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Longform journalism is dead! You read it here first

May 20th, 2014

Longform shmongform. If you’re emulating Marcel Proust, don’t do it online.

“Why do you spend so much time reading those long boring articles in the New Yorker?” my husband inquired sniffily, before resuming his enjoyment of Neatorama.

Why indeed, I ask myself – well, not when it’s an instructive account of Berlin’s hipp-est clubs , as in a few issues back, or Lizzie Widdicombe’s fascinating “The End of Food” in the May 12 issue.

But sometimes you (that is, I) find the finger sneaking forward to scroll down – and there’s more – and more- and more – and for heavens’ sake, I have a life to live! Part of which includes reading all the other interesting stuff on the internet, and keeping up with the latest viral rabbits-eating-raspberries genre.

Another quote: “Longform is dead,” proclaimed the slender, sensitive, journalism graduate by my side as we quaffed institutional wine and celebrated the surprisingly good magazine which he and his peers had produced as a final-year assignment.

The magazine was both on paper and online – there was more content online, but the editor, my companion, assured me that it didn’t run on and on like Beowulf. “Always loved reading,” he said, “but I’ve realized there’s no point in putting long articles on my own website. It’s all about music, and I can see from the views and hits that people will watch the video, but just about nobody reads the equivalent article.”

Sad, we agreed. But longform, despite the pompous protestations of those who have never had the discipline, or editing, to know when to stop, has had its glory days and now will retreat to the intellectual caverns of magazines and havens of specialisms.

It is antithetical to the spirit of online. Digital devices are an omnivore’s delight, a sushi conveyor of delicious snacks, but also with in-built distraction and a compulsion to find more, better, funnier information, so you can be the first to post it on Twitter!

Granted, good investigative journalism takes space and time to build up its revelations and conclusions. But even so, a thousand words at a time should be enough to build up the sense of outrage. All this breathless homage to 10,000 word piece leaves me looking at my watch.

One of those deathless saws handed down in the ‘legacy’ newsrooms of the last century – before they knew they were legacy – is “everything cuts”. When we’re talking about journalism, it’s true. President assassinated; war ends; Murray wins Wimbledon. You can longform away into the middle of a dark star, but the basics are what people really need to know. And there’s nothing better than 600 well-chosen words on the issue of the day, telling you the main stuff, some interesting background, and what might complicate the issue.

If you want to read longform, get a book.

Or read me – everything I write is Longform. Except here it stops at 461 words.




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