Listicles, or articles in list form, have been around for decades. Traditional magazines like Cosmopolitan have had them on their cover for years (aka: “10 Sexiest Things To Do With Your Man Tonight!”)
But the resurgence of the listicle online really found its home on BuzzFeed. The news aggregator and youth-centric site is the most famous example of the listicle done right. Peruse the site and you will find thousands of lists on any subject you can think of. Most are humorous, some are enraging, others, uplifting. Take “21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity,” an inspiring collection of photographs that has been viewed over 14 million times. They know what they’re doing, and they do it well. Although BuzzFeed was once known as the silly home of cat memes, it now also focuses on international news and politics. A U.S. Senator recently caused quite a stir by creating his own listicle: “11 Reasons Why Congress Needs to Fix Student Loan Rates Now,” mixing D.C. policy decisions with images and GIFs.
BuzzFeed’s editorial director Jack Shepherd recently told 10,000 Words via email about what makes listicles so attractive to his millions of readers. But first, he had a few things to say about the word itself.
“First of all, I don’t love the term ‘listicle,’ because a truly great list can be so much more than just an arbitrary grouping of similar things, which is what ‘listicle’ brings to mind,” Shepherd said. “At their best, lists are just scaffolding for stories: The list format grabs the attention because it’s an easy way for people to process information and for readers to know what they’re getting, but that’s not even close to half the battle. A great list that people share everywhere has to be an experience.”
Shepherd doesn’t agree with the argument that listicles are only popular with Millennials because of their image and GIF heavy content.
“Lists have been around since the 10 Commandments,” Shepherd said. “It’s a very natural way for people to organize information. And GIFs have been around since the early days of the Internet — it’s funny and nostalgic to see them back in such a big way.”
Shepherd sees the listicle trend expanding beyond sites like BuzzFeed, Mashable and Cracked (all of which are targeted at a youthful audience), and into more serious news outlets.
“That’s already been happening a bit, and I think some are discovering that the format gives them a lot of freedom to present information in a fresh and compelling way (see, for instance, this fantastic Washington Post article) while others are discovering that just putting things in a list format amounts to about 0 percent of making something that works and that people want to share.”
So in other words — the notion that making a listicle is a lazy form of journalism is simply not true, according to Shepherd. When asked if he believes long form journalism can exist with the increasing popularity of this growing trend, Shepherd was adamant that it could.
“You bet! There is totally a place for both image heavy content and long, in-depth written pieces.” Shepherd believes BuzzFeed itself is such a place.
“We’ve never been wedded to any particular format — as long as we’re continuing to make things that are entertaining, informative and engaging enough that readers want to share what they’ve found with their friends, we will feel like we’re doing our jobs.”
Do you think serious journalism can be done in listicle form? Let us know in the comments.
— Aneya Fernando