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Do I have to read all of this?

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

There’s substantial truth to the notion that the popularity of long-form writing is declining. In an environment cluttered with distraction—an avalanche of tweets, text messages and Facebook posts—it takes even more focus to plod through a 2,000+ word article, regardless of how well-crafted and thoroughly investigated the topic is.

Simply put, many readers prefer small, quick bits of information that are easily digestible. People aren’t stupid, necessarily—they’re just impatient.

The South By Southwest interactive media conference has focused heavily on how the average reader’s dwindling attention span should impact the efforts of journalists and bloggers. In particular, David Plotz, editor of Slate Magazine, and Evan Ratliff of Atavist spoke at a session titled “140 Characters vs. 14000 Words: the New Long Form.”

Both speakers were adamant that long-form is not dead. In fact, because Twitter delivers news so quickly, there’s even more of an opportunity for outlets to use more resources on long-form creations. Slate demands each of its reporters to spend one month to six weeks per year producing a long-form story—whether it’s a feature, a profile or an in-depth essay—and these reporters are free from most other work responsibilities during that period.

Ratliff’s mobile/tablet application, Atavist, offers only long-form articles with several useful tools for readers. For example, names in the article are in bold type, and clicking on them can provide additional insight to the person, a refresher to more easily understand the context of the article. He’s even experimenting with offering alternate endings—a “choose your own adventure” model that is much more easily conceived through mobile than print.

Here are three advantages of having good long-form writing:

1) Advertisers like to be near it: Especially if it’s compelling content, advertisers desire to be on a page where an emotionally-engaged reader will spend more time rather than mindlessly flipping through very short pieces.

2) Separation: Producing regular quality long-form allows media companies to rise above the competition—think TIME, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Sports Illustrated, etc. 

3) Unending possibilities: For the Atavist, there’s a lot of freedom in how long-form pieces are laid out. Can you incorporate games into the story? What about an entire chapter of video or a photo slideshow that fits seamlessly alongside the text?

Here are three examples of good long-form sports writing I’ve seen in the last few weeks:

1) The Canisius Griffin’s Nick Veronica witnesses the departure of CC head coach Tom Parrotta through an interesting lens.
2) The Niagara Gazette’s Jonah Bronstein wrote an in-depth piece on UB’s Mitchell Watt, which rivals one of his best pieces on Paul Harris.
3) Grantland’s long-form account of the Pistons vs. Pacers melee involving Ron Artest is excellent, too.

Photo courtesy of Flickr / Andrew Mason

TAGGED: evan ratliff, feature columns, long-form writing, slate magazine, south by southwest, sxsw, sxswi

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