I was in the office a few weeks ago when I heard the funniest thing. The managing director had just said to one of the digital marketers: “Why does the blog post have to be 9 reasons…why can’t it just be 1 GOOD reason?”
He said this casually of course, but it’s something that has resonated with me since. Not to mention I’ve always agreed.
Listicles are a form of lazy journalism BUT it’s what the digital natives want. Look, I understand that we all want to channel our inner Buzzfeed sometimes, but it’s so damn constant. It’s everywhere. It’s on our social media pages, every monthly editorial calendar, everywhere. And brands are churning 3-500 word listicles on their websites as part of their content marketing strategies.
We know they’re significantly quicker to produce—all you need is a few lines for each point and it’s not very time consuming. Marketers across the globe are glad to be assigned a listicle as a part of their content creation to do’s. All in all, there are more lists in editorial calendars then there are long form pieces. Boo hoo.
So why aren’t listicles as great as you think?
It’s certainly true some writers will find the word “listicle” a complete no no. Just ask the king of Medium, Jon Westenberg. Defenders of quality writing will say that listicles are a construct of lazy writing, mental bankruptcy and shallow concepts. There are journalists and writers screaming for long-form content to make a comeback and the online publications are sipping their tea as their shares increase with every day that passes by.
It’s not THAT hard to believe that listicles are one of the most popular forms of content out there today. When I was interning at a digital marketing agency, I was told that listicles should not be lists of 5 or 10. They can only be lists of 4,6,7,8,9 reasons as to why… blah blah blah you get where I’m going with this.
This is because users are most likely to click when there’s a random number. Weird, but psychologically it’s probably true.
Even though lists are ruling the internet, I will state my unpopular as a rare millennial who believes long form content (whether it’s opinionated, factual, scientific) is better than those damn lists that are clogging feeds and taking up useful space on the internet.
Listicles are witty…at least most of the time. But they are still in their infancy, if you really think about it. They’re no pressure. It’s a breeze. All you’ve got to do is find the points and flesh them out in a few lines.
But I believe it’s a process that is far too easy and convenient. Giving readers bite-sized information in lists isn’t the same as fleshing out ideas and constructing paragraphs.
I’m a young writer; I’m only 22. But I could not imagine breaking into the industry with a ton of listicles as my first assignments. It’s a troubling thought because there’s no quality, nor much skill actually involved. It does not reflect journalism accurately and is certainly not the way to go if anybody wants to develop their writing skills.
Longer forms of writing, 1000 word pieces or longer, force the writer to think, research and craft their words carefully. Writers then remember to add structure, proper grammar, and develop a flow. They think deeply about their topics; they unravel new ideas.
Short form writing naturally stops the writer from including their own feelings and thoughts about a particular subject in their writing. This hinders all introspection and causes the writer to produce shallow and dare I say it… trashy content. And readers will notice this! They know lack of quality when they see it, and this leaves them disappointed.
Bottom line: Big, inspirational, and moving ideas and stories cannot be fully expressed, appreciated or understood in listicles or short form writing.