diamond geezer

 Thursday, February 02, 2017

Top website Londonist is evolving. It still has dozens of excellent posts each month, but it's not a sequentially scrolling blog any more, and its content is subtly changing.

Let's take a look back at Londonist's posts from January 2017 to help explain what's going on. I've made a list of all the post titles over here, if you're interested in seeing for yourself, because the site no longer supports chronological archives.

Last month, Londonist posted a total of 224 fresh articles. That's an average of 7 posts a day, which is an impressive strike rate... but it's down from 10 a day this time last year. Comparing January 2016 and January 2017 directly, there's been a cut of roughly 25% in output. The biggest decline has been at the weekend, when readership is at its lowest. Previously there were 4 or 5 posts each day at the weekend, but now it's generally 2 or 3, and occasionally only 1.

Londonist used to be a comprehensive source of news, but no longer. Indeed one glance at the phenomenally out of date 'News' page on the Londonist website should convince you of this, with front page stories about Heathrow's Christmas advert, the Croydon tram crash and the 'New Bus Hopper Fare', introduced last September.

In January 2016 around 20% of Londonist's posts could be described as news-related, but in January 2017 that's dropped to only 5%. In particular the daily news round-up at 4.30pm has been scrapped, and merged (in much reduced form) into the daily 7pm events listing. A couple of last month's posts consisted of photos from protests, and five posts could be described as investigative journalism, but news is no longer something Londonist sources itself. Instead four posts have appeared in the last week lifted from CityAM, with permission, and labelled "This article was originally published on CityAM."

There's also been a decline in in-depth coverage of the arts. In January 2016 just over a quarter of Londonist's articles were rooted in film, theatre, art, music or comedy, but that's now reduced to 6%. I haven't included the daily and weekly events round-ups in these totals, and here a comprehensive listings service continues, but reviews of shows and exhibitions are now a rarity. Transport-related articles have also slipped back slightly, from 13% in January 2016 to 10% last month, but a lot of this can be explained by the overall reduction in news content.

So, where's the new focus in Londonist's output? History and geography are the big winners, and now form one third of the website's content. Every day there are fresh posts about quirky London stories from days gone by, and facts about places around the capital. Some of these are in-depth explorations, particularly where history's concerned, but in general they're listicles with short snappy factoids and associated photos. Increasingly certain formulaic structures are used, as can be seen from this lists of Londonist post titles from the last month.
Things You Might Not Have Done In Camden Town
Things You Might Not Have Done In Greenwich
Things You Might Not Have Done Near Brick Lane
Things You Might Not Know About Kew Gardens
Things You Might Not Know About The Borough Of Islington
Things You Might Not Know About Wembley Stadium

5 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The Science Museum
7 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Primrose Hill
9 Things You Didn't Know About Strand

7 Secrets Of Hampstead Heath
7 Secrets Of London Bridge Station
7 Secrets Of Shaftesbury Avenue
9 Secrets Of Piccadilly

7 Interesting Facts About Brick Lane
7 Interesting Facts About The British Museum
Odd numbered listicles are always best, as you can see. Of the 17 posts last month whose title started with a number, only three were even-numbered.

The other genre with a big increase in postings since last year is food and drink. In January 2016 only 8% of Londonist's posts were food and drink related, but last month that more than doubled to 19%. Food gets the lion's share, particularly restaurant vignettes, generally assembled into genre-based multiple listings. My word there are a lot of these, and invariably posted with an unwarranted superlative in the title. Indeed Londonist's editor appears convinced that the site's lists are utterly definitive, and uses the label 'Best' with delusional frequency. Take a look at this lot, all posted during January 2017.
London's Best All-You-Can-Eat
London's Best Boutique Hotels
London's Best Brunch
London's Best Delis
London's Best Dumplings
London's Best Hotel Bars
London's Best Hotel Restaurants
London's Best Japanese Ramen
London's Best Places to Celebrate Pancake Day
London's Best Themed Restaurants
London's Best Unsung Restaurants

The Best Beer Festivals In London In February 2017
The Best London Restaurants For Healthy Eating
The Best New London Restaurants To Try In January 2017
The Best Places In London To Celebrate Burns Night
The Best Pubs In London For First Dates
The Best Train Station Coffee Shop In London?
Two years ago, in an appeal for new contributors, Londonist stated "We are looking for a novel approach to tackling a subject, so a listicle of, say, 'The 10 Best Pubs In London' will just get deleted." These days 'The 10 Best Pubs In London' is precisely what we get, which is a clear indication that a change in editorial control has led to a degree of dumbing down.

And overuse of 'Best' is only part of it. Other superlatives are used with similar abandon, as Londonist fires out photo-heavy lists gushing over restaurants and bars its reviewers rather like.
London's Craziest Bars
London's Craziest Cocktails
London's Most Fun Desserts
London's Most Fun Street Food
London's Most Glamorous Afternoon Tea
London's Most Romantic Food
London's Most Stylish Caf├ęs
London's Most Thrilling Dining
London's Poshest Bar Snacks
London's Poshest Dining Rooms
London's Poshest Dishes
London's Trendiest Restaurants
Reassuringly there are also specific reviews of individual restaurants, providing honest and in-depth critique, and not all of it positive. But these only seem to appear about once a week, whereas the generic 'London's [superlative] [type of food]' posts churn out on average more than once a day.

One final growth area is 'the post consisting almost entirely of photos'. You know the sort of thing, lots of websites do it, appealing to those who prefer the visual over having words to read. In January 2016 barely 1% of Londonist's posts were of this type, usually only on Fridays, and sourced from Londonist's bottomless Flickr pool. But in January 2017 they formed 8% of Londonist's online content, with a wide variety of other photos appropriated (including, in one case, one of my own). Apparently it's fine to borrow a photo so long as you link to the source underneath, and that's allowed Londonist to knock up several lengthy pictorial posts with ease.
Amazing Photos Of London In The Fog
Derelict London
Putney Is As Pretty As A Picture

Beautiful London Tube Stations
Beautiful Photos Of London's Tube Stations
Celebrities On The Tube
Vintage Pictures Of Tube Stations

In Pictures: 30 Years of London City Airport
In Pictures: London In The 19th Century
In Pictures: Piccadilly Circus Through The Ages

Here's What London Looked Like in 1967
London In 1951
London In 1956
London In 1985
London In 1993
So what might be going on?

Essentially, Londonist has been evolving from a blog to a format that's more like a magazine, and now specialises in London-based posts with a shelf-life. On a blog only your most recent posts count, whereas in a magazine each article retains relevance, making non-chronological articles more cost-efficient to produce.

For example, news is all well and good today, but of no interest next week, hence news-related posts have ebbed away. Meanwhile history never changes, and geography only rarely, hence posts on people and places can be promoted not just now but in the future. Galleries of photos are remarkably good value too, as they retain their eternal visual appeal. And food and drink posts may need a little tweaking to keep them fresh, but restaurants rarely vanish overnight, so these too have considerable longevity.

You can see how important 'timeless posts' are to Londonist by looking at its Twitter feed. I've been keeping an eye on this too over the last month, and have a list (far too long to publish) of every tweet Londonist has tweeted since Big Ben rang in the New Year. Perhaps we should consider this tomorrow...

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