Listicles are littering journalism

by Jackie Roman / Beacon Staff • February 5, 2014

The line between what college students consider journalism and purely pop culture writing is getting too fine to distinguish. In the midst of BuzzFeed and ViralNova mania, people have begun to share these links with friends as if they’re sharing actual news. But the principles of journalism remain, and despite the intrigue surrounding “21 Stages of Having a Shoe Addiction,” it still doesn’t meet the criteria. 

Now, that isn’t to say that sites like BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, and Yahoo!News can’t churn out quality articles. While they are known for having lighter reading material, a discerning eye can find some quality news about politics and global affairs. The  problem is not that these websites lack that substantial material in the first place. But rather, more and more readers are not developing that discerning news eye, or they just don’t care about consuming legitimate journalism. Both a lack of news judgment and lack of interest in hard news have become all too prominent in 21st-century media consumers. 

In actuality, reading credible sources is beneficial for expanding perspectives and improving general literacy skills. In a video created by The New York Times, one teacher who requires his students to read the paper says it is imperative to give his class “a perspective that’s outside the one they’re otherwise gonna get.” This means reading the newspaper could decrease ethnocentrism. Another teacher said kids begin the year saying they don’t care about most of the news because it isn’t relevant to them. But after teaching how globalization makes foreign issues into domestic problems, students “realize how relevant everything is to their lives.” 

So it’s best to be informed. LinkedtoDiversity, a company that helps individuals volunteer overseas, says “it should be important to each one of us to understand the society we live in.”  There is no excuse for passing the buck to the next generation when global conflicts are affecting us right now. As LinkedtoDiversity says, “it is your responsibility, as a young citizen—the future of our nation—to keep up with the world and know what is going on the outside of U.S. borders.”

We can still read “Life Hacks Every Hippie Should Know” and indulge in Beyoncé memes. However, we can’t forget that this is junk food reading, which is pleasurable and encouraged, but always best in moderation. Quality journalism is accessible to everyone, and doesn’t have to be seen as something exclusive. Learning how to make the judgment call between what is fluff and what is real news isn’t difficult. 

For instance, there’s a lot lacking in the BuzzFeed article “President Obama Tried To Shoot A Video With An iPad Today.” This piece talks about a tech-blunder Obama had at a Maryland middle school. The subject does not embody any attributes of newsworthiness commonly considered as markers of good journalism, such as timeliness, scope, impact, or conflict. In fact, the article seems to purposely avoid speaking in depth about the real, newsworthy reason the President even visited: to announce “a massive new public-private partnership aimed at boosting high-speed internet access for America’s students.” That’s a fairly big initiative, and yet BuzzFeed fails to provide the reader with more information about it. Even worse, by not discussing the benefits of a program like this, BuzzFeed cheats its readers out of knowledge that is beneficial for them.

Reading articles about current events can not only make an individual more aware of his/her surroundings, but it also improves overall literacy skills. If we continue to ignore the “share” link alongside MotherJones articles and only feed our followers more arbitrary lists from ViralNova, then we’re not improving. The disinterest people have in reading long-form journalism or any traditional reporting just serves to perpetuate ignorance in these aspects. And if we want to change the world around us or understand it a little bit better, it’s time to tone down the digital junk food. 

You can keep taking pop-culture surveys and reading “21 Reasons Why Old People Are The Best People On The Internet.” But you’re only hurting yourself by ignoring the real news out there. Moreover, you’re skewing your view of the world. I get what the buzz is about. But you need to get with the Times.