Column: Top 10 reasons to read this

Did you happen to note that Victoria was recently ranked Number 2 on a list of most creative cities in Canada?

Did you happen to note that Victoria was recently ranked Number 2 on Martin Prosperity Institute’s Top 20 list of most creative cities in Canada? I did, though I’m not sure why.

I’m not sure why the institute gave little old Victoria the penultimate position – beating out Vancouver and Montreal, but falling just behind Ottawa-Gatineau. There was nothing for me to read when I was sucked into what I was sure would be a morning hit of legitimate quasi-news, a first-cup-of-coffee infotainment piece on my computer screen.

Nope. Just a headline and photo gallery. Nothing against ninasaurusrex’s snapshot of Douglas Street ripped from Flickr, on this unnamed news source, but I’ll tell you right now, it wasn’t anywhere near creative enough to replace actual words.

You won’t find one of those Top 10 lists and photo galleries on Black Press websites, and I’ve been told we have no plans to add them any time soon, either.

Anyone over the age of 16 may have noticed that story formats and sizes are changing.

David Leach, director of professional writing and the technology and society interdisciplinary minor program at the University of Victoria, acknowledges an overall dumbing down of some online news sources through sensational, pseudo controversy headlines that earn the dubious honours of most-read story links – while once again, these so-called stories don’t require any actual reading.

The hunger for longer, story-driven articles remains, despite our appetite for quick-hit, silly pieces, Leach says. The end result: more variety for readers.

As I write this, Fox News published its Top 10 barbecue products. Why do I feel as though those producers have likely done their due diligence in researching the merits of the Pig Tail Food Flippers?

There’s no shame in giving readers the variety they seek. For those who are on to their second cup of coffee, that means sinking into the kind of well-crafted stories Leach says have always been the foundation of professional writing at UVic.

“We tend to focus on the principles of telling an intelligent, well-researched, compelling story at any length,” he says. “You can do it at 300 words. You can do it at 30,000.”

Thirty thousand?

Barring a few holdouts, editors aren’t exactly overwhelmed with pages on which to lay out these longer literary works. But, hey, there’s a fire sale on online platforms. Sure, monetization presents some challenges, but how many new journalists are losing sleep over it?

Leach is right: it’s an interesting moment for non-fiction, one marked by pervasive celebrity culture and trash news stories at the same time as the emergence of new products such as the Kindle Single.

I’m still hung up on the gimmicky list phenomenon. It’s not because, like others void of a y-chromosome, I find myself resisting daily temptations to read the Top 5 reasons why single women should feel they’re doing something wrong, or because I happened upon the Top 10 warning signs of cancer … in dogs and cats. Or even because I “purposed” upon the 10 best awkward nude scenes on the big screen. Yes. I. Did.

CBC’s list of the Top 10 recommendations from the G20 report suggests that any format can be harnessed by the good side and affirms my belief that a solid product can take any form, including the lazy list, and that good writing is often the result of tight restrictions.

And was it the great prophet Stephen Colbert who once said: “The more things change, the more they stay the same?”

“In some ways we’re returning to partisan journalism where opinions bleed into journalism where they didn’t necessarily before,” Leach says of so-called yellow journalism. “That was there at the birth of journalism.”

Disclosure: this column was written by someone with the fifth-worst job on the market, if you put any stock into CareerCast’s list of the worst jobs in 2012 – and the journalists who heard the news and ran with it, even if only for a punchline at the end of an opinion column.

Natalie North is a reporter with the Saanich News.

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