What’s a Better Metric for the ‘Health’ of Longform?

Dean StarkmanMathew Ingram and Gangrey are all continuing the conversation about whether there is a “Longform Meltdown” at the major newspapers. 

Since I don’t think the data shows anything as dramatic as what Starkman and CJR’s headline suggests—and putting aside the question of whether “longform” means narrative or investigative or both—I thought I’d ask a new question: Is there a better way to gauge how longform stories and the people who publish them are faring in 2013? I’d personally love to track the following: 

1. Total # of publishers who produce more than 6 longform stories per year—and pay writers for them.

2. Total # of longform writers who have healthcare.

3. Total # of freelance longform writers whose number of assignments and revenue from those pieces is growing year over year.

4. Diversity of bylines

5. Total # of publishers who hire and train new reporters with a focus on narrative / investigative journalism.

Here Is What Happens When You Leave Lindsay Lohan Out of Your ‘Longform Meltdown’ Story

Dean Starkman’s piece feels oddly timed, especially when you think about the number of outstanding stories being shared in the Longreads community every day and the popularity of long-form content in Pocket.

1. Starkman is examining just four newspapers (The New York Times, Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times), leaving out papers like the Tampa Bay Times, who are dedicated to great storytelling.

2. It appears the number of long-form stories are actually on the upswing at the NYT and Washington Post since 2011—just as tablet and smartphone adoption was growing. That leaves the Los Angeles Times (which still does great work) and the Wall Street Journal. The latter has been quite clear about its desire to go shorter.

3. As a commenter noted on Romenesko, is there a correlation with the drop in overall space in the print edition of these newspapers?

4. Even if newspapers are cutting their long-form content, it’s a missed opportunity, because they’d be the only ones doing so. Online publishers like Deadspin, The Awl and The Verge and niche magazine publishers are only deepening their commitment to this storytelling.

Here Is What Happens When You Leave Lindsay Lohan Out of Your ‘Longform Meltdown’ Story