Much has changed since the 16th century, although the same can’t be said for the majority of content that publishers craft.
Back then, governments would post written notices across their towns and cities in order to convey political, military or economic news to citizens. Eventually, these long, printed notices became known as newspapers and, as we know, they were widely adopted.
Fast-forward to now and the era of FOMO (fear of missing out), Snapchat, Instagram and on-the-go-viewing—oh, and long-form articles that pretty much look the same as when Elizabeth I was queen of England.
The majority of long-form pieces published (in print and online) still mirror what people received hundreds of years ago and unfortunately feature too much text and little visual stimulation.
I’m by no means advocating for the eradication of long form, in-depth editorial, but it certainly needs a revival. And although platforms like Snapchat and Instagram are brilliant at conveying snippets of information through video, imagery and a dash of text, I believe they lack the ability to provide thorough coverage on major happenings around the globe that simply need more than just a bit of transcript.
In fact, Instagram is a great example of a platform moving toward longer form content. Last August, Instagram introduced Stories, allowing users to share multiple images and videos at once.
Even Twitter, with its signature character restrictions, recently made moves to allow for longer tweets so that photos, videos, GIFs and polls won’t count against its 140 character limit.
Say more about what’s happening! Rolling out now: photos, videos, GIFs, polls, and Quote Tweets no longer count toward your 140 characters. pic.twitter.com/I9pUC0NdZC
— Twitter (@Twitter) September 19, 2016
So why is a format from hundreds of years ago still being used by many of today’s publishers, and where’s the happy medium that falls in the middle of the spectrum between the old and the new?
Today’s generation of content consumers crave a visually stimulating experience while still receiving important and relevant information. Their consumption habits are shaped by the various social platforms they split their leisure time between and, since that time is minimal, they want content that’s easy to find and just as easy to consume.
Video has become a major part of digital storytelling, largely thanks to in-feed Facebook videos that can be consumed on-the-go and often use subtitles so users don’t even need to crank up the volume or pop in headphones.
Furthermore, today’s users crave the ability interact with content and also have a voice on the platforms they frequent. These readers are easily bored and, when given something to engage with, somewhere to express an opinion or something they can immerse themselves in, they’ll not only love the experience, they’ll want to share it with their friends and family.
So, what’s next?
My simple suggestion is that today’s consumption habits must shape tomorrow’s long-form content. The successful articles are ones that incorporate movement, interactivity and information—all within an aesthetically-pleasing environment.
Journalists should be using tools to pen in-depth pieces that enable them to seamlessly add images, GIFs, social embeds and more. Their content should promote audience interaction and, above all, uphold the positive user experience that many currently associate with anything but long form content.
Consider how Salon told the story of Mary Tyler Moore’s death using gripping images, videos and other storytelling tools. This combination allowed the article to reach a dwell time of nearly a minute-and-a-half, 600 percent higher than the average 15-second user attention span the industry has come to expect today.
Journalists, writers and content creators can no longer rely on the outdated way of producing articles and must instead start to lean on tools that will allow them to tell impactful stories that today’s generation craves. The internet promised us an interactive platform, so why writers are still producing content like it’s 1539 is beyond me.
Neal Sinno is general manager of interactive storytelling platform Playbuzz.
Image courtesy of whitemay/iStock.