Articles: From Short Form To Long Form

At the core of everything, this is about storytelling. We have a portfolio of tools and formats for that in the current digital landscape.

Set aside for a moment the more appealing social stories revolution and take some time to look at the still popular (more in the newsroom than with the audience) existing article format.

This is the basis of all major publishers’ websites of the past. 
In sports media the article format was used for everything except the 4S: Schedule, Score, Standings, Stats.

Websites have recently evolved, and even the traditional article format has evolved to become a container of multiple media where text still plays a central role.

The mobile first revolution simplified layouts, platforms like Medium and publishers like the New York Times have lead the way in creating a format that is much richer on one end but also a lot clearer and cleaner.

There are different types of articles that host content of various length and complexity and I would like to use a metaphor based on buildings to categorize them.

The Room

This is classical news format: a brief text, an image that resonates. It should be only used for quick news. Websites and apps are inundated with this format that proves to be less and less effective. Too long compared to what can be done on social or with a visual infographic and too short and boring to really capture the reader’s attention. Me not fan.

The House

This format goes deeper than the basic news and start using more impactful visuals and aggregate text in clear block for higher readability. In most cases it starts to integrate different media and embed social content.

The Cathedral

This is true Long Form. It immerses the reader in a story like entering a cathedral, there are many corners that have amazing things to see and you have to navigate through it. This is the written form of an episode in an original series.

The Movie Theather

Let’s go visual. Use visual first to engage users. Make numbers tell a story. Use concise text. Use video. Embed social. This format which is becoming more and more popular following the Instagram-stories format success is a great alternative also for own & operated platforms (your web and apps).

The Problem

Very often writers put consistent effort in researching the content for a story but too often yet all their work ends up in a very limited, template-based, CMS-constrained article format that allows for minimal control of the user experience. Writers need to become storytellers and use a wider range of media and tools.

The content is as important as the way users will experience it on whatever platform they choose.

It’s not 2008 anymore, it’s not 2012 anymore.

The Data

In most cases, too many articles are produced with little consideration on who will read them and how. Content and Context. We have seen an average trend — visualize in the chart below — wherein most sports websites and apps the lower 50% of articles only account for 5% of traffic. Which means you could potentially save 50% of effort and only lose 5% of the result, and reallocate the same effort to create more engaging and crafted content.

Average article/audience ratio in most sports media websites & apps

Conclusion

Experiment. Find your style. Innovate. Do not assume that because you push out 20 basic news a day your readers will be happy and come back. Those days are gone. Learn from social even for your own and operated. Have fun.

Great content needs human storytelling talent, great tools and maybe some advanced AI and machine learning to support.