Travel writing used to be an art. Visitors to far away lands with a knack for prose used to come back and regale us with rich stories about the exotic places they visited and the culturally diverse people they met as they shared their customs and expanded our horizons. And the photographs - ahh those photos! Classic travel photography accompanying their long-form articles about those foreign lands could really bring a story to life and enable us to live and learn vicariously through the storyteller.
But not anymore. In today’s online media environment we’re often lucky if we get enough copy to complete a full caption, and we’re baited into clicking through slideshow after slideshow that somehow is supposed to be a modern form of “journalism” fine tuned to the increasingly distracted media consumers we have all evidently become.
These glossy click-through “articles” that boil down a destination, a people, or an experience to a top-10 list or top-27 list with the literary quality of a 13-year old snapchat caption aficionado are ruining journalism. So to make the case by fighting listicles with listicles, I snarkily submit to you with every ounce of irony herein implied - 7 Ways Travel Listicles Are Ruining Travel Writing.
1. They encourage click-baiting.
The only reason to put any kind of writing or journalism into a slideshow-style listicle is to inflate the traffic numbers on the publisher’s website by generating anywhere from 5-50 more clicks from each story published in listicle form. It’s annoying, it’s selfish, it slows down your browser or phone, and its wholly unnecessary. Don’t reward it.
2. Some items in listicles deserve a dedicated story on their own.
If you’re going to publish a story about the 20 most romantic places around the world or the 17 most amazing overwater bungalows, or the 9 most stunning places to view the Eiffel Tower in Paris, chances are that many of these entries are going to be spectacular enough to merit elaboration. But how much justice can you do to a most romantic, amazing, stunning, or eye-poppingly spectacular place in a one-sentence caption? Exactly.
3. They promotes false equivalencies
When one tries too hard to come up with 17 or 27 things to fill up a “most,” “best,” or “totally most awesomest” listicle, you’re naturally going to include a few stretches in there to round out the list. But including the best few on the same list as the ones that are just thrown in there to get the piece done leads the reader to believe that the best and the crap are in the same league. They’re not, but you wouldn’t know that from listicle journalism.
4. They trivialize some subjects and experiences.
There truly are some amazing and incredible sites, destinations, and experiences out there to be curated by those who are able to make it there and write about them, but they deserve proper treatment if readers want to get a real understanding of what makes a place the best or most amazing. The black sand beaches of Cameroon and the sunrises in Wadi Rum need context if anyone is seriously going to consider going there.
5. They cause delays in putting out quality content in a timely manner.
I cannot tell you how many times an otherwise perfectly good categorical travel story has languished in my drafts folder because I felt pressure to round out the list with a few more examples. Sometimes they sit for months until I feel like I’ve come up with enough quality content to add.
6. They dilute quality content by mixing in crap.
And when one is at a loss for quality content to add, sometimes crap gets thrown in just to get the listicle done and published. So while the reader may feel like the read was value-added at first, by the end she’s feeling like her time is being wasted and clicks away with a bad last impression.
7. And finally… I can’t think of a 7th but 7 sounded like a better listicle number than 6 so I’m doing the listicle thing and creating a crappy 7th entry here just to fill out the list.
See how that works? Ok this one was clearly to just prove a point and put an exclamation on the end of this listicle, but I think by now we all get the point.
Listicles are not journalism. They’re click-bait padded with crap and are insufficient to do justice to all the amazing things they purport to cover. So next time you see a click-bait headline or story title linking to a listicle, think twice about clicking on it and especially all the way through it. It will most likely be low quality crap that was hastily put together and which does not even come close to doing justice to the subject matter.
If you really want to find good travel writing and follow some good travel writers and bloggers, wander on over to my travel blog at Jetset.Ninja (yes that’s a real domain extension now… neat, huh?). Your literary conscience will thank you.