Online reader habits: The long and short of it

For many years, the pervasive thinking among many news organizations has been that long-form journalism doesn’t sell well on the web – that the attention span of online readers is geared toward brief stories, summaries (i.e. aggregation) and quick hits.  Nobody on the web is going to read a 5,000-word enterprise piece on politics, business or whatever. Right?

Photo of dog at typewriter

Photo by Steve Pepple

Not so, argues Lewis DVorkin of Forbes magazine. In an article, Inside Forbes: How Long-Form Journalism Is Finding Its Digital Audience,” DVorkin contends that longer form journalism does indeed have an audience on the web.

“Today’s news consuming audience is incredibly fragmented, just like the media itself. Some readers want short-form content, others long-form and still others the short-form version of the long-form. Journalists need to meet all consumer needs,” DVorkin writes.

DVorkin — the chief product officer at Forbes Media, who describes himself as someone who likes to write about the intersection of digital journalism and social media – himself took a 180-degree turn in philosophy. He spent eight years overseeing programming at AOL (yes, it still exists), where news aggregation was the name of the game. The belief was, he says, was the USA Today style McNuggets of news is what online readers wanted and AOL had “billions of page views (including all those photo galleries) to prove it.”

But the game has changed, DVorkin says,  with the decline of big portals, such as AOL, MSN and Yahoo.com, and the development of new digital platforms, such as smartphones and electronic tablets, from which consumers obtain news and information.

DVorkin points to a post by ReadItLater that says that the site’s users are saving articles consistently throughout the day to read later in the evening on laptops or iPads. He says the “ability to take a story offline with you — and finish it in places where you might not have wifi — is critical to the success of long-form content.”

“Content is content, long form or short form.” DVorkin concludes. “And content is not really print or digital. Media organizations — both new and traditional — place it where they do solely for business reasons.  A new breed of voracious news consumer will simply discover it, consume it, talk about it, share it — and even create new content around it — whenever they want on the platform and device of their choice.”

About Steve Pepple

Steve Pepple is a working journalist, web designer and photographer based in the Detroit-Ann Arbor area. He works as a assistant metro editor and writing coach at the Detroit Free Press. He previously worked as the print director at the ground-breaking digital media company AnnArbor.com, overseeing the productions of the twice-weekly newspaper. Prior to that he was the metro editor at the Ann Arbor News and previously served as the managing editor of The Herald-Palladium in Benton Harbor-St. Joseph, Mich. Steve also operates a web design business at moonlightproductions.net and has a wedding and portrait photography business at stevepepple.com.
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