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Long form journalism on the Web is "not working."
August 25, 2009 12:17 PM   Subscribe

Long form journalism on the Web is "not working." - TIME.com Managing Editor Josh Tyrangiel ..Among the detractors of this statement is David Sleight, Deputy Creative Director of BusinessWeek.com: "Really? It’s 2009 and we’re still having this conversation?" Scattered industry advice on this topic varies from moderate to extreme, and while web analytics paint a convincing picture of web readers, some wonder if long form journalism has EVER worked. Of course there seem to be other factors at play, like methods of presentation and quality of content.
posted by thisisdrew (36 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
tl;dr
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:19 PM on August 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


You've waited all month to do that, haven't you?
posted by GuyZero at 12:29 PM on August 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


Dear TIME,

Here's an idea: stop taking your journalistic cues from Cracked.com.
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 12:32 PM on August 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


Not only is it harder for me to read longer articles on the web than in print, I have trouble watching longer videos on the web than on TV.
posted by vapidave at 12:32 PM on August 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


Not to be too harsh on our new friends at TIME, but if TIME's long-form journalism does badly online while the NY Times magazine's long-form journalism does well online... well, the fault could be with what TIME churns out, not with long-form journalism.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 12:32 PM on August 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


TIME produces journalism? I thought they produced propaganda and pulp. Huh.
posted by spicynuts at 12:35 PM on August 25, 2009


Jesus Dave, if you say it three times Al Gore appears!

I agree with you, nonetheless.
posted by Mister_A at 12:39 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, odd that TPM et al. don't seem to have this problem.

Also, that Time does in it's paper version.

It's not us, Time, it's you.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:39 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Long form journalism on the Web is "not working."

Who needs Time? We have single link YouTube posts and snarky one liners.
posted by rokusan at 12:39 PM on August 25, 2009


Tyrangiel's rant seems at odds with this multi-thousand word essay: Five Key Reasons Why Newspapers Are Failing.

Wyman's analysis takes a longer view and more thoughtful conclusions: The problem with newspapers (and, by extension, news magazines) is not their excess of long-form journalism but rather their lack. And that most news print media's transitions to the web are flawed specifically because they're lacking in the content they're in a unique position to provide -- regional reporting, investigative journalism and expert analyses -- because their print versions had long ago become so top-heavy with the same non-news that a zillion topical bloggers are already providing in better forms: Recipes, household tips, arts events, tech and business news, and so on. The key points hold up to scrutiny despite a little axe-grinding on Wyman's part. It's worth the time to sit down and read, despite being long-form opinion journalism. Ultimately the problem with journalism isn't whether it's verbose but whether it's worth a damn, and that's what the major print media is failing to provide. [hat-tip to waxy]
posted by ardgedee at 12:39 PM on August 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


Sigh.
posted by Mister_A at 12:40 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


was going to say....

Time has pretty crappy "journalism" no matter what the form.
posted by edgeways at 12:40 PM on August 25, 2009


As much as I hate it when people bitch about pagination, I have to say that it probably deters a lot of people from reading long articles, because it makes them seem longer than they are. So maybe if they ditched pagination, they'd find that people were more willing to read long pieces.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:40 PM on August 25, 2009


Here's an idea: stop taking your journalistic cues from Cracked.com.

Oh good lord.

*facepalm*

To quote moot on being selected as their Internet person of the year "Trolling is a art".
posted by GuyZero at 12:40 PM on August 25, 2009


> Not only is it harder for me to read longer articles on the web than in print, I have trouble watching longer videos on the web than on TV.

I don't know what it is, but I can't stand watching long videos on the web. Long articles, though, are not a problem (unless they're spread across too many pages or otherwise badly formatted); in fact, in some ways reading a long article is easier on the web than it would be in a newspaper or magazine.

A friend of mine is in change of a sports news website, and she recently asked me to take a short quiz they'd been giving their readers. I indicated that I rarely if ever leave comments (outside of MeFi, of course), enjoy reading long articles and am not really all that interested in video highlights (unless it's something really spectacular or unusual like the baseball triple play the other day). Her company had been slotting the survey's participants into four or five archetypes, which were given human nicknames. As it turned out I was a cross between "Ricky Reader" and "Laura Lurker" (I think there was also a "Paula Poster" and "Victor Video").
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:44 PM on August 25, 2009


A friend of mine once thought, 'how cool would it be to only shave half my face for, like, a month?' Lo and behold, on the internet, there was a guy who had been doing this for 40 YEARS.

Its the internet. Whatever you think is "not working," odds are someone somewhere is making it work. Asymmetric facial hair, long-form journalism, whatever.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 12:44 PM on August 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


Back in my misspent youth dabbling in journalism back in the 80s, the whole structure of a newspaper article was centered on the folk wisdom that people will rarely read past headline and lead. In writing the headline and lead, we were encouraged to be as compressed and short as possible, with the crafting of those few words often as much work as the rest of the article. Newspapers, magazines, and even scientific literature are designed for speed-reading and skimming, and those design principles go back to the dawn of modern journalism at the turn of the last century.

So really, I don't understand where advocates of print journalism get off complaining that people skim web pages and move on.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:45 PM on August 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


Mister_A: "Jesus Dave, if you say it three times Al Gore appears!
I agree with you, nonetheless.
"
(I posted my comment 3 times somehow, mods fixed, Mister_A is not losing it.)
That I know of.

posted by vapidave at 12:46 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


MY TREATY LET ME SHOW YOU IT.
posted by Mister_A at 12:47 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'll also add that newspapers have been "failing" by various metrics since the '80s and early '90s. When I gave up on journalism 'round '91, the writing was already on the wall. Most markets were served by only one daily, and most of them had been gobbled up by regional, national, or multinational media companies. The long-term future of the print newspaper was already in question before the first web page broke out of the academic ghetto.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:00 PM on August 25, 2009


Long form journalism, a staple of magazines like Time...

