This encourages the submission of undeserving entries. Leaving some shameless writers to exaggerate points to make them seem worthy of inclusion. This is the worst thing that has ever happened to mankind.

OK, so humanity can probably rest easy for a little longer. And thanks to my 'millennial attention span', I now know that Neville Longbottom may have been the chosen one all along. But questions are worth asking when articles are being written with the main intention of maximizing shares. Journalism must evolve with the times, but if we are to reach the post-post-truth era, it must do so responsibly and not let its standards fall in the process.

Yours Sincerely,

A Listicle-Writing Journalist

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