Read on – and on: the long read is far from dead

There’s a reporter I see every few weeks of whom I am very fond.

Like me, he is fascinated by politics, and like me, he thinks seriously about journalism and its future.

But I am afraid to say that I depressed him the other day.

In a recent blog, I warned that readers’ attention spans were limited – with many stories getting around half a minute of their time – and that we all needed to cut out excess baggage from our writing.

He was worried – rightly – about what he called the infantilization of the English language in general and of journalism in particular.

I assured him that the very last thing I was saying was that we shouldn’t attempt long-form journalism – although I did argue that we need to think more about packaging such pieces.

The point is that such writing needs to be brilliant: engaging, surprising, refreshing and authoritative.

It needs to be storytelling at its best, weaving together insight and information, and painting a picture.

It might be that it touches at least one of the emotions.

It might be that it helps crystallise our own thoughts on a subject.

It will certainly tell us something we didn’t know before.

Such a piece caught my attention this morning.

Another writer recommended this very long piece on SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon in the Guardian on Twitter.

I didn’t need to be anywhere particularly early today – and it was just as well.

Because for nearly ten minutes, my breakfast stopped while I read Ian Jack’s words.

Okay, I skipped some parts.

But it’s the perfect example of long-form journalism that works.

It works because it ticks all the boxes above.

Beautifully-written, it blends bits of opinion and personal experience with surefooted analysis.

I’ve spoken to a lot of journalists who aspire to be feature-writers in recent months.

Ian Jack has showed them all the gold standard today.


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