By: Heidi Kulicke
A modern journalist’s toolbox wouldn’t be complete without Twitter, Google, and a smartphone equipped with an arsenal of apps. With society’s “news now” mentality, is there still room for journalism’s in-depth, thoroughly investigated stories? A handful of websites celebrating long-form stories seem to think so.
Among the list of supporters is Longreads.com, catering to people interested in reading longer stories in digital form, whether it’s by computer, Kindle, tablet, or smartphone.
In 2009, Longreads founder Mark Armstrong faced a dilemma during his daily subway commute. He couldn’t access his iPhone apps or Wi-Fi, and as a self-proclaimed “news junkie” he desperately needed a way to occupy his 40-minute commute.
Once he discovered the offline reading app known as Instapaper, everything changed. Armstrong was now able to use the “read later” button in his browser to collect stories from publications he liked from around the Web. He eventually ran out of material and started a Twitter feed (@longreads) and a hashtag (#longreads) and asked for help.
Two years and countless stories later, nearly 26,000 people follow @longreads on Twitter — many of whom have helped surface stories. Longreads.com was launched in order to archive every story that’s been tweeted, making them searchable by media outlet, author, and topic. Each article is tagged by length, both in words and the approximate reading time. “It’s turned into this wonderful community dedicated to sharing and celebrating great storytelling on the Web, from newspapers, magazines, and online-only publications,” Armstrong said.
In many ways, Twitter’s 140-character restriction has helped save long-form journalism, Armstrong said, making it the perfect forum for spreading the word of great writers and articles that might otherwise get lost in cyberspace. In his mind, the Internet provides an opportunity for long-form journalism to thrive.
News organizations such as The Washington Post, ProPublica, Village Voice, Mother Jones, and The Awl currently promote their big pieces through Longreads, by either sharing the hashtag #longreads on Twitter or by creating a Longreads page on their own websites. When publishers set apart their longer stories, they can reach an audience searching for those types of stories. And because Longreads is a curator, the site links directly to the original publisher of the stories, helping to drive traffic and attention to the stories on their respective sites, Armstrong said.
In recent months, panel discussions on long-form journalism have joined together hundreds of people interested in hearing discussions about the intertwined paths of narrative storytelling and technology. Longreads co-hosted an event with Rolling Stone at a meeting in the New York bookstore Housing Works. Panelists included four writers and editors from Rolling Stone: Jeff Goodell, Rob Sheffield, Brian Hiatt, and Will Dana.
“Is journalism going to survive the age of WikiLeaks, in this era where every secret, every fact is out there on the Internet for everyone to see?” asked Dana, Rolling Stone managing editor. “The format’s going to change, whether it’s on paper or a computer screen, aggregated or disaggregated … [but] in this world of infinite information, it means there’s an even greater need for quality information.”
The payoff for producing longer pieces is evident in their life span, Armstrong said, because they get retweeted and shared through social networks months after they’ve been published. “Journalism will continue to evolve and take new forms. We’re using technology and social media to argue that there is a growing number of people hungry for thoughtful, in-depth stories.”