TL;DR: The Debate Around Longform Content

Some of the most beloved and heralded literary works are quite lengthy to say the least: War & Peace is 1,225 pages long, Don Quixote clocks in at close to 1,000 pages, and Les Misérables fills up almost 1,500 pages. For many folks, it’s considered a personal badge of honor for making it through these tomes, and for good reason: all three of these novels are widely understood as some of the greatest examples of words put to paper. And while word or page count shouldn’t automatically mean a piece of writing is worthwhile, there has been a movement taking place in the last few years in the media that can be loosely translated to “if an article is long, it’s bound to be good.” It’s most commonly referred to as longform journalism, and lately it’s been stirring quite the debate from a variety of viewpoints. download

I’d be the first to admit that most of my favorites pieces of journalism published in the past few years would fall under the “longform” banner – in stark contrast to the clickbait and listicles that are increasingly populating the web. Here’s a longform feature on the growing demographic of elderly AIDS survivors; here’s an in-depth look into what happened leading up to and following the tragic Germanwings plane crash last year; and here’s a piece on how the creator of the TV show ‘NYPD Blue’ gambled away almost all of his $100 million fortune. Heck, my penchant for longform content is such that I have a collection of 15-20 pieces emailed to me every Sunday morning (which you can subscribe to here).

But going back to my earlier point, just because certain content is bulky, it doesn’t mean that it carries weight. All you need to do is go back and read the autopsy of sports publication SB Nation’s bungled longform piece on Daniel Holtzclaw, a former football player who was recently convicted of 18 counts of rape and sentenced to 263 years in prison. Upon receiving deserved outrage around the piece’s overall angle (and corresponding lack of due diligence on interviewing people at the crux of the story), SB Nation’s editorial director, Spencer Hall – a fantastic writer in his own right – called the article a “complete failure” and took the action to shut down SB Nation’s arm of longform journalism.

So, just like the novels mentioned at the beginning of this post, creating quality longform content takes serious time and resources – two things that content creators don’t have in endless supply amidst today’s always-on, 24/7 media cycle. But when it’s done right it can have an enormous impact, as the folks behind the site Wait But Why have discovered. And it’s not just publications that can benefit: organizations of all types are increasingly becoming longform content creators of their own, and are finding success in it. It makes perfect sense: if your story is compelling, give readers more of it and they’ll likely keep coming back for more.

As with most things that spark our interest, from music to food to recreational activities, you’ve probably got quite a particular taste when it comes to the content you like to read. And that’s the whole point: whether it’s a BuzzFeed post with 20 GIFs depicting why Fridays are the best, or a 20,000 word exposé on the fall of the U.S. mortgage industry, it’s all about finding what you like and being unapologetic about it. The nice thing is, the Internet is expansive enough to cater to whatever your tastes might be, even if it’s a quirky article about the creation of a website aimed to promote the movie Space Jam back when dial-up was all the rage…

Drew Smith