Loving long form

(Post copied from Danegeld blog, 7 Feb 2015.)

Update, 10 Jan: signed off feeds pretty quickly. Found (but didn’t read) a couple of interesting articles in Aeon’s weekly newsletter. WLTC word count/time estimates. Have to take zoom down to 67% for size to feel comfortable.

I find reading on a screen (and increasingly at all) hard in that I’m programmed to scan, but what with ebooks and tablets gaining traction and more quality ‘lean back’ content on offer it’s time to review my snacking and grazing habits. What gives in long form (or should that be longform) corner?

Long form journalism:

  • The Atavist  – “We’re publishers, and we’re also tool-makers. Our mission is to tell richly reported, original nonfiction stories—and help other people and organizations tell their own.”
  • Matter – aims to publish one piece of long form journalism a month
  • newspaper efforts…Guardian Shorts (ebooks; originals and curated collections) | Berlingske Longreads | Politiken Magasinet

Some digital (first) magazines:

  • Aeon – an essay every weekday on ideas and culture, eek
  • Brain Pickings – “brain child of Maria Popova, an interestingness hunter-gatherer and curious mind at large”  (a phenomenon rather than a magazine); waaay too much
  • The Junket – literary!
  • The Magazine – “four articles every two weeks on a wide variety of subjects, generally for geeks and curious people”
  • Narratively – a “multimedia magazine devoted to original, true and in-depth stories about New York”
  • Triple Canopy – dedicated to slowing down the Internet, with design centred on “prolonged focused engagement”
  • Contents – “online magazine for readers who create, edit, publish, analyse and care for the contents of the Internet”


I’ve signed up for feeds from some of these – we’ll see if that offers more value than those “your Twitter follow links” tools. It’s not as if I’m looking for stuff to read.

Key features of long form:

  • how long? longer than short, 2K+ words, but it’s not just about length…
  • immersive, quality content, a ‘clean’ design; structured storytelling
  • rewriting writing for the Web rules (short paras and bite sized chunks, headings) and SEO – aims for a book like layout and distraction free read
  • design and layout ‘innovations’ from print design, to help navigate long bands of text and engage without overwhelming, for example narrower paragraph spacing, line length and spacing, font size, use of dropped capitals and pull quotes (see Designing for the reading experience)
  • recycle and resurface old content – longer half life of stories
  • users come via community and social (eg Reddit), not search
  • financial models – Kickstarter and micropayments
  • see also Craig Mod’s Subcompact Publishing manifesto
  • what’s missing – decent tagging

#longreads and links:

What does this mean on the professional front? As bullet point queen I’ve banged on about chunking and traditional writing for the web rules with the best of them, but this approach was always a poor fit with law academics, who favour rhetorical flourishes and print oriented publishing models. As for the third member of the holy trinity, a recent project broke all the rules re task driven ‘copy’ slotted into a content strategy workflow. It just didn’t fit.

It feels quite a relief to have long form sanctioned, both in higher education and government. Maybe in ebook or magazine format, rather more attractive and flexible than a PDF shouting “print me”.


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