Piss and Vinegar: 10 Reasons I Hate Listicles

Don’t worry, I’m not really going to fight listicles with listicles by writing this sermon as a numbered list. Instead I’m going to rant about what a scourge listicles are to thinking people everywhere.

In the beer world, the most common listicle template is “The {10 / 25 / 100} Best {Beers / Bars} of {This Year / Some City / The World}”, though people sometimes get a little more creative — like beermapping.com’s 12 Sexy Ways to Achieve Satisfaction when Beer Mapping. Oh wait, that one doesn’t piss me off because it isn’t a listicle, it’s just a list that slyly refers to that slatternly mother of all listicle sources, Cosmopolitan Magazine (which, to its credit, did happen to mention beermapping.com in its writeup of “12 Sexy, Totally Free Dates”).

What’s wrong with making lists? Nothing at all. But the listicle format is so easy to churn out that many paper publications and blogs end up full of vapid, uninformed musings, conveniently shrink-wrapped into easy-to-skim numbered lists. Slap a number on it–and a superlative like “best” or “top”–and suddenly whatever you thought of just now takes on an air of authority. An ordered list might have some meaning if there was some data behind it, but the lists we are constantly assaulted with are nothing more than a bunch of things that happened to catch someone’s attention recently, and are sometimes dumbed down even further by a committee or editor that has to winnow the entries down to a magic multiple of 5.

Does it matter what a few writers somewhere currently consider to be the best beers, or the best bars? It would be far more interesting to get more in-depth articles on a handful of beers or locations. Better yet, instead of this constant ranking and re-ranking of all the hard-to-get or hyped beers of the moment, let’s see more personal stories of people in the business–brewers, publicans, or just fanatical beer connoisseurs.

A couple of months ago Ezra had a rant here on the New School, taking the Willamette Week to task for some of the silliness in its2013 Beer Guide. The Guide was actually pretty well done, but the centerpiece listicle–disguised as “Beer of the Year” + “9 Other Favorites”–was downright weird. WW’s Top 10 met with howls of derision on Twitter, and while some people noted that no two beer geeks would come up with the same Top 10, most of us could agree that no one in their right mind would come up with that list of 10.

So why are there so many beer listicles these days? As I mentioned above, it’s an easy format to turn out. But I think another part of the appeal is that you get to kiss a lot of asses at one time with a listicle. In these times of social-media log-rolling, listing 186 beers will get your article 186 Facebook thumbs and Twitter retweets just from the breweries themselves. Some percentage of the breweries’ followers will go on to share the links, then you re-tweet those as they come your way, and now your listicle is bouncing off the walls of the social media echo chamber.

Not every pathetic listicle is an accounting of beers or venues. Here’s a stupid one that came out recently: 15 Things Craft Beer Fans Think (But Nobody Says). My, oh my, there’s 20 minutes of my life I wish I had back. Three guys slap together some things they think — did they each come up with 5? — then they assert that everyone thinks those things. Except everyone was too stupid or drunk to actually say those things until these geniuses came along. OK, that’s probably not fair–it seems like their intent was not to show their cleverness, but to try and add a whiff of controversy to a listicle that barely scratches the surface of a few non-controversial observations. Observations, by the way, that lots of people have been saying for a long time. But the authoritative tone of the headline had that link flying around the web for a couple of days. That kind of crap happens all the time with listicles.

One bright spot that comes to mind is Beer Advocate magazine, which is admirably free of arbitrarily-numbered listicles. Now, it is true that the Beer Advocate 250 is a list that fuels an awful lot of beer ticking and whale hunting. But the BA 250 is truly a list, not a listicle, and what’s more, there is real data behind it, not just someone’s offhand opinion. The magazine also has a monthly column called “9 Steps”, and while the 9-step format seems a little awkward and forced at times, the brewer profiles in that column are the opposite of low-content listicles.

That’s the bottom line: content. Let’s have more of it, and you can put your listicles where the sun don’t shine.

(Thanks to Rob Fullmer over at Beer PHXation, who put this idea in my head last month by tweeting Listicles are killing beer writing.)

(Photo collage credits: http://www.portlandmonthlymag.com/, http://www.beerscribe.com/2008/01/07/media-draft-beer-magazine/, http://winemag.com/, http://www.theporterbeerbar.com/press-reviews/draft-beer-magazine-love-us/, http://allaboutbeer.com/, http://draftmag.com/, http://camra.org.uk/.) _________________________________________________________________________________

Bill Night

For the last several years Bill Night has been writing a Portland-centric beer blog called It’s Pub Night, named after the ritual weekly phone call or email rounding up friends for a night out: “Hey, it’s pub night!”. Despite his advanced age, he is lending a hand to the New School with a monthly rant called “Piss and Vinegar”. The name of the column comes from the British colloquial phrase “taking the piss” — making fun — and the sour character of Bill’s rants. He continues to maintain It’s Pub Night, and he invites you to take a look at some of the fun things over there, like the Beer Review Generator, the Portland Beer Price Index, and the Six-Pack Equivalent Calculator.

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Discussion

  • ithinkaboutbeer
    ithinkaboutbeer
    Thu May 23, 2013 5:26 PM

    (Insert obligatory listicle on why I like this post)

    Seriously though, I agree. I tend to read the listicles but then try to avoid discussing them, unless they’re the rare quality list with good content.

    Listicles are kind of like the old Simpsons Treehouse of Horrors episode where the advertising icons came to life, you just have to ignore them and maybe they’ll go away.

    Nice job!

