Friday, December 10, 2010

List addict

Want in-depth stories about the growing wealth gap in our country and how that portends very bad things for our future?

Want to know the details behind Iran’s nuclear aspirations?

Interested in what London’s student riots say about the future of education inequality?

Well, you’ll get none of it here.

Why? Because we have lists, lists and lists.

For some reason news sites, magazines and the TV news readers are obsessed with lists of all kinds. And they should be because we gobble them up.

I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said before, but I make note of it because this morning I noticed myself getting caught up in it (like I do just about every morning).

I go to (my first click, usually) and what do I choose? Let’s see if you can guess.

  1. A story about Chinese dissident and Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo.
  2. A story about student protests in London.
  3. A list of the Top 10 places to spend Christmas.

I chose C, thank you very much.

The UK has nearly tripled the cost of tuition for university in a story that speaks volumes about the world economy and volumes more about the rights to education and the gap between the haves (the upper crust who can still afford the cost) and the have nots (working-class people for whom a college education is the great equalizer, allowing them to compete the haves and succeed on their talents). This is an important story for many many reasons.

Likewise, the story about Liu Xiaobo is important because it says a lot about modern China and its place in the world. As the locus of economic and industrial activity moves east, with it comes the bright glare of the world stage. This could probably be the most interesting and important thing I read all day.

Or not.

Guilty as charged. See a list story … must … click … on … list … story.

Just last week I clicked through 100, count ’em, 100 top places to live. Why? Well, because I wanted to see if any N.M. towns made the list and also because my wife and I could be open to a move in the not-too-distant future and I wanted to see what's out there – so I tell myself.

Lists are easy – easy to compile, easy and fun to read – and they don’t require us to grapple with any of the hard questions. They are breezy. In the end, they are what we want from our news.


Who cares about the weighty issues? Who even cares about the criteria that goes in to populating these lists?

I always say we should demand more from the media, but this morning they gave me choices and I chose list porn.

I guess my point is to not beat ourselves up for the choices we make, but to recognize there are other choices – more substantive ones. And like mom who made us eat our vegetables because it ultimately was good for us, maybe we should make an effort at least once a day to delve into an important story and learn the context of it.

And then get back to the list of top albums of 2010.

1 comment:

  1. But see, this could be a great tip for "Serious Journalists." What if the story had been, for instance, "Top 5 Reasons China Hates the Nobel Peace Prize Committee"? Hey, it could work....