Utah Policy is in the middle of a year-end countdown of the top 10 stories of 2011. Such listings aren’t an uncommon practice for news outlets: while Utah Policy’s focus is on local politics, you can also easily find “best of the year” lists on subjects as varied as political gaffes, black America, baseball, television, movies, and viral videos. Here’s the Associated Press’s top 10 list too – Bin Laden is No. 1.
But beyond just the annual “best of” countdowns, list-based stories have become an increasingly common trend year-round. While Time Magazine boasts 54 different top 10 lists for 2011 on its website, that’s just the tip of its list-based iceberg: the site has hundreds of lists (many of them “top 100” from the previous century). Some of them are interesting and others are ridiculous: this list of top 10 “last laughs” puts No. 1 as Conan O’Brien vs. NBC, while No. 4 is Galileo vs. the Catholic Church.
You’ll see list-based articles and programs everywhere: VH1 has been repackaging the same nostalgic material over and over again into different lists. Humor magazine Cracked lived in Mad Magazine’s shadow for decades until it rebranded itself in 2007 with its current, very popular, format of list-based articles. The site toptenz.net consists entirely of, you guessed it, top 10 lists.
So why are lists so popular?
There are a variety of reasons. One, the lists appeal to readers’ ADD, rifling through a variety of topics very quickly before someone gets bored. You might skim through an article about the top 10 entertainment greats lost in 2011, but not an extended bio on, say, British-born photojournalist Tim Hetherington. (No. 8, if you were wondering.)
Another is search-engine optimization (SEO): an article about the top 10 celebrity meltdowns of 2011 will trigger searches for everyone on the list, even if some aren’t technically meltdowns. Seriously, do you think we’d have the top 10 cute celebrity child snapshots if people weren’t clicking through every single one? (which incidentally also increases page views).
A third is interactivity: Time asks readers to create their own lists, and online discussions about what deserved to be No. 1 or what was left off of a list can drive even more traffic to a site.
But a fourth reason could be the blurring effect that modern media has had on contemporary culture. The glut of choices the modern consumer has for news and entertainment is overwhelming. You didn’t need a “top 10” of everything in 1937 because, frankly, there wasn’t as much going on back then. Moreover, anything posted on the Internet today isn’t just competing against whatever else was posted today – it’s competing against everything that’s ever been posted in the history of ever.
There’s so much to digest nowadays, it needs to be consolidated somehow. Lists do just that. Websites like the Drudge Report and, yes, Utah Policy got their footholds by essentially providing a list of the top news stories of the day, providing a resource for people to get the overview they want.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to prepare my “Top 10 Utah Policy stories by Jared Whitley in 2011.”