Tag Archives: narrative

Can long-form journalism bring readers back by learning from the literary essay? (Here are 17 concepts it can use)

Long-form journalism enjoyed a resurgence when editors tried to retain readers in the early 2000s — but the rise of mobile-first publishing has presented a challenge. In a special guest post for OJB, Michael Bugeja outlines how it can draw on narrative techniques from literary essays to keep readers reading — and coming back for more.

In 2016 a Pew report looked at how readers interacted with over 74,000 articles on their mobile phones. It concluded that long-form reporting was holding its own despite the shift to mobile, boasting a higher engagement rate (123 seconds compared with 57.1 for short-form stories) and the same number of visits:

“While 123 seconds – or just over two minutes – may not seem long, and afar cry from the idealized vision of citizens settling in with the morning newspaper, two minutes is far longer than most local television news stories today.”

Tweaking the concept of long-form

But buried in the report were some problems: only 3 percent of long-form and 4 percent of short-form news returned to the content once they left it — and both types of articles had brief lifespans after content was posted, with interaction after three days dropping by 89 percent for short-form and 83 percent for long-form. Continue reading

Longform writing: how to avoid the ‘saggy middle’ — and end strongly

4 ways to structure a longform story

This year on my MA in Data Journalism and MA in Multiplatform and Mobile Journalism I have been teaching students how to plan and organise a longform story. Having already written about story types that can help organise an investigation and beginnings, in this post I want to look at techniques for organising the middle of longform features — and how to wrap it all up at the end.

Middles and endings of long features are no less tricky than the beginnings you can spend so much time writing and rewriting. Often people fall back on particular habits which may not quite ‘work’ for the story being told.

Telling a story in chronological order, for example, is not always the most effective approach. Stories where the action is not equally dispersed chronologically can ‘sag’ in these cases and the momentum of a strong beginning get lost.

In those situations a storyteller with a varied toolbox might use places, or themes, or scenes, to keep that momentum going instead. Continue reading

Longform writing: how to write a beginning to hook the reader

7 ways to begin a longform story: person, place, action, detail, question, problem, revelation

Previously I’ve looked at 7 story types that can help organise an investigation and the 5 stages of a longform story. In this follow-up post (taken from a class in my MA in Data Journalism and MA in Multiplatform and Mobile Journalism) I look in more detail at the editing process once you have a longform story laid out — specifically, how to start that long feature.

Beginnings are notoriously tricky for any writer. For news reporters the advice is simple: start with the ‘new’ thing in your story, and make sure there is a verb in there: a person has said something; a report has revealed something; authorities are looking for someone, warning about something, planning to do something; and so on.

But in longform and feature writing the approach is more subtle. Although we can choose to report that something has been ‘revealed’ right at the start, this risks removing tension from the story and leading the reader to abandon it before they have the full picture.

Instead, then, journalists use a number of techniques to keep the reader engaged across a longer format — with the important implied promise that the story is going to be worth it.

So, for anyone struggling to think of a way to start a longer story — or feel that you can improve the approach you’ve chosen — I’ve pulled together seven types of beginning that are used in longform reporting and feature writing, with some considerations to bear in mind — and plenty of examples. Continue reading

The 5 stages of a longform story – and how they can help you identify sources

5 stages of a longform story

This year I’ve been working with my MA Data Journalism and MA Multiplatform and Mobile Journalism students on techniques for telling longer form stories. In this post I explain how a consideration of story structure can help you clarify the sources that you will need to talk to in order to gather the elements needed for an effective longform story.

In a previous post I discussed how different plot frameworks identified by Christopher Booker in his book ‘The Seven Basic Plots‘ – such as the ‘quest’ or ‘tragedy’ – can help a journalist think about longer investigations. In addition to those types of story, however, Booker also identifies 5 stages of a story. These are:

  1. Anticipation: setting, character and – crucially – ‘problem’ are introduced.
  2. Dream: we begin exploring/solving the problem.
  3. Frustration: we hit more problems.
  4. Nightmare: this is the ‘final battle’ of fiction narratives.
  5. Miraculous Escape/Redemption/Achievement of the Prize or (in the case of Tragedy) the Hero’s Destruction.

How the 5 stages work in journalism

I would argue that you can see these stages at work in most longform journalism, too. Here’s how: Continue reading

Here are 7 story types that can be used to help organise investigations

7 story types and investigations

This year I’ve been working with my MA Data Journalism and MA Multiplatform and Mobile Journalism students on techniques for telling longer form stories. In this post I explain how a consideration of seven common plot types can help you clarify what story it is you’re telling – and what you might need to tell that.

There are many ways to tell a story, and many stories to tell. An investigation can be trying to establish the cause of a problem, or solutions to that problem; it can be revealing previously hidden unethical behaviour, or shining a light on issues which are ‘hidden in plain sight’; it can be holding a mirror up to a part of society to reveal its scale; or giving a voice to that part of society as a step towards a more sophisticated understanding of problems affecting it. And depending on the type of story, you might adopt different approaches to telling it. Continue reading

Data storytelling done right: 8 easy tips to avoid bad visualisation

tesselationIn a guest post for OJB, Steve Carufel interviews Dutch data journalist Thomas de Beus about visualisation, storytelling — and useful new tools for data journalists.

Data journalism is, among other things, the art of resisting the temptation to show spectacular visualisations that fail to highlight the data behind a story.

Insights and relevant statistics can get lost in visual translation, so Thomas de BeusColourful Facts is a great place to start thinking more about clarity and your audience — and less about spectacular graphic design (although you do not want to forego attractiveness entirely). Continue reading

No, I’m not abandoning the term “storytelling”, Alberto — just the opposite (and here’s why)

A digital storyteller looks like this

digital storyteller image by Darren Kuropatwa

Alberto Cairo provoked quite a bit of reaction this week when he tweeted that data journalism and data visualisation ought to abandon the term “storytelling”…

Given that in two weeks I’ll be doing exactly the opposite (my first intake of MA students begin a new module in Narrative at the end of the month) I thought I should add my own reaction. Continue reading