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.