LIAR
posted by mrgrimm at 1:21 PM on August 25, 2009


The old school media types still don't get it -- they still see the web as a souped up magazine and newspaper and are trying to impose their old truisms on this fluid and flexible medium. They never had studies to find the best method to present information -- they used flawed focus groups instead.

So what is it that they know, exactly?

The Internet is about experimentation -- true experimentation, but good luck trying to get that through those thick, arrogant skulls.

Memo to Mr. Tyrangiel: just because *you* can't do it does not mean it cannot be done...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 1:24 PM on August 25, 2009


Long form journalism, a staple of magazines like Time...

LIAR


To be fair, they probably didn't research that.
posted by odinsdream at 1:25 PM on August 25, 2009


The Internet is about experimentation -- true experimentation, but good luck trying to get that through those thick, arrogant skulls.

Well, yes and no. One of the conclusions of the more persuasive links in the post — ie, the ones that aren't from employees of TIME — is that more conventional, big-chunks-of-text long form journalism might be much more viable online than the Twitter and Facebook-obsessed new media zealots (who equal any traditional media boss in their arrogance, btw) have ever stopped to consider. And that's based on some real studies.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 1:48 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow, that video seems straight out of 1998. I found ardgedee's link insightful.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:49 PM on August 25, 2009


Isn't this like buggy whip makers around 1910 telling us automobiles are a stupid idea?
posted by y6y6y6 at 1:53 PM on August 25, 2009


Back in my misspent youth dabbling in journalism back in the 80s, the whole structure of a newspaper article was centered on the folk wisdom that people will rarely read past headline and lead. In writing the headline and lead, we were encouraged to be as compressed and short as possible, with the crafting of those few words often as much work as the rest of the article. Newspapers, magazines, and even scientific literature are designed for speed-reading and skimming, and those design principles go back to the dawn of modern journalism at the turn of the last century.

True, but not apples to apples. The inverted pyramid is for hard news. Long-form is magazine style, 1500 words and up. That kind of room allows for the descriptie open, the quote, the scene-setter. Your Frank Sinatra Has a Colds.
posted by Diablevert at 2:03 PM on August 25, 2009


The story in the first link is under one hundred words, contains typos, and has a video link. I think I'll just go back to getting my news from YouTube comments, thank you very much.
posted by Avelwood at 3:58 PM on August 25, 2009


Here's an idea: stop taking your journalistic cues from Cracked.com.

At least cracked.com has found a somewhat web-friendly journalistic form. And I'm not sure that it's just long-form journalism that is the problem. It could be Time's crap format. I just ran across this list of 50 best websites of 2009 (Thanks GeekLikeMe!) on time.com... spread across 50 separate pages with a picture and paragraph on each page.

While reading an article, I don't want to have to click the "next" button and wait for 60% of the screen to fill with ads just to read a paragraph or two of content. I don't want to hit the "next" button fifty times to go through a list of fifty items. If a lot of board-room head scratching is going on about why readers don't spend a lot of time reading articles, they might want to try browsing their own site for a while.
posted by Avelwood at 4:23 PM on August 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


> It could be Time's crap format.

Holy crap, is it ever.

Time's webmonkeys are obviously on some off-the-hook variety of meth. The pages bounce around like a prom date as they load, making it nearly impossible to read the actual content, let alone the ads, for about a minute or so.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:48 PM on August 25, 2009


Avelwood has it right.

I don't understand why more journalists haven't gotten the idea that text, multi-media presentation, and data represent the vision of the web and so few actually even try it let alone get it right.
posted by sfts2 at 4:48 PM on August 25, 2009


I think TIME.com Managing Editor Josh Tyrangiel's point would be much more eloquently made if every paragraph he uttered was followed by a non-sequitor sentence linking to some vaguely related topic with more ads plastered on it.

time.com is completely unreadable now.
posted by Nelson at 5:16 PM on August 25, 2009


Isn't this like buggy whip makers around 1910 telling us automobiles are a stupid idea?

More like buggy whip makers around 1910 telling us high-wheeled velocipedes are a bad idea. Just because one thing is ceasing to work doesn't mean the next idea you come up with is gonna be a keeper.
posted by Amanojaku at 7:17 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


A friend of mine once thought, 'how cool would it be to only shave half my face for, like, a month?' Lo and behold, on the internet, there was a guy who had been doing this for 40 YEARS.

That calls for a ten-link FPP.
posted by armage at 7:42 PM on August 25, 2009


Not that I accept the premise, but ... was long-form journalism working in print?
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 8:55 PM on August 25, 2009


Just because one thing is ceasing to work doesn't mean the next idea you come up with is gonna be a keeper.

Truer words were rarely spoken. And I'd add: just because a technology allows you to do something, it doesn't mean you should do that thing. And it certainly doesn't mean that the new thing — crowdsourced content generation, or whatever — must come to dominate the field in which it exists. Such is the predictability of the "everything has to change!" new-media zealots that we're getting to the stage where it's much more radical and audacious to suggest that there may be some things "old media" is doing right.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 6:29 AM on August 26, 2009


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