By Scott Robertson
You may have noticed a trend in journalism over the last few years of publications having lists where articles used to be. In the old days, we journalists had a very specific term for our colleagues who slapped together lists instead of taking the time to craft an article or column: lazy. These, however, are not the old days.
I attended a journalism conference last month in which list-icles (list+article, aren’t we journalists today clever?) were discussed at length. The only problem most of my fellows had with these one-time abominations wasn’t that they are space-fillers that almost always failed to give the readers complete, or even accurate, information. It was that they are (and here’s an example of today’s specific journalism terms) “click-baity.”
The list-icle pitch that most often comes into my email inbox from ad agencies, government departments and sundry p.r. hacks is the ranking list-icle. Not a day goes by that I’m not informed by someone that my country, state, county, city, neighborhood or side of the bed is near the top – or the bottom – of some terribly important ranking. On ranked list-icle makers’ busy days, depending on what they are selling, I am clearly intended to believe I am living simultaneously in heaven and hell.
To point out the ridiculousness of it all, I have compiled my own ranking, showing that Tennessee is the top ranked state in the nation, the bottom ranked state in the nation, and all 48 other rankings in between. The rankings below were compiled from actual press releases issued over the last 18 months.
Where Tennessee ranks among all 50 states:
1. Auto manufacturing
2. Road and bridge quality – Issued by lobbyists against the gas tax
3. Overall tax burden – Issued by lobbyists for the gas tax
4. Best state to retire to – Issued by retirement homes – you see how this works, don’t you?
5. Cost of living
6. Electricity prices – Thanks TVA!
7. State government fiscal stability
8. Dog ownership
9. High school graduation rate – did you know it was that high?
10. Best place to practice medicine
11. Best place to be an entrepreneur
12. Strictest DUI laws
13. Charitable giving
14. Job growth
15. Number of farms selling food locally
16. Total population
17. Tourism revenue – did you know it was that low?
18. Female earnings as a percentage of male
19. Fourth grade science scores
20. Workforce productivity
21. Eighth grade science scores
22. Incidence of cancer
23. Population growth rate
24. LEED Certified Commercial Spaces
25. Fourth grade math scores
26. Most automobile-deer collisions – appropriately, ahem, middle of the road.
27. Percentage of population spending more than it earns
28. Home ownership
29. Broadband access
30. Advancement opportunities for law enforcement officers
31. Energy efficiency
32. Overall children’s health
33. Opportunities for romance and fun
34. College affordability
35. Median home value
36. Total area in square miles
37. Safe driving habits
38. Credit rating
39. Dating opportunities
40. Voter registration percentage
41. Employer health insurance coverage rates
42. Obesity rate
43. Power grid reliability – Thanks TVA?
44. Smoking rate
45. Average income
46. Cancer death rate
47. Affordable sales tax – Gotta pay for No. 3 somehow
48. High blood pressure
49. Violent Crime
50. Opioid prescriptions per capita, fatal crashes involving cell phones, accidental shooting deaths and voter turnout.
So there you are. I hope you feel appropriately proud, ashamed and 48 other emotions in between, because – and this is my least favorite thing about ranked list-icles – the way they work is that all Tennesseans are to be presumed to have been accurately represented by all 50 of these rankings. So the list above is what a lot of people (at least the ones who read lists without taking the time to read articles) think of you. Now read it again with that in mind and see if you don’t feel the same way about ranked list-icles as I do.