April 29, 2024 , in technology


Long-form Journalism Strikes Back

Readers are increasingly seeking content requiring deeper engagement while publishers make use of multi-modal technologies to package extended story content.

Eidosmedia Long-form Journalism

Long-form Journalism | Eidosmedia

While much online content caters to ever-shorter attention spans, long-form stories have been making a comeback. The reality is long-form journalism never really went away, but in today’s media landscape, it has transformed, often incorporating sophisticated multimedia trimmings.

Defined by its length, long-form journalism is characterized by being notably longer than its peers. Today, some might think anything longer than a TikTok video or a few paragraphs summarizing the latest news is long-form. However, this format is often reserved for topics that require more time to fully explore and often takes on the trappings of creative nonfiction or narrative journalism.

Increasingly, long-form stories also tend to incorporate a variety of formats, giving audiences a number of ways to engage. This article explores the rising popularity of long-form journalism and how it may be a lifeline for publishers.

What’s behind the current popularity of digital long-form stories?

Common knowledge tells us that attention spans are decreasing, but even as stats about declining attention spans proliferate, so have multi-episode Netflix documentaries and podcasts that tell one story over the course of an entire season. Shorthand reports that “there is strong evidence that the best performing pieces of content on the web are longreads. The latest data from Hubspot concluded that the highest ranking blog posts in search were on average 2,330 words, with some of the best performing — known as ‘pillar posts’ — stretching to 10,000 words.” Clearly, there is still an audience of people who hunger for in-depth narratives and long to understand stories through context and comprehensive reporting. In some ways, it’s a reaction to a culture that encourages bite-sized snippets of content that frustrate the desire to reach an understanding of complex topics.

In a world where people are inundated with low-quality content that is designed to be churned through, garnering as many clicks and views as possible, it’s no wonder that we think people lack the ability to focus on more complex media. These metrics are the ones that not only drive our notions of attention spans but also whether a piece of content is “successful.” In order to truly understand the public’s appetite for longer content, publishers must prioritize different metrics.

As Marx Layne puts it, “Long-form media has redefined success metrics by challenging the industry’s obsession with measurement such as clicks and views. Success is increasingly measured in terms of audience engagement, the depth of understanding, and the impact of the content. This shift forces media outlets to reconsider their metrics and prioritize quality over quantity in content creation and distribution.”

If clicks and views are “vanity metrics,” one might call the numbers that long-form outlets track “substance metrics”; tracking this data might paint a different story about our ability to pay attention.

How can technology enhance a long-form story online?

The rise of smartphones — and the apps that keep people coming back to them — have changed how people interact with content. As INMA tells us, “We’re writing a lot of words that most people aren’t reading. And there’s evidence that readers are willing to spend more time with formats they find easier to navigate.” At the same time, the smartphone has also made it easier for people to engage with content in a variety of ways, no matter where they are. Gone are the days when you needed to be next to a television to watch a documentary or be near a radio to listen to audio journalism. Smartphones have changed not only what’s possible but what consumers demand.

As news organizations shift to suit audience needs, they are using audio, video, or even newsletters in addition to traditional print (or digital). We see the importance of a multimedia approach in the rise of data journalism, where presentation is everything. As this particular genre has evolved, we have seen stories told in new, innovative ways — stretching the bounds of what journalism looks like.

Take, for instance, an experience from the Washington Post , where readers can scroll their way up Mount Everest. At key points along the journey, readers get information in variousformats. From short blocks of text to audio recordings to illustrations, readers can engage with the information in a variety of ways — or perhaps even in different ways at different times. These same principles can be applied to long-form journalism, creating more dynamic experiences that apply to a wider audience. As publishers struggle to define their audiences and build sustainable monetization models, multimedia long-form journalism may just be the answer.

How can journalists and publishers use long-form to build engagement and revenue?

Publishers know it’s increasingly important to find new revenue streams and ways to capture more audience attention. Long-form journalism can be a piece of that puzzle, but it requires a significant investment of time and money. Here are some tips to ensure your long-form efforts represent a good return on investment:

Choose your story wisely

Not every story needs a long-form approach. When selecting the right stories to tell, look for topics that require multiple sections — whether it’s several podcast episodes or an ongoing print series — that can support a narrative structure that builds over time.

Don’t take advantage of your readers’ attention

Just because an audience member likes long-form stories does not mean they want their time wasted on fluff. Be sure to be as ruthless with your edits for a long-form story as you would for a shorter piece of content.

Plan your multimedia approach in advance

Audiences can tell when something is an afterthought. Be sure to pick the right types of media to tell your story and provide opportunities for people to interact in the ways they enjoy and that make the most sense for the story.

Think about monetization

When publishers employ a variety of formats, they can also employ multiple forms of monetization. Running ads against a print story and a podcast is just one simple way to think about monetization on multiple fronts. Publishers can look for sponsors interested in reaching a devoted audience (think about how memorable those MailChimp ads were in the first season of Serial). Or, like the New York Times, they can license their popular content to other media outlets.

Technology can help

High-quality audio content can add value to digital news stories. Creating such content used to be costly and time consuming, but the availability of AI-driven text-to-speech applications now enables authors to create audio versions and podcasts and insert them into their online content with a few clicks.

Eidosmedia platforms have integrated BeyondWords, one of the most powerful audio publishing applications, allowing journalists to create and manage high-quality audio content from within the authoring workspace.

Find out more about integrated audio publishing.


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