Long form journalism thoughts inspired by Doctor Who

Interesting stuff on the Guardian site this week, courtesy of Dr Who commenters.
An article on the Media section about the lower-than-expected stats for the show’s latest outing led to a host of comments, with three that particularly caught my eye.

First teganjovanka who highlighted Moffat’s contention that “TV programmes are really just publication dates”

Then feelinglistless* who suggested the combined ratings figures should be reported once we have the stats, the whole stats and nothing but the stats.

And finally madbloke points out that newspapers are shifting away from ABCs to overall reach across multiple platforms

I can take or leave Doctor Who but I thought the point (especially the ‘publication date’) being made here was interesting – that multiple platforms allow greater audience discovery, and offer a longer shelf-life than ever before- and one that you could easily apply to some stories on digital platforms.
There are articles which have the potential to live and shine online far beyond that of their print counterpart simply because they become promoted by audiences elsewhere, and draw in views for months – sometimes years – afterwards.
And it’s the wordy features – the so-called Big Reads – that do the best. These sort of stories aren’t what you’d necessarily see as the sonic screwdriver in the digital toolbox, but it would be a shame if the opportunities inherent in long form or narrative journalism were overlooked by digital teams as we scramble to be the first, or the most innovative, or the most data-driven.
Long reads can disappear into the black hole of the news lists, further down than the hard news, where they may not get the SEO love, added content or promotion of the more in-yer-face news articles. Or they are channelled into Features or Lifestyle where a dedicated reader might hunt them down.

I’m going to experiment with some of the WalesOnline long reads over the next month or so – I want to see how they perform when we showcase them on our site, promote them elsewhere, maybe think about putting them together a bundle that would work as an zine or on an e-reader.
I want to see if it makes a difference when we promote the bookmarking/Read It Later tools more heavily for the narrative pieces, maybe try offering print-as-pdf options and generally look at giving people more ways to tackle the 1,000+ word articles that we have every day. I like the Longform.org site very much; maybe we should try our own sort of site using Tumblr or WordPress.
I’m not pretending this is a wildly original scheme but in the world of regional newspapers extraordinary stories are told every day, which don’t get near the front page because they aren’t current, or contain shattering facts. They are just good reads, and they are, in almost every case, about people.

I blogged  recently that I can get most of the information I need off Twitter and link sharing and that still stands. I get the gist of everything from the Royal Wedding to the situation in Libya, with information broken down into chunks and supplied to me with in-build peer recommendations.
But I still read novels at the rate of around two a week. I’m a sucker for wanting to hear stories (why else do we become journalists?) and when it comes to fact or fiction I  like a good long tale, with flowing narrative and identifiable characters.
The newspaper industry contribution to long reads is usually made by feature writers and found in supplements, or on the centrespread of your local paper. On that paper’s website, you might find it in any number of sections (if you’re lucky or patient).
I like the idea that long reads can have a place in a busy, link-driven, mobile world. I’m not sure where they fit yet, but I’m going to have a go at finding out. And I’m open to suggestions about how to go about that.

* Although he doesn’t know he features in this post, feelinglistless is a friend of mine, Stuart Burns, and a bloke who who knows his media and his scifi. He’s also a pretty awesome blogger

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2 thoughts on “Long form journalism thoughts inspired by Doctor Who

  1. One of the problems with long-form pieces is that they're, erm, long. You either have to have enough time to sit and read through the whole thing; or else you need a way to note the point you've reached and from where you'll resume reading.

    Yesterday's means of delivering content to the reader (browsers, RSS readers, etc) do not generally offer that utility. However, tomorrow's — the iPads and the Android phones, and the Kindles — do.


  2. Hi Dilyan, you're so right – the whole experience of sitting at your desk to read long narratives is a bust; it's uncomfortable, for starters!

    I use Reeder on the iPad to check my rss feeds and I've found that works well as an e-reader for longer blog posts etc. But, really, Kindle and reading apps are absolutely the way forward. Untethering the content from the website is key.
    The next trick is to work out how to do that without a budget 😉


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