There was a bit of chatter among #newsfoo participants last weekend about long-form reading services, which prompted me to pull out a couple of useful links and quotes.
It can be time consuming sifting through the daily wall of news stories and blogposts to find the handful of gems that genuinely interest or move you. These services, which recommend only a handful of excellent journalism pieces each day, can help:
(This tweet was embedded using the WordPress Blackbird Pie plugin)
The motto was short and sweet (“if you only read one thing today, make it this”) and the premise was straightforward: to highlight and link to a single piece of gripping, powerful and memorable writing each weekday.
…Most of the material lives on magazine sites (such as the New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Esquire), newspaper sites (New York Times, Los Angeles Times) or web-only outfits (KeepGoing).
The project is in its infancy but one thing I’ve already found out is that there is a growing community of people dedicated to spreading good writing using the very technologies that people say is killing long-form journalism.
“Our site has gotten far more attention than we possibly imagined it would,” says Aaron Lammer, co-creator of longform.org, which promises to give its users links to articles that are “too long and too interesting to be read on a web browser”.
Each day the New York-based book editor and his partner, Max Linsky, select a handful of pieces and pass them through a service called Instapaper that makes them easy to print or read on devices such as a phone, Kindle or iPad.
…Other services are also springing up to help people find routes to great stories. Among them is givemesomethingtoread.com (also linked to Instapaper) and a Twitter account, @longreads, that boasts more than 5,000 followers. It turns out that like me, avid readers are trying to scratch their own itch.
Instapaper, which a number of these services work with, is a personal favourite. It lets you bookmark stories you want to read later using a simple applet that doesn’t require you to enter tags or anything else; just hit Read Later and the piece is saved. You can then read it at your leisure on your phone, iPad or in a browser next time you log in to Instapaper
(which, joyfully, doesn’t require you to use a password if you don’t want to It now does, for “accuracy and security” 13 March 2011). The genius of it is that it stores the whole piece so you can read it offline or on.
Happily for those of us in New Zealand, the founder of Instapaper, Marco Arment, is coming here next year to speak at the Webstock conference along with some other very smart people with interesting projects and experience. (Disclosure: I am a Webstock fan and am going to be doing a bit of work with them next year.)
The Nieman Journalism Lab wrote a piece about long-form journalism a while back which looked at Slate magazine’s approach to long-form pieces and this remarkable policy:
Essentially, the fellowship program requires that every editorial staff member at Slate … take four to six weeks off from their normal jobs, paid — and use that time to produce one in-depth piece (or, often, a series of in-depth pieces) on a subject that compels them.
So far, the project has netted such praiseworthy specimens of long-form as, among others, Tim Noah’s analysis of why the U.S. hasn’t endured another successfully executed terror attack since 9/11 and Julia Turner’s look at the fascinating complexities of signage and June Thomas’ examination of American dentistry and Dahlia Lithwick’s crowd-sourced foray into chick-lit authorship and John Dickerson’s reclamation of risk-taking after the financial crash gave that quintessential American practice a bad name.
The other thing the initiative has netted? Pageviews. They’ve been in the millions, a Slate rep told me: over 4 million for Noah’s piece, over 3.5 million for Thomas’, nearly 3 million for Turner’s. That’s especially significant considering the length of the pieces, which often run in the tens of thousands of words. Combine that with New York Times Magazine editor Gerry Marzorati’s claim, last year, that “contrary to conventional wisdom, it’s our longest pieces that attract the most online traffic”.