List Hysteria

173488Dirty little secret time here -- along the lines of "You know you're a redneck if … "

You know it's summertime journalism if ….

... You begin to notice The Attack of The Lists. They come with the territory, like suntan lotion, "Die Hard" movies and boat drinks. They're fun and ever-so-slightly informative … but mostly serve as conversation starters. Are they a crutch of sorts for reporters and columnists? Absolutely. But a completely understandable one given the glacial pace of the June-July-August news cycles. (What, you'd prefer another "Summer of the Shark?")

This summer is shaping up true to form.

See, it begins innocuously enough with a Big List, maybe even on national TV – like last week, when the American Film Institute named its "Top 100 Films of All Time." This big splash opens the season and gives everybody cover.

Then a big name magazine gets into the act, as Forbes has done today with its list of the "Celebrity 100" list of who in showbiz has the most capital, financial or otherwise. (No shock here, but Oprah is still on top.)

Then you move inside the newspaper to a list about "Our Favorite Magazines," as the Chicago Tribune did today. (Though it's nearly impossible to have a problem with any list that gives props to "The Believer.")

Then we cast the net even wider, as a business columnist did, to a list of the best media-related movies ever. He rounds up the usual suspects of "Citizen Kane," "Network" and "Broadcast News" but adds a surprise here or there. He gets a Public Eye bonus point – which has no cash value, unfortunately – for adding "Face in the Crowd," and gets a second one for openly admitting his column was but a conversation starter.

If you're a sports fan, of course lists appeal to you. They fill the long hard slog between basketball/football/hockey seasons and give you a little something (extra) to argue about in the cheap seats instead of double-switches or that tired old Barry Bonds conversation. So CBS Sportsline armed you with the "Top 50 Sports Jerks of All Time." (Thumbs up for calling out the hysterial Barbaro hand-wringers, but an eyebrow went up for Tommy Lasorda. Really?!) (PS: Bloggers, naturally, get into lists – like this one of Whiniest Sports Fans.)

And even those of us who only got around to buying "Frampton Comes Alive!" when it was 30 years old can appreciate a good old "Top Ten Albums" list, as put forward by the people at Guitar Jam Daily. (Though all recent attempts to inject "Doobie Wah" back into 21st century discourse have flopped.)

So yes, if you've begun to notice this little ritual, your list radar/list-dar is well-calibrated. When you're hunting for the hard news, you can always find it elsewhere. But if you're looking for something to mull over with friends at a cookout with a beer and a dog, the media, like Bill O'Reilly, is Looking Out For You.