Content ideasDavid Arkin's blog

5 tips to make list content helpful and fun

While they aren’t likely to win a Pulitzer any time soon, lists continue to be an important part of the diverse content a newspaper offers its audience.

There’s been much written about lists, including this New Yorker piece that explained the reasons our brains love lists.

Here at GateHouse Media, we have asked our newspapers to create lists on a consistent basis. We don’t believe lists are or should be a form of click bait. We believe they are a great way of concisely packaging content that helps provide readers information they can use.

I have seen our newspapers produce some great lists, like this one from the Patriot Ledger that provides readers a look at five great trails to take in the New England region. It’s concise content that actually helps me do something. I would save content like this in my Facebook feed any day.

If you are doing a list, here are a few things I would suggest you do and don’t do:

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 10.52.04 AM1. Do more than listings: Restaurant lists are terrific, especially around holidays, like this one from the Providence Journal tipping readers on where they can go for a drink for St. Patrick’s Day. What’s great about this approach is that the paper isn’t just listing the restaurants but they are telling you why you should go. One of the values lists provide is that they come from an expert — either someone on your staff who knows the best, or sources who can help guide the list. Explaining why the item is on the list is critical.

2. Have photos: Include a photo with every single item. Because many lists are centered around things to do, being able to actually see the item is helpful. If you don’t have a photo, see if the location you are writing about will provide you one. Another good option would be to use maps. Again, because so many good lists are about going somewhere, providing a map is a great reader service.

3. Make them social: Every list your newsroom produces should be shared on Facebook. This content has the power to draw people onto your digital platforms — take advantage. Ask fans if they agree with the list items, or ask them to recommend others.

4. Inject creativity into news lists: Some hard news lists, like “5 worst potholes in our community,” are great because they get people talking. But don’t force content like last night’s council meeting into an alternative format unless it really works. If it was a really hot council meeting, then “4 surprising things said at last night’s city council meeting” could play well. But don’t make your list a boring rundown of agenda items. A good example of a list that infuses a newsy topic like the presidential election is this one: “Seven of Zaha Hadid’s Most Striking Designs

5. Write great headlines: I saw a list the other day that headlined something like “List: Observations from the primary.” It was in fact a list but the headline was dreary and I can’t imagine who would read it. That’s too bad because there was some decent information in it. Something more like “These 10 newsworthy moments shaped last night’s primary” would have made the content much more clickable.

Here are a few other great examples of lists from GateHouse newsrooms:
• The Ledger’s “7 places to get barbecue in Polk
• StarNews’ “6 places to test your photography skills
• The Columbus Dispatch’s “13 gigantic outdoor art pieces seen in central Ohio
• The Record’s “5 attractions at the Haggin Museum you need to see

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