On the closing day of Social Media Week NYC, I attended a panel of people who represent a writing form that is currently on the rise – and that is longform. These days, the method that many people get their news is through instant, up to the minute feeds such as Twitter and Facebook. Longform is a style that puts the focus back in the quality writing not the speed at which it is produced – which is appropriately depicted in the name of the event: Longform in a Shortform World.
The conversation started off with Steve Kandell of BuzzFeed posing questions and moderating the conversation. He went on to say that longform is a different process, because some people may focus too much on the “long” and not so much on the “form”. This could happen when people stress the length. It’s important to keep true to quality. It’s not just about the clicks, it’s asking yourself what will make people think: You need to see this. This is how the articles get shared online. “It’s a great compliment,” he says.
According the Kandell, the best time to put out a story tends to be Thursday night, since people will often bookmark them for their weekend reading. It’s better for readers to not be distracted when reading longform pieces, especially with the time and effort that goes into writing them. He says that these things are only worth doing if they’re done well – since this writing form does not necessarily keep the lights on.
The first to answer was Max Linsky of Longform.org, who explained how the nature of the stories and the quality have not changed, it’s the delivery method that has changed. In the early 2000s there was an assumption that people wouldn’t read such long articles on a web browser, but nowadays you can bookmark and read them whenever you’d like. The goal is also different with longform, which is to get people to read to the end. On his site, he has noticed that it is not necessarily swayed into reading the bigger publications – they are more intrigued by the big names. “Big names do move the needle,” he said.
Linsky uses the expression “coffee table site” to describe Longform.org. In fact, he said that the site actually gets a lot of Web traffic from people including it in their OK Cupid bios for that reason. On his site the most clicked topics are always sex, murder, and celebs stories.
Laura June of The Verge told about how the site published end of world scenarios, putting great consideration into how it would look. This is something that always need to be considered – even though it’s not changing how or what they are writing about. Even though to her the traffic that the website receives is not a motivator, it does matter who is reading and who is sharing the stories through social media, because it can put the story in front of the eyes of someone who would not have normally gone to the site.
Timing is also an important factor when putting out a longform story. June explains how a lot of people come from the blogging world where you just write and submit, but with longform it’s important to be aware of current events. For example, if a famous person has died, or if Apple is releasing a new product, it may not be the best time to put out your big story because it may not get the time and attention it deserves.
Evan Ratliff from The Atavist explains how longform seems trendy now. He says that as a writer and publisher you have to ask yourself: Does quality matter? He also echoed June in saying that you have to think about multimedia and the way it’s laid out. He tends to go by a “less is more” approach, seeing as some people want to see photos but some people are just there for the text.
Crime and murder stories are very popular amongst readers of The Atavist. Not only are they interesting to the audience, but they are topics in which you will want to read until the end to get the outcome. That is one of the goals, as he says that the articles on his website are really a catalog of quality stories. “We want narrative stories – stories people would tell and people would say, ‘wait, what happens next?’”
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