The past few weeks have seen a lot of controversy around this word. It’s been growing for awhile, but some fuel got poured on the proverbial dumpster fire when IMPORTANT sports/culture site Grantland got lambasted for mishandling a story. (Part of that is because of a controversial topic, but I’m not here to talk about that–I want to think about the form itself).
The story was interesting because it transformed from being a lauded piece into one that raised a lot of uncomfortable questions. Those that gave it accolades started withdrawing it. A big reason? People may not have read it to begin with.
Maybe in a magazine people would have read it to the end. On the tablet, etc., it’s easier just to skip around or dismiss altogether.
In my newsletter, I often include long stories that I’ve enjoyed. I try to read each and every one of them to the end. The main reason? That’s how I want to be treated as a writer as well. I want people to read all of my stuff (but I know that you won’t).
I happen to agree with Steve Kandell, the features editor of Buzzfeed that the term in of itself is demeaning to writing. It seems to give an understood nod that shorter content is better and the more accepted type. Here’s what he said:
“It is clumsily retrofitted from an adjective into a noun, that tends to attract attention to the wrong syllable so that length becomes a selling point regardless of content or context—this soup tastes awful, but hey, at least there’s a lot of it! Mass is fetishized, as if that alone should be a selling point because other things we like are short.”
H/T to this post by another Buzzfeed editor about what’s going on with the word “long form.”
So where should longform go from here?
1. Nowhere. It should stay the same. There should still be long writing and interesting articles. That’s a given.
2. It should do something crazy and retrospective, which is to adapt some of the magazine’s best features–fact checking, research, source interviews.
3. Websites and publishers should devote more design and interactive features to these pieces, much like the way SBNation and other places are doing. These stories should stand out not only because of the word count, but because of how they take advantage of the medium.
4. With that…keep it easy to read. Limit the ads. Don’t have the same crazy sidebars as the “short” content.
5. Make it exclusive. Have a one-ad sponsoror get people to pay extra for the access while keeping the other stuff free.
Thankfully, I don’t think the concept of “longform” or features are going anywhere–they’ve proven their staying power. It’s just how they’ll adapt for WEB 555.353 or whatever version we’re on.