Matching readers and writers in the jungle of longform

by CBJ

A community like Twitter is useful for writers and journalists in terms of creating attention, spreading the word and interacting with readers. It’s also a great way to find good stories. Longform journalism has received quite a bit of attention in the past couple of years and calling it a revival wouldn’t be an overstatement. But now there’s now so much content online that it’s almost become overwhelming and great stories risk being overlooked. This has given rise to curatorial services helping people navigate through the substantial amount of stories and finding what they like.

The best known curating sites are Longreads.com and Longform.org. For the former one it all began on Twitter in 2009 when Mark Armstrong (founder of longreads.com) called out for people to use the hashtag #longreads to get recommendations for great stories he could read on his phone while riding the subway. This was really a brilliant idea and the hashtag is still alive and well (according the the people at Longreads.com the number of tweets including this hashtag is up 130 % over the past two years).

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Various News Outlets as well as writers and readers use #longreads to promote great in-depth writing

What the curating services do is they highlight good stories and provide links to the host sites. Maybe the extra attention doesn’t mean a whole lot to big outfits like The New Yorker or The Atlantic but they can help startups and smaller publications gain more attention (worldwide) and they help prevent stories fade away in the digital sea. Especially Longform.org with its online archive divided into topics with all the best long-form journalism (old and new). Longform.org also podcasts weekly conversations with non-fiction writers or editors. One could critically say, that these services are also gatekeepers with their own specific tastes, which is not wrong. But it might change a bit with the new app that Longform.org released resently. This seems very interesting as it lets readers create a feed of stories matching their own taste as well as it lets authors build up follow of readers. On paper it seems like a good idea but is there enough interest to carry it? Time will tell.

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The new Longform-app is free of charge and the content is generated by an algorithm scanning online publications for in-depth stories.

The App Store page of the Longform-app (above) features a picture of Ta-Nehisi Coates from the Atlantic. Writers and publishers can appear on Longform.org by signing up and readers can then follow them. However in the case of Coates he already cultivates an audience on his personal Twitter account. We also mentioned him in our previous post for being particular good at engaging with his readers on the website of the Atlantic and he does this seamlessly on twitter as well, giving people a peek into his working methods and using it very actively.

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But the smart thing about the new app as opposed to e.g. Twitter is the accessibility and ease with which you can keep track with stories from your favorite writers. You can the then comfortably read them in a single-page, ad-free “Read view” wherever you are. It’s great for the audience but what does it really do for the writers and publishers in the end? Well, it drives some traffic and help match readers with the stories they seek, highlighting the good stuff out there and keeping it alive for a longer time. This is without a doubt a big quality. Money-wise it might not make a whole lot of a difference, but then again, it shouldn’t always come down the that.

To find out more about the impact of the curating services read this excellent article from ‘The Future of Digital Longform’, a project by Anna Hiatt from Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Colombia University. //

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