Back From the Grave: The Evolution of Long Form Writing.
Modern Journalism is on the rise, and with that comes a massive amount of change for aspiring writers today. Methods and practices are coming into style while others are moving out. One practice that is believed to be dying by some is long form journalism.
Is this true? If so, what are the implications?
With the emergence of the digital age, articles and news are fractions of the size they have been in their print counterparts. Along with that, people suffer from over-stimulation due to the constant access to news and information. Who has time to read in-depth and detailed reporting?
Long form writing is proving to be one of the riskiest realms for a journalist to be in. The writer may spend weeks, months or even years pursuing a topic only to have the public read the first three paragraphs and get bored. Checking ahead to see how long the article is can be daunting as well, causing many to turn away from a potentially impacting story.
What is a long form writer to do under such circumstances?
Writers should not look at the internet conversion as the death of long form writing, rather, they should view it as the death of the old journalism.
James Bennet, a writer for the Atlantic, elaborates on this in his article, titled Against ‘Long-Form Journalism.’
“ ‘New Journalism’ is a stirring promise to the wider world; ‘long-form’ is the mumbled incantation of a decaying priesthood,” says Bennet.
Writing long articles for the sake of writing big pieces is no longer enough of a reason to call for the in depth studies of long form.Writers should be looking to the future to develop different writing techniques, but this does not mean they should abandon long form writing. Instead, modern journalists are tasked with evolving it.
A current day writer needs to assess many advancements and changes that have affected their world. For one, people are no long accustomed to paying for news.
The average news website now has a large variety of articles ready for any reader passing through, and seeing their ads as well. This means that articles may be worth substantially less than what they were.
In the textbook, “Feature Writing: The Pursuit of Excellence,” a chapter focuses on the current changes to the economy of news writing.
“But readers had grown accustomed to a free product, and these media giants are also looking for a way to break the chain and start charging without losing a substantial number of those readers,” the text says.
How are feature writers going to revive the practice of long form? As it turns out, the culture already has already been on top of that.
The New York Times wrote a critique on the writing style in the article “When ‘Long-Form’ Is Bad Form,” and talked about how the writing style is making a comeback.
“ It wasn’t so many years ago that people assumed the Internet would make long magazine-style stories obsolete,” said the article. “Paradoxically, it now seems to have revived this once threatened medium.”
It went on how to title something as long form is to give it some innate ‘respectability’ and creates the idea that regardless of content, the piece is ‘literary.’
These websites are not making long form a burden or chore. Instead, they make it their crowning jewel.
Millennials seem to have also caught on with this trend according to a research article published by the Reynolds Journalism Institute. The article focuses on how much time the average millennial spends on long form articles online has changed. According to them the time has increased as well as interest.
“Research suggests that story length, a defining characteristic of digital long form, is not an immediate deterrent,” said the article. “According to a study of online viewing behavior by Pew Research Center, readers are engaging with long-form content on mobile devices, spending more time on average with long-form news articles than with short-form articles: 123 seconds for articles 1,000 words or longer compared to 57 seconds for shorter stories. As the Pew study states, ‘When it comes to the relative time consumers spend with this content, long-form journalism does have a place in today’s mobile-centric society.’”
Forbes added onto this with their article, “3 Reasons Why Millennials Want Long Form Storytelling Over ‘Snackable’ Content.”
“There is an emerging case that, in fact, publishing long-form, high quality content might be the best way to build a millennial audience,” says Forbes. “I see this firsthand in my work at Gimlet Media, a digital media company focused on highly produced, story-centered long form podcasting. Since our founding in 2014, our million-plus audience is well over-indexed on millennials. And guess what? Our longest episodes consistently outperform our shorter pieces on listens.”
The article goes on to talk about how long form is original again in a world where Twitter and Facebook headlines are the main news sources of the day.
The author also highlights the authentic nature of long form articles, recognizing how that is something that millennials prize
It also talks about how the articles work to make the reader trust the writer.
“Another thing about millennials: we’re not the most trusting folk,” said the article. “According to a Pew Research Center poll from 2014, only 19% of millennials think most people can be trusted.”
It is apparent that long form writing is a rising trend. Currently, many news outlets like Buzzfeed are starting to adopt the practice. The future looks bright for this writing style, with many stories to tell.
Long form, when written well can have a lot of power. It can make the public aware of something subtle, it can provide clarity for some unacquainted with other walks of life or it can just brighten someone’s day.
The writing style also shows to the reader the subject has depth and that there is still more to look for than just the headlines on a news source. When a well written long form article appears, it shows the subject has been thought about thoroughly, something refreshing in a news sphere of facts and clips.
When done well, a long form article paints a masterpiece. While short form news is the Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock of the writing sphere, long form is the Rembrandt and Michelangelo. It delivers details that readers who just look on the surface could miss and makes them cherish it.
Long form journalism is also a creative outlet in the minds of writers in a conciseness obsessed profession. The removal of that style is like moving to a city and losing the backyard. Sure, everything is efficient for the size, but what about recreational and creative writing?
This is not to say that long form is without fault. Bennet delivers some valuable points to the idea that long form is viewed with reverence due to it’s heightened reputation.
“In the digital age, making a virtue of mere length sends the wrong message to writers as well as readers,” said Bennet. “For when you don’t have to print words on pages and then bundle the pages together and stick postage stamps on the result, you slip some of the constraints that have enforced excellence (and provided polite excuses for editors to trim fat) since Johannes Gutenberg began printing books. You no longer have to make that agonizing choice of the best example from among three or four — you can freely use them all. More adjectives? Why not?”
Is there a vice that comes with long form writing?
Although long form requires a great commitment of the writer, it can also make them lazy. Not lazy as in they do not do enough for their article, but in that they provide too much. Where is the necessity of making your thoughts concise and well put? If the writer doesn’t fully express an idea in one sentence, they have as many sentences as they want to correct that.
There are also dilemmas when the writer is determined to make their article long form but there isn’t enough to go off of. The author will stretch information and make the article very thin to gain the banner of long form. This carries with it prestige and recognition, but has the author really earned that?
Even now, the writing style of feature articles and long form is growing and developing. The emergence of the internet has certainly changed certain standards, but that is not stopping this form from taking root in modern newsrooms.
Long form writing is not innately a masterpiece, nor is it pretentious and long winded. It is a playground for writers and creative thinkers to truly unleash their ideas and research into the public sphere. There are marvelous stories to tell and worthy exploits to detail if the writer really considers what the style means.