    • Alex Kurnellas
      Alex Kurnellas
      Thu May 23, 2013 6:03 PM

      Hear hear! Amen.. I second that and so on. I have to say, I do enjoy watching the responses these listicles get. A lot of beer enthusiasts react quite passionately when their favorite beer, bar or city isn’t in that top 10 list. I take them with a grain of salt – beer is subjective and anyone can enjoy their favorites regardless of if they make that list or not. in fact, I prefer when my favorites aren’t on the listicles.

      But I also agree that these listicles would be WAY better with a little content behind them

      • Samurai Artist
        Samurai Artist
        Thu May 23, 2013 7:52 PM

        I have mixed feelings on lists, some of them are total bullshit. Many of them are a desperate grab to grab traffic. But thats just it, they do bring in traffic, people love lists. Bill is right about how they get likes and shares but even more than that I think a lot of people are attracted to them weather they enjoy them or not. I myself often compile lists in my head of things like my top 10 favorite movies. The ultimate ode to lists must be the great John Cusack movie “High Fidelity”. Here on The New School its not a bad idea to do a list here and there as long as it’s interesting because people do love them, or love to hate them.

        • Bill Night
          Bill Night
          Thu May 23, 2013 11:36 PM

          I’m not 100% against lists, and it’s one thing on a blog, where you know it’s nothing more than some self-appointed expert’s personal opinion. (I say that with love in my heart, after all I appointed myself a blogger too.)

          When it’s some committee-generated, editor-filtered listicle at a bigger publication, it turns out to be very lightweight at best — or more often way off base. And yet, the list format kind of gets peoples’ guard down, and when they see one item on the list they agree with, they get all excited and start forwarding around something that is actually a big waste of time.

          That’s why I hate listicles. I don’t hate lists. And I love High Fidelity.

        • Brian Yaeger
          Brian Yaeger
          Thu May 23, 2013 9:20 PM

          I loved the book adaptation by Nick Hornby of that great John Cusack movie…
          Having said that, it did inspire me to create an iTunes playlist that serves as my autobiographical soundtrack, based on the epic restructuring of his record collection.

          • Anonymous
            Anonymous
            Thu May 23, 2013 9:57 PM

            Lists are just lists. It’s who writes them, that gives them meaning.

            • Jeff Alworth
              Jeff Alworth
              Thu May 23, 2013 10:16 PM

              Nice one, Bill. I think you missed the biggest reason websites use these damn things: page views/impressions. This is why articles are inevitably broken into at least two parts and why listicles are pure manna: you get 5/10/12/whatever impressions for one lame little article that took some dude 8 minutes to write. Impressions are the big one, because advertisers pay per 1000 impressions (CPM), and so if you have lots more pages with ads, you get lots more money. Given how badly advertisers pay, I don’t actually blame websites for screwing them this way–except that the reader also gets screwed.

              • Bill Night
                Bill Night
                Fri May 24, 2013 12:00 AM

                Nice insight. I got it that a list of 10 things gets 10x the attention, but I didn’t realize the 1-item-per-page format had to do with page views. Makes perfect sense, and gives me another incentive not to even take that first click.

              • Rob Fullmer
                Rob Fullmer
                Fri May 24, 2013 5:22 PM

                Enter Deslider, (http://deslide.clusterfake.net) a webpage that parses multi-click website slideshows and presents them on one page. It won’t work everything but it did work for a piece on 25 Breweries to Watch.

                Compare the original:
                http://firstwefeast.com/drink/25-breweries-to-watch-in-2013/s/65256/

                To the deslider version:
                http://deslide.clusterfake.net/?o=html_table&u=http%3A%2F%2Ffirstwefeast.com%2Fdrink%2F25-breweries-to-watch-in-2013%2Fs%2F65256%2F

                Hat tip to Matthew Elliot for pointing out this web tool.

                • Bill Night
                  Bill Night
                  Fri May 24, 2013 6:44 PM

                  Deslider is cool, and I will definitely use it. A Firefox plugin would be nice.

                  I think the deslided pages will still register 25 clicks for the page author, right? This might inadvertently reward sites that slideshow everything, because instead of sampling 5 of the pages, or losing interest after 10, Deslider will grab all 25 up front.

                  • Anonymous
                    Anonymous
                    Fri May 24, 2013 8:29 PM

                    One point: Writers would all love to be given a 2,000-word leash to tell the story of a trend/brewery/brewer, but that’s rarely the case these days. Put simply: people are hiring folks to make lists, especially on the Internet. Yes, some are lazy. But some lists are written by people with deep expertise. Earning a living as a full-time, professional writer is a series of compromises. You have to do certain work so you can do the work you love.

                  • Jason Carriere
                    Jason Carriere
                    Tue May 28, 2013 7:16 PM

                    This article is going straight to #1 on my list of articles on why lists suck.

                    • Listicle.co.mail
                      Listicle.co.mail
                      Wed Jul 10, 2013 4:13 PM

                      Hi New School Beer,

                      We just read your blog and we love your writing. We are soon launching a social blogging platform where you can easily create and share listicles.

                      What is a Listicle? A listicle is an article written in a list format. On our platform, you will easily be able to post long-form content in the simplest way possible. This can be a list of text, photos, videos, audios, and even links. Your listicles will appear any format you wish.

                      We are working hard to give a selected few people early access to our platform and we would love to have you as one of them. Please email us at listicleco@gmail.com if you are interested to learn more.

                      We look forward to hear more from you.

                      Thanks,
                      The Listicle Team