In Part 1 of our recap of the Tow Center’s Future of Digital Longform conference, Emily Bell and Joe Sexton talked about when (and to what extent) a story should be snowfalled, and Josh Schwartz gave data on how people read. (There’s good news for multimedia narrative, so check it out.) Today: One panel takes the “Snow Fall” question a bit further, and another explores how to pay for longform storytelling, one of the more expensive genres in journalism. Coming Friday: New Yorker editor David Remnick in conversation with Columbia professor Michael Shapiro, founder of The Big Roundtable.
“Is Form Following Function? Or Is the Medium Cannibalizing the Message?”
This panel’s tagline: “Does enhanced or immersive design add to the storytelling? We are at a moment where we’ve re-embraced longform online, but we now need to ask: Just because we can design another ‘Snow Fall,’ should we?” The panelists: Alex Cabrera, founder, Marquee, whose enterprises include Narratively; Srinija Srinivasan, co-founder, Loove, and formerly editor in chief of Yahoo!; Mark Horowitz, senior editor, MATTER, an experimental science and innovation magazine that’s part of Medium; Stacy-Marie Ishmael, the Financial Times’ vice president of communities; and Jefferson Rabb, chief technology officer, The Atavist. You can watch the full video here (1 hour, 17 minutes), but here are a few highlights, edited lightly for clarity and length:
Cabrera: Mark, can you shed some light on how we sort of got to know this type of content, and where it grew from?
Horowitz: To me, I just think longform is a new name for feature magazine stories. I don’t think — I think it’s a relatively new phenomenon, the last, when, 80 years, or 100 years. To me, it’s a 4,000-word story and up, that you would have read in the old days in The New Yorker, Esquire, New York magazine, wherever. … For me, it’s not an essay; it’s a reported piece of journalism. For me, coming from a magazine background, it’s not defined by its length; it’s defined by its style. It’s all about the writing, and the voice. It’s not just a long newspaper article.”
Cabrera: Why do we think we’re seeing the rise of longform narrative nonfiction?
Srinivasan: To Mark’s point, it’s nothing new. It’s actually a return or a recognition that some things take time, and the tyranny of time has gotten to be so oppressive and perversely oppressive that we think shorter is better, and efficiency and productivity are greater goods than perspective, wisdom. To me, I think it’s maybe a gut-level … social visceral reaction to the short-sound-byte-quick-hit culture; maybe we recognize some things need more. And we want more, and we demand more — more perspective, more engagement, more understanding and context.
“How Are You Making Money?”
The tagline: “The longform world is filthy with startups, like Epic magazine, The Atavist, Narratively, and The Big Roundtable, and they’re all trying to find an answer to the question, How do we pay writers, and how do we keep funding the journalism?” The panelists: Anna Hiatt, Tow Fellow and Big Roundtable publisher; Joshuah Bearman, cofounder, Epic; Noah Rosenberg, CEO, founder, and editor in chief, Narratively, which produces both corporate content and journalistic pieces; and Shapiro. You can watch the full conversation below (1 hour, 34 minutes). Quick-hit outtakes:
—Narratively is thinking about doing a series of live appearances on the craft of storytelling. (We say: Interesting!)
—Bearman on the link between narrative nonfiction and movie deals and entrepreneurship: “You kind of have to be an operator. The people who have their own brand aren’t just good writers; they’re also very good self-promoters.”
—Hiatt: “When did it stop being possible to get a job at the Washington Post right out of undergrad?” Shapiro: “Well, you can get a job at the Washington Post right out of undergrad. If you’re really skilled at video. Or if you can code.” A question for modern newsrooms is how do you create an environment conducive to producing work that’s “new and interesting. What’s new? And what’s interesting?” Rosenberg said, “Well, I think in many ways a lot of young people coming out of college now wouldn’t want to work for the Washington Post. I mean hey, if I was 22 years old and they offered me a contract, would I take it? Probably. Unless there was something better around the corner, i.e., Yahoo!.”
—Hiatt: “What does it mean for your writers to succeed?” Shapiro: “To be read and to be paid.”