Goodbye, Beloved Listicle Factory

LOGO: AJC1 on Flickr.

Well, the semester is coming to a close, and so is my newstrack blog. Some takeaways from my months of following BuzzFeed News:

-Legacy news media should embrace listicles.

-I am so sick of Twitter embeds.

-I’m going to keep reading BuzzFeed News.

Thanks for following along! My final project for this class will be up soon, and I’m really proud of it.

How to Run a Marathon

Every semester, Jennifer Carter trains groups of students in a fitness class called Marathon Training. She is an area director for Boston University Residence Life, but according to the Res Life website, her “true passion is running.”

The “training” part of the marathon class involves more than just learning how to run. Carter brings in nutritionists, psychologists, and all manner of experts to teach students about  the nuances of long distance running.

In honor of the 121st Boston Marathon last Monday, I sat down with Carter and a former student, Jasmine Hu, who just completed her second Boston Marathon.

Both Carter and Hu have run for Lingzi Lu, the Boston University student who died in the Boston Marathon bombing four years ago. The book and T-shirt in Carter’s office both commemorate Lu.

Appreciate Listicles, Appreciate this Meme

This week’s newstrack follows yet another exhausting 180 in global politics. British Prime Minister Theresa May will hold an election in seven weeks. To Americans, that sounds crazy. Our president can’t randomly decide when he or she should run for reelection. Thankfully, BuzzFeed brought in Hannah Jewell, a staff reporter based in London, to give us befuddled Yankees an explanation.

The result is an explanatory piece disguised as a listicle, much like the Gibraltar article I looked at a few weeks ago. It’s called Hello Americans, Here’s Why The UK Is Having YET ANOTHER Election!”

The Gibraltar article and this one have a lot in common. They’re both works of substance disguised as clickbait (does that just make them good clickbait?). They’re both funny and easy to understand. This election article, though, is about something happening right now–not a history lesson.

Jewell’s article is structured like the Gibraltar one, simple sentences followed by funny pictures. After announcing the crazy news that Britain might have yet another political shakeup, she represents the situation with this fun Elmo meme:

elmo fire

After that, she writes, “You may feel as if you have the monopoly on crazy news, America, but it actually turns out we are ALL ON FIRE AT THE SAME TIME. (It’s part of our special relationship.)” This is part of the article’s attempt to cater to confused Americans.

Although Jewell uses humor and silly pictures to liven up her writing, this is not The Onion. She has some real information to get across, and as the listicle progresses, she does a good job of it. Once she’s through describing former British PM David Cameron as “a man known throughout the land for his beautiful moon face and sad, empty eyes,” she launches into detailed political analysis. PM May is trying to strengthen her parliamentary majority with this election, potentially making the Brexit negotiation process a whole lot easier for her and her Conservative party.

Clinging to old formats can only hurt news organizations, and BuzzFeed News’ listicles continue to be funnier and more accessible than any explanatory piece a legacy paper might produce. In one article, Jewell jokingly implies that David Cameron had a “fuck it” (that’s a quote from the article) attitude towards the Brexit referendum and Theresa May said “YOLO, bitches!” when deciding to hold an election. Whatever your attitude towards profanity, it certainly gets the message across in an understandable and memorable way.

Some of my fellow journalism students might call me a blasphemer for this, but hey, let’s write more funny listicles!

Bringing Some Humor to Hard News

PHOTO: Bernal Saborio on Flickr.

Before I start this newstrack, let me say that I hate Delta Airlines. Once, I was on a redeye from Los Angeles to Boston and they delayed the flight four hours because the pilot called in sick and Delta never scheduled a new one. Most passengers had boarded when somebody realized there was no one to fly the plane, and we all had to get off. So this newstrack is partly schadenfreude.

I’m looking at a  BuzzFeed News article called Delta Has Canceled Thousands Of Flights And Everyone Is In Hell,” written by Venessa Wong.

It strikes me every week how different BuzzFeed News is from other outlets. It’s online-only, which isn’t so strange, but it cements that online-only feel with its attitude. Can you imagine The New York Times running a headline like that? The Boston Globe? Maybe the subhead, “No spring break is safe,” on a day when an editor is feeling lighthearted. But if there were internal debates on whether or not to use the word “pussy” during then-candidate Donald Trump’s pussy-grabbing scandal, then I can’t imagine the Old Gray Lady throwing the word “hell” around.

The effect is comic, and that’s the point. It’s an interesting feature BuzzFeed uses across its platform, in everything from listicles to news. They’re using clickbait tactics on regular news stories. Nothing else in Wong’s piece is goofy—it’s a straight hard news story. But I was pulled in by the funny headline.

A rapid-fire look at some other elements in the article that BuzzFeed just loves: social media embeds and crowdsourcing. Instagram pictures of gloomy passengers waiting at airport gates and, at the bottom, instructions on how to get in touch with Wong if you have a harrowing Delta story. Once again, using its online structure to its advantage.

Fenway Wednesday

Since I live in Kenmore Square, I usually try to avoid Fenway on game days. Too crowded, too noisy, and too much FOMO–baseball tickets are expensive.

Yesterday, though, the Red Sox were facing the Pittsburgh Pirates in their second game of the season, and I had an assignment. I pushed through the throngs, along with my project partner Olivia Gehrke, to find out what people love about Red Sox games.

Spoiler alert: Nobody said baseball. Enjoy the (goofy) video.

Olivia Gehrke assisted in filming.

And just so you know, the Red Sox won the game after 12 innings, despite my interviewees’ unenthusiasm. They beat the Pirates on opening day, too, so the Sox–newly sans their famous slugger David Ortiz–start the season off with a couple victories.

The final game of the series against the Pirates was scheduled for today but ended up postponed due to rain. The game has been rescheduled to Thursday, April 13.

BuzzFeed News and the Listicle’s Redemption

PHOTO: The HMS Dragon near Gibraltar. Photo by Dave Jenkins. From Defence Images on Flickr.

This week, we return to BuzzFeed’s trademark format, the listicle. For this one, though, BuzzFeed News used it for something more informative than pictures of Arab leaders snoozing.

Matthew Champion’s piece Just What The Hell Is Going On With Gibraltar And Brexit?” uses the listicle form to make an old, complicated historical issue understandable and accessible.

Now that Britain has invoked Article 50, officially kicking off the Brexit process, Gibraltar finds itself in a confusing situation. Geographically, Gibraltar is on the Iberian Peninsula, on the southern coast of Spain. Britain has owned the land for a few hundred years.

Champion writes that in the wake of Brexit, Gibraltar’s future is hazy, thanks to a clause in some draft guidelines stating that Britain and Spain agree on any Brexit-related trade agreement involving Gibraltar.

Champion provides a concise summary of Gibraltar’s complicated history and the even-more complicated modern political issues surrounding it. He does this in what is essentially a listicle format without the numbers.

The sentences are in large, boldface type, and each one is followed by an image that illustrates the subject of the sentence. For example, the sentence saying that British Prime Minister Theresa May invoked Article 50 has a picture of Theresa May.

Overall, this listicle is easier to read than a big chunk o’ text. Champion avoids jargon in favor of clipped sentences and humor, two things ideal for an online platform. Someone who rarely reads the news would have no trouble understanding this article.

This piece highlights one of my favorite things about BuzzFeed news: accessibility. I don’t revile the listicle as the death of good journalism. I welcome it as a helpful tool to get more people reading and supporting good journalism.