For those interested in the future of long-form journalism and public affairs reporting, a good post this week on the Nieman Lab blog from Lois Beckett.
It notes that Marzorati thinks there is plenty of appetite among readers for long-form journalism online. (I agree).
“For him, the crisis of the form isn’t the audience, but the expense: Who is going to pay for the necessary months of reporting, fact-checking, and editing — not to mention the legal protection that intensive pieces often require? (Marzorati has said previously that Times Magazine cover stories regularly cost upwards of $40,000.)”
At one point the question arose of what Marzorati would do if someone gave him $10 million or so to set up a long-form journalism organisation. Here’s what he said (from an edited transcript):
GM: You’d have to start by attracting some big-name authors. One of the things the Internet has reinforced is the individual brand of a writer, and it’s to those writers that people go. I was having this discussion with Michael Lewis. He publishes his pieces in Vanity Fair, but most of his readers don’t read Vanity Fair — they just read it because he’s attached the link to a tweet and sent it out.
MD: Most of his readers are not paying readers —
GM: Those writers in some ways have transcended the publication. I think it’s going to be harder online to set up this kind of “publication” feel, this kind of magazine, front of the book/back of the book/feature well, that was there to serve advertisers — to some extent, anyway. That sort of thing will disappear.
You will have to at least start by building the brand around a handful of these writers, and then, how I would go about it, would be just: Surround, immerse each of these writers in social media tools. The writers would sort of be the hive, and the experience people would be coming for would be not only to read and encounter the writer, but also the community that this writer had created.
MD: So are we talking to them, paying to get onto the community, or paying for a Kindle —
GM: You’d probably give them different options. You could subscribe to all the people, you could subscribe to one writers. I’d probably use social gaming mechanics to actually get people returning to the particular place, by which I mean: You become the most important commenter on Mark Danner, you are recognized, because your comments are the most read of all the comments. We badge you. We give you the title and you are now badged.
This has an enormous effect on keeping people coming back. It’s the same thing as in those shoot-em-up Mafia Wars: You work your way up, you kill more and more mobsters. You keep coming back. You have a place in the game. You become a super commenter, your comments are flagged in some way. Maybe you do it in color shades. The blue overlaid comment is the one that’s the most read. Or you get badged by bringing other commenters to the site, bringing 20 of your Facebook fans to the site.
Much more of interest in Beckett’s post here.