Publishers will rely on them so long as readers reward them with page views. While listicles have their place — and some are magnificent — they’ve become too popular. Well, let’s be honest: they’re overused, abused and have jumped the shark.
Here’s yet another listicle with six undeniable reasons why we need to rethink the listicle:
1. They are cliched. It’s tough not to react to any listicle without saying, “Oh, great, yet another listicle.”
2. They abuse linkbait headlines. There is an unwritten rule that listicles must have luring linkbait headlines, which make most listicles viral — regardless of whether the content is awesome, sucks, or nobody actually reads the content in the first place.
3. They leave you feeling empty. I love fast food every once in a while. But like so much fast food, listicles too often have minimal depth, nuance and quality. So even if you’re full, you still feel unsatisfied.
4. They’re often desperate for originality. When writers have to fill up editorial space but don’t have a great idea, they’ll often resort to a mediocre idea and a listicle. And that leads to outlandish subjects and angles that are downright desperate.
5. Photo listicles can be cumbersome. There’s probably an official name for them, but “photo listicle slide shows” often make you refresh the page to progress to the next photo. Photo listicles can be entertaining and informative, but they can be cumbersome when their sole purpose is to drive pageviews.
6. Listicles are often submitted as journalism when they’re not. Listicles can be great, high quality acts of journalism. But too often hollow listicles are placed widely in publications as if they’re journalism.
Despite my criticism, let me be clear: I’m no authority in journalism and I’m not a publisher. I’m also no arbiter of quality or taste. I’m guilty of creating listicles. Readers’ opinions matter, not mine. If readers want listicles, then publishers should satisfy that need.
However, I do have my own opinion. My reader appetite for listicles is waning, while my appetite for deeper, more thoughtful analysis and original reporting is rising. I’ve had my fill of sensational headlines, shallow summaries and scrollable bullets. I want more substance.
Ironically, a friend of mine, who is a publisher of a successful online publication, told me recently he thinks there is an emerging opportunity for long-form journalism (as if it is something new).
Perhaps the pendulum will swing and long-form journalism will become the new listicle.
This essay also ran in MediaPost.