Comeback of Long-Form Journalism

Long-Form Journalism makes a surprising comeback. In today’s world of digital communication, we have adopted a short-hand writing style. Facebook acronyms like BFF and LOL are common substitutes for complete phrases. Twitter messages are limited to 140 characters. The vast majority of articles published on the web range from only 500 to 700 words in length.

The reasons for this trend vary. Some say the average web surfer doesn’t have the time, patience or interest to read longer article. This is born out in a study that showed nearly 55 per cent of internet users visit websites for an average of 15 seconds or less. Others point to the increasing need for faster and faster communication. Readers want the meat and potatoes only so they can press on.

This trend in shortened writing may be changing, however, with the rise of long-form journalism. This form of journalistic writing is dedicated to writing longer articles with larger and deeper content. It now appears that long-form journalism is making a comeback in certain segments of the publishing world.

Some even call it a “new” style of writing. They are wrong of course. Defined in length as between a traditional article and a novel, long-form journalism has been around since the invention of the daily newspaper. In reality, it’s the newspaper industry that nearly killed off the long-form style. The Los Angeles Times is symptomatic of that change. It published only 256 long-form stories of 2,000 words or more in 2002 compared to 1,776 in 2003. That dramatic decrease continues today.

So where is long-form journalism making a surprise return?

On the internet, that’s where, in the form of web content. Internet publishers have begun to discover that many readers crave longer articles with more detail and depth. They know that to be successful at publishing longer content, they have to be able to maintain a reader’s interest longer. This means publishing more refined writing without the glaring grammatical errors, missing words, misspelling. incoherent rambling sentences and lack of editing that are so common on the web today.

The average content piece today ranges between 500 and 700 words and is heavily geared on SEO with keyword optimization. Long-form journalism has different interpretations of length. Some people consider in excess of 700 words as the dividing line between short and long-form writing. Others think a minimum of 1,800 words is the criteria for classifying a written piece as long-form. Most agree the defined word count should be in the middle at 1,200 words of more.

Long-form journalism must grab your attention from the opening paragraph or even sentence in order to encourage the reader to continue to the end. Novelists know this. Greeting card writers know this too. Surrounded by hundreds of competing cards in a rack, the words on the front of a card must be cleaver or enticing enough to want the buyer to stop, open the card, read the inside and hopefully buy it.

The same holds true with a lengthy article on the web.

Some web publishers have gone so far as to eliminate standard 500-700 word length stories and publish nothing but long-form. Kevin Daily, the Editor-in Chief of Quartz digital publishing, believes that too many sites religiously stick to the short-length format. He feels content suffers because of it. Daily has even developed a model known as the “Quartz Curve” based on word length he finds most appropriate for their site. Making a virtue of mere length can also backfire, especially in the digit age of search engines and SEO writing and keyword packing.

Content may be king in long-form journalism, but holding the reader’s interest to the last word is the fuel that makes the style successful.

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