Long-form journalism—nuanced, rigorous, eloquent, and reasonable—is a mode of writing quickly being swept into the ashy dustbin of history.
The previous sentence, punctuation included, is 140 characters long, which is the maximum length of a tweet and—according to media scholars, news anchors, and frustrated teachers—the maximum attention span of anyone with a computer. Facebook status updates, overflowing RSS feeds, and smartphones are symptoms of a deeper malady, a hunger to consume more and more information. It would seem that painstakingly-crafted essays and deeply-researched journalism stand no chance in this hyperactive environment.
On the contrary, Wired's Clive Thompson argues that info-nibbles like status updates, tweets, and news briefs increase our appetite for in-depth, long-form writing:
The torrent of short-form thinking is actually a catalyst for more long-form meditation. When something newsworthy happens today . . . you get a sudden blizzard of status updates. These are just short takes, and they’re often half-baked or gossipy and may not even be entirely true. But that’s OK; they’re not intended to be carefully constructed. Society is just chewing over what happened, forming a quick impression of What It All Means. The long take is the opposite: It’s a deeply considered report and analysis, and it often takes weeks, months, or years to produce.
Thompson notes some observations on how blogging has changed over the last 10 years. Bloggers, he says, now post less frequently, saving the big ideas for more careful articulation and broadcasting fleeting thoughts over social networks instead. Thompson also mentions that the most popular blog posts exceed 1,600 words.
This trend hasn’t been lost on web-developers. A number of websites and applications cater to voracious readers. To make lengthy reads easier on the eyes, the bookmarklet Readability eliminates advertisements and sidebars from websites, giving you a clean column of text right down the middle of your computer screen. Come across a provocative article that you just can’t squeeze into your lunch break? Instapaper allows you to store and save profound writing for later perusal. Finally, Longreads is an aggregator that links to the web’s best creative non-fiction and investigative journalism.
Image by Ahmad Hammoud, licensed under Creative Commons.