When I started researching stories and statistics for this blog post, I didn’t know much about longform journalism. So, I got comfy in my swivel chair and, of course, implemented my first course of action – Googling the term. The search engine brought me first to Esquire magazine’s recent foray into pay-per-article longform, then to a review of the website Narrative.ly. And just like that, this form of reporting of which I had never heard had captured my heart.
Longform journalism is just what its name implies: a longer form of journalism – more specifically, with pieces about 2,000 words and up. Such length is “too long” for smartphone-notification-era news, so the style has been relegated to its own genre. Longform journalism stories also differ from “regular” news in that they focus on more detailed individual experiences as opposed to newsy bytes of information. Esquire, as previously mentioned, recently published Luke Dittrich’s 10,000-word longform piece “The Prophet,” based on the life of Dr. Eben Alexander who claimed that he had seen heaven. In addition to being accessible by subscribers of the print or online version of the magazine, it is also available as a standalone story to any reader willing to pay $1.99 for it.
This issue of payment is my current snafu with longform journalism, and one that seems to be shared by other writing and news enthusiasts. I have to pay $2 for one story? Really? I’m a member of an age where news is free, accessible and constant – not to mention a college student trying to scrape together an income while balancing an internship. For people like me, that little dollar sign looks like one big obstacle. Sites like Narrative.ly provide me with a similar format of news (if not a little shorter and a less publicized) for free, so do I have any excuse not to save my money?
And then the other side – Dittrich’s piece looks fascinating, the kind of human-to-human news that isn’t getting reported with frequency anymore. $1.99 is probably a small price to pay for the research and hard work that undoubtedly went into the story. As Esquire editor-in-chief David Granger stated, “Stories like Dittrich’s matter and they don’t come along often…great journalism—and the months that go into creating it—isn’t free.”
Shouldn’t I be willing to part with two dollars – barely the cost of a cup of coffee – in support of a hardworking writer who has a story worth telling?
Unfortunately, that’s not enough justification for me. In between paragraphs of this post, I’ve subscribed to Narrative.ly’s e-mail newsletter and read a memoir-esque piece called “How to Play in a Sprinkler,” all without paying a cent. Granted, I understand this isn’t exactly hard-hitting news – but I have my iPhone and newspapers to tell me about current events. Longform journalism gives me a more detailed, narrative experience of news, and in this respect, I think singer Jessie J nailed it in declaring “it’s not about the money.”
So to all you content marketers, don’t be afraid to extend yourselves. There’s a real desire in today’s world for information that is personal and well-thought-out as opposed to quick and easy. Perhaps more importantly, there’s a real profundity in investing time and effort to fully engage an audience. If you’re moving towards your umpteenth tweet of the week, consider a different method of updating your followers; a personal testimonial, a genuine anecdote, something with more depth than a one-line Facebook status to express your goals. It’s not easy, but it just might be worth your while. And please, when it comes to conveying news, forget about the price tag.