Investigative Power: Long Form Journalism, Long From Dead

05 Feb 2013
REUTERS/Ralph OrlowskiREUTERS/Ralph Orlowski

Much has been said about the demise of long form journalism in today’s digital world. But is it a valid concern?

“2013 will be a unique snapshot in time: the incumbents, fighting to stave off the disruptors, will invest in original journalism, and the disruptors, fighting to increase their market share, will also invest in original journalism.” So says David Skok, Director of Digital for the Canadian news portal,

He believes that the role of brief pieces of breaking news will remain an element, not a replacement, for traditional journalism. The sentiment is echoed in a recent report from Columbia Journalism School: “There is a place for moderately quickly produced analysis of moderate length. As well as careful, detailed analysis by insiders, for insiders. And so on. Not many organizations, however, can pursue more than a few of these modes effectively, and none that can do all of them for all subjects its audience cares about.”

Skok is one of the many who is keen on high-quality journalism and the need for traditional news organizations to invest in the kind of journalism and story-telling people will pay for. We’ll also see disruptive news organizations further establish themselves as forces to be reckoned with, moving into the space abandoned by those news organizations that have cut back on in-depth reporting.

Over the past couple of years, major news sites have been jumping on the paywall bandwagon, with more than 300 newspapers now charging for online content. That number has doubled in the past year, and continues its upward momentum.

In 2013, when the initial subscription results from all those paywalls comes in, those news organizations will recognize that they have no choice but to produce high-end journalism that stands out above the crowd.

They’ll need to better satisfy their audiences’ jobs-to-be-done, and that means investing in high-quality, in-depth, long-form reporting.

Is long-form journalism really on its last legs? The numbers say otherwise.

In 2012, The New York Times produced 33 articles of more than 4,000 words originated on the front page. That’s up from 16 the previous year; 21 in 2010; and 23 in 2009. The longest of all of those that originated on the front page? The obituary of The Times’ publisher Arthur Ochs (Punch) Sulzberger clocked in at 7,725 words.

Robert Hahn, Journalist at The Guardian, concurs: “There’s no doubt there’s still a huge appetite for longer investigative and analysis pieces, particularly in weekend issues. It’s important for organizations like ours to lead the way”.

Contributions from David Skok,, Robert Hahn, The GuardianEmily Bell, CW Anderson and Clay Shirky, Columbia Journalism School

What do you think is the future for long-form journalism?