Year-end lists: the news silly season

Via Twitter this morning, Jeff Jarvis declared this the news media’s silly season. Jeff being Jeff, he used more colorful language: “Bullshit season begins. First: Time thing o’ the year. Next: Top 10 lists. Then predictions. All bullshit.”

And he’s right. The year-end lists contain no real news. They help us remember what happened in the calendar year. But there is little new information published. Predictions for the year are about as accurate as guesses about the length of Kim Kardashian’s next marriage. For the news organizations, these features fill time and space during what is traditionally a slow news time. (Time’s Person of the Year is a one-sentence news morsel and you move to the next thing about Lindsay Lohan.)

The thing is, people seem to enjoy them. It’s no coincidence that Buzzfeed’s biggest traffic day of the year came with its Most Powerful Photos of 2011 entry.

Nieman Lab’s Megan Garber talked with Buzzfeed’s founder, Jonah Peretti about that.

“I think the future is going to be about combining informational content with social and emotional content,” Peretti says, and “the post did a great job of combining those two things.”

I think he’s right, too. The problem with most of the year-in-review and year-ahead features is that they don’t include enough information and emotion to serve a true journalistic purpose. They’re done because we’ve always done them. With energy and emotion, they could be much more relevant than they are.

7 thoughts on “Year-end lists: the news silly season

  1. Not sure I agree with what Jonah Peretti said. I don’t think content itself is any more ‘social’ than it has been. What has changed is the social dissemination of content. No longer do news outlets have to rely on their own channels to spread stories, they can also allow, and even encourage, viewers and readers to share content on their behalf. This is easily done with various sharing plugins for Twitter, Google+, etc. always been emotional – if it bleeds it leads, right? – but the social sharing of content doesn’t mean the content itself is social. That is, unless we want to retcon the entire definition of ‘social,’ in which case content in all its forms – books, newspaper articles, movies, TV shows, Top 10 lists, etc – has *always* been social because there’s never been a time when people haven’t talked about these things.

    • I think news in general has gone towards a ADHD format. Most things are driven in that form now and done in 140 characters or less. 400+ if you use Facebook. The one part that I always find amusing is that the only difference between now and twenty years ago isn’t the medium. Internet has always “talked” about news. It’s the fact that something somewhat new-aged has gone more mainstream.

      I mean, back in the day, it was (and still is) on IRC, usenet, alt forums, vision boards, etc. Those still exist, but they’ve progressed to something that even some talking heads have. The only thing that really has changed is the use of the English language has been driven to things like “Fox Urgent”.

  2. I disagree that there is no “new news.” New is in eye of the reader/listener. The top example for me is the best-of-the-year lists NPR Music is doing right now. I’ve had a ball plowing through them and finding tons of music that is new to me. they do serve a purpose.

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