In the instant-news world of 140-character news feeds, what’s going to happen to long-form journalism? And when can you find the time to read a 4,000-word story, anyway? Two college students have an idea for that. It’s called longform.org.
On their new website, Max Linsky and Aaron Lammer collect long news and feature stories that a) they wish they had time to read, or b) they read a while back and can’t get out of their heads, or c) they think are worth sharing with other news junkies, or d) other long-form newshounds recommend.
It’s a great idea for those of us who have come across a news article that we know we should read, but just don’t think we have the time (or stamina) for right now. What happens, of course, is that we either skim it, or promise ourselves that we’ll come back to it “later,” and then, when there’s actually time (say, when your flight is canceled for five days because of volcanic ash), we can’t remember where we saw it. Some readers, of course, are highly efficient and, upon finding a story, download it to an iPhone or computer to keep for that rainy day. But many of us don’t, and that’s where longform.org comes in.
So far, Linsky and Lammer have been posting from their personal stashes of favorites, but according to Slate:
They’re also adding newly published pieces on a daily basis and are accepting suggestions from readers. The Longform.org archives now contain links to 49 stories, and the site posts about four new ones daily. Writers represented in the latest Longform.org lineup are the usual suspects—Susan Orlean, Mark Leibovich, Mark Bowen, James Fallows, Simon Winchester, David Grann, Michael Lewis, Jeanne Marie Laskas, John Sack, Jeffrey Goldberg—and a few writers you may not have heard of, such as Marco Vernaschi, Gendy Alimurung, and John Geluardi. New posts are announced via a Twitter feed.
Most of the articles posted on longform.org come from current publications. But some are golden oldies. Right now, the oldest appears to be, “Oh My God, We Hit a Little Girl,” a legendary, 1966 Esquire cover story, which told the story of “one company of American soldiers in Fort Dix, New Jersey, who trained for war and who found it in South Vietnam fifty days later.” Also on the site is a 1995 article from the Chicago Reader, profiling a fledgling politician named Barack Obama.
“For a piece to make it onto Longform, it either has to be a stellar piece of writing based on exceptional reporting or such a great topic it doesn’t matter if the writing is a little weak,” Linsky says.
A nifty feature of the site is the inclusion of an application called “Instapaper.”
Readers who set up a free Instapaper account can 1) bookmark to the Web stories selected by Longform.org and 2) render them as a single ad- and navigation-free page for when the user finally gets around to reading them online or offline. Instapaper pages look great on desktops and netbooks; and apps, both paid and free, make Instapaper work nicely on iPhones and iPods. Every story posted at longform.org includes an Instapaper button.
Slate says that the Brooklyn-based duo’s plans for the site are not huge.
“It’s something we’d use if we weren’t doing it,” says Linsky. “Not forcing some half-cocked business model has allowed us to make every decision with the reader in mind.” If Longform.org convinces more people to read long-form stories, Linsky and Lammer will be happy. But if their project convinces publishers to move great long-form pieces from behind the pay wall or to jailbreak classics that have never appeared on the Web, they’ll be ecstatic.