By Jenna Wenkoff
While researching longform journalism, I was surprised to see lots of articles vehemently defending its existence. As a young-ish person who only recently started reading journalism, I didn’t realize it needed defending. Turns out many are skeptical of longform content because it opposes traditional journalism’s short, snappy, eye catching approach.
What is Longform?
Longform journalism is like traditional journalism, but longer (I considered making this the entire paragraph, but I should probably explain further). Articles like this one from WordStream argue that “Long-form content refers to articles of around 1,200 words or longer.” I found that longform writing tends to focus on quality, worldbuilding, narrative storytelling and solutions, with words like human, untold and narrative often popping up. To my understanding if traditional journalism is news, then longform journalism is narrative (with many narratives of course being newsworthy).
Who Can Publish Longform Content?
There’s a range of barriers for entry when it comes to publishing on longform websites. It’s easiest to categorize the publishing process by who can publish on each site;
- Your Average Joe: The two main sites where anyone can post content are The Medium and LinkedIn. On these sites you simply make an account and post your content without needing any third-party review. I didn’t believe this at first which is why I have an article published on The Medium titled “I’m Testing this out testing testing.” Then there’s also sites like Longreads, where anyone can get published, but you still need to write a pitch.
- Academics: Some sites are strictly academics only, like Aeon, or The Conversation who asks: “Are you currently employed as a researcher or academic with a university? Or, if you’re a student, are you a PhD candidate? Masters students may write with a professor as a co-author.” Publishing on these sites usually involves creating an account verifying your academic institution and then emailing someone a traditional pitch.
- Journalists: Some big newspapers like The New York Times and The Atlantic have started producing longform content in recent years. With the exception of op eds, these sites usually want traditional pitches from journalists.
- Thought/business leaders: This category is probably the most useful in public relations, with a famous example being Business Insider. On their Writing for Insider page they state that “Our contributors are often high-profile experts and thought leaders in their fields: professors, investors, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, executives, attorneys, consultants, authors, professional service providers, technologists, and engineers.” To publish on sites like these you will usually have to write a traditional pitch.
Is longform successful?
Longform journalism has grown in popularity in recent years. WordStream found that switching to longer content boosted their user engagement. “More in-depth content that provides tons of value to our audience has been a very successful part of our content strategy; one that resulted in tripling our average time on site from 1:33 to 4:35.”
The Medium also found that longer articles averaging seven minutes were ideal for keeping a reader’s attention.
Almost every article I read on this topic said the same thing. That people do read longer articles and that these sites receive lots of return traffic, subscriptions and engagement. This is good for PR specialists as it makes longform content a great tool for telling your clients stories.