the transition to digital journalism
Text and Writing
People won't read long stories online is a familiar refrain. But while scanning web pages is a common practice for online readers, they will read long text stories that they find of interest.
The EyeTrack 2007 study of online and print readers found that "63 percent of story text chosen by online participants was read to completion. Reading in the two print formats (broadsheet and tabloid) was considerably lower. Forty percent of stories selected were read all the way through in broadsheets, 36 percent in tabloids."
For two more conflicting views on whether long stories work online, see Long form journalism on the Web is "not working," TIME.com Managing Editor and Talk to the Times: Assistant Managing Editor Gerald Marzorati (scroll down to the section on "The Future of Long-Form Journalism").
Or read about how Forbes online found that short breaking news stories and longer explanatory stories both attract large numbers of readers. See also this Forbes article on the popularity of long-form writing.
Web Sites and Services for Long-Form Stories
- Longreads.com - Twitter alerts and links to longer stories (usually more than 1,500 words). Longreads also has a partnership with The Atlantic to promote the service.
- Longform.org - links to longer articles, new and old.
- Atavist - a platform for publishing stories to tablet computers and other mobile devices. The stories usually are longer than magazine articles but shorter than books.
- Byliner - a site that publishes 10,000 to 35,000 word narratives, especially by accomplished writers.
- Matter - "Every week, we will publish a single piece of top-tier long-form journalism about big issues in technology and science." They raised $100,000 for the project using Kickstarter and plan to charge 99 cents per copy of each story they publish
- Medium - A site that features in-depth text stories (with some photos). It was co-founded in 2012 by Ev Williams, one of the creators of Twitter and Blogger. But an analysis in Poynter online found that stories on Medium are acutally relatively short.
- The Big Roundtable - website featuring longer non-fiction stories, founded by a Columbia Journalism School professor.
- Inkshare - a crowdfunding site where writers can raise money for and publish longform stories
- The Huffington Post
- BuzzFeed - see especially their longform section
- Business Insider
- The Verge - see their longform section
- Digg - see their long reads section
Another resurgence in longform writing online is "subcompact publishing." These are publications that shun the multi-column, non-linear format and extensive use of rich multimedia content at many news sites in favor of simple scrollable linear stories with photos or illustrations.
The publications have a simple design and navigation and the stories are prominently displayed and easily accessible. Attention is paid to attractive typography rather than multimedia embellishments.
The publications come out regularly and fairly frequently (such as weekly) and are optimized for mobile devices, especially tablets. See this Smashing Magazine article for a good summary and examples of subcompact publications.
Services for Saving and Reading Stories Later
Automating the Journalism Narrative
While some sites see a renaissance for the long-form narrative online, other services are trying to automate the narrative:
Narrative Science - this site uses a computer program to analyze data such as sports scores and corporate earnings statements and generate stories about the scores and statements.
Journatic - this company analyzes local community data to identify stories that then are out-sourced to inexpensive, often out-of-the-country writers to turn into news articles. The company came under fire in summer 2012 for using fake bylines and other questionable actions.
Readings and Resources
- How Users Read on the Web - Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox, Nielsen Norman Group, 10/1/1997
- F-Shaped Pattern for Reading Web Content - Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox, Nielsen Norman Group, 4/17/2006
- Long vs. Short Articles as Content Strategy - Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox, 11/12/2007. Article says that best approach is combining "brief overviews and comprehensive coverage," with hypertext links from one to the other.
- Eyetracking The News: A Study of Print & Online Reading - Poynter, 2008
- Writing Style for Print vs. Web - Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox, 6/9/2008
- Cut This Story! - Michael Kinsley, Atlantic Magazine, January 2010
- iPad and Kindle Reading Speeds - Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox, 7/2/2010
- “Smart editorial, smart readers, and smart ad solutions”: Slate makes a case for long-form on the web - Nieman Journalism Lab, 7/14/2010
- A hive of long-form journalists: Gerry Marzorati and Mark Danner on a new model for long form - Nieman Journalism Lab, 3/1/2011. Includes discussion of how visitors to the New York Times website do read long stories.
- Inside Forbes: The Inspiring Data Behind Two Digital Reporting Strategies - Lewis DVorkin, Forbes, 12/11/2011
- Is it just 8,000-word epics that make people hit “Read Later”? - Joshua Benton, Nieman Journalism Lab, 12/14/2011
- A war story, a Kindle Single, and hope for long-form journalism - O'Reilly radar - 12/15/2011
- Results of ProPublica’s 2011 Reader Survey - ProPublica, 12/16/2011. ProPublica readers like longer features and investigative stories.
- Inside Forbes: How Long-Form Journalism Is Finding Its Digital Audience - Forbes, 2/23/2012
- Long-Form Journalism, Part II: The Challenge for Reporters, and What Forbes Is Doing About It - Forbes, 2/28/2012
- The rise of e-reading - Pew Internet & American Life Project, 4/4/2012
- Can an Algorithm Write a Better News Story Than a Human Reporter? - Wired, 4/24/2012
- Two Years of Longform: What the Hell Did We Just Read? - Longform Blog, 4/26/2012
- News articles as assets and paths - Jeff Jarvis, Buzz Machine weblog, 5/26/2012
- How long-form journalism is getting 'a new lease of life' in the digital world - journalism.co.uk, 8/21/2012
- Longform Meltdown at Major U.S. Newspapers - Columbia Journalism Review, 1/18/2013
- This Is What Happens When Publishers Invest In Long Stories - Fast Company, 5/10/2013. An experiment in publishing story "stubs" that are then expanded into longer stories over time.
- You Won’t Finish This Article: Why people online don’t read to the end - Farhad Manjoo, Slate, 6/6/2013
- Website Reading: It (Sometimes) Does Happen - Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox, Nielsen Norman Group, 6/24/2013
- How tablets are changing the way writers work - Poynter, 10/1/2013
- Recent Trends In Storytelling And New Business Models For Publishers - Jose Martinez Salmeron, Smashing Magazine, 10/28/2013
- 'Business Insider' goes long on journalism - Rem Rieder, USA Today, 11/7/2013
- Long and short of it: Medium’s no haven for long-form journalism - Poynter online, 11/11/2013
- The future of longform - Columbia Journalism Review, 12/9/2013
Presentation Links - Digital Transition
- How Users Read on the Web - Jakob Nielsen
- Read It Later
- EyeTrack 2007 Study
- Forbes online data
- Forbes and long-form writing
- Long Vs. Short Articles - Jakob Nielsen
- Kindle Singles
- Longform - most popular
- Cut This Story! - Michael Kinsley
- Narrative Science website
- Study of different forms of storytelling - Nora Paul and Kathleen Hansen