This is the time of year when editors, scrounging for news while half the staff and most of the talking-head newsmakers are on vacation, resort to a tried and true formula for getting out the newspaper: The List. The News & Observer traditionally runs a variation called “10 People to Watch” in the coming year, which a close friend who used to pull the dreaded assignment renamed, “10 People Who Were Home for the Holidays.” The Herald-Sun does the traditional, space-filling Top Stories of the Past Year, which is just a way to repackage old news.

Alternative papers elsewhere in the country have taken the device to the appropriately ridiculous level. This year, the LA Weekly ran its first ever 2nd Annual List Issue, featuring such offerings as: “Dear Landlord: What We Sell to Pay Your Rent” (“I’ve sold a stock ’62 Ford Falcon station wagon, my ass when it was young and juicy, hoards of CDs and stereo equipment. And a Clavinet!”); “Top 95 Names from the L.A. White Pages (A-K)”from Sock Won Ahn to Keng Kong; “Seven Reasons We Can’t Afford Decent Health Care” with the salaries of the CEO’s of California’s top for-profit insurers (1. UnitedHealth Group Inc., CEO William W. McGuire’s 2001 earnings: $58,103,499 [salary, bonus, perks/benefits, deferred payments, exercised stock options]; stock value: $378,196,614); and “Places I Saw People Use Their Turn Signals, 2002.” You get the idea.

We’re not above resorting to the list ourselves, as this week’s “The Best of 2002” demonstrates. But we do have limits, and I can prove it. What follows are the lists we considered doing this year, but decided against. Maybe we made a mistake. You decide.

1. 15 Other Places We’d Have Liked To See Raleigh Stick Its Excess Sewer Sludge (instead of spraying illegal amounts of it.)

2. The 149 Third World Utilities That Would Have Done a Better Job than Duke Power After the Ice Storm.

3. The 3 Personal Items that Chatham County Commissioner Bunkey Morgan Actually Keeps at the Address In His District Where He Says He Lives.

4. The 39 Cops in This Hemisphere To Whom Marcia Conner Didn’t Offer the Durham Police Chief’s Job

4A. The First Five Chapter Titles in Marcia Conner’s Management Training Textbook.

5. Dan Gerlach’s 17 Rationalizations for Supporting a Lottery (Gerlach opposed the lottery until he became Gov. Mike Easley’s top fiscal affairs advisor).

6. The 6 People Who Really Thought The N.C. State Football Team’s 9-0 Record Wasn’t The Result of An Easy Schedule.

6A: The 3 Hockey Writers from Outside the Triangle Who Didn’t Think It Was Absurd That a Team Called The Carolina Hurricanes Was In The Stanley Cup Finals

7. The 200,682 Women Who Voted for Liddy Dole Not Knowing She Was Anti-Abortion (she won by 200,681 votes).

8. The 3 Ideas That Were So Dumb They Didn’t Even Make This List.

Happy New Year.