— Andrew Garthwaite (@AndGarth) March 2, 2019
Louise Ridley, the former longform editor from Buzzfeed heads a panel discussion on young people and longreads with Pink News’ Ellen Stewart and Imran Rahman-Jones from BBC Newsbeat.
It’s good news for longform journalism. The panelists all agree that the myth that young people don’t care about longform, that they don’t have attention spans, just isn’t true.
“There’s a lot of stereotypes which can be restrictive about young people,” she says. “That young people are not interested in news or they have short attention spans – but the evidence for this is ‘waffley’ and not conclusive,” begins Ridley.
“I don’t think young people have shorter attention spans,” says Rahman-Jones. “Young people do stick with articles to the end. You’ve got to look more widely around the web.
Look at Netflix, they’re producing true crime stories – that’s long form storytelling. It’s just a different format.”
All three panellists agreed that longform doesn’t just have to mean more words. It means more storytelling.
Stewart pointed out that even though she doesn’t write traditional longform stories as Pink News‘ head of Snapchat, the platform has an unusual high dwell time on their interactive Snapchat stories. A whopping dwell time of two minutes, whereas their website only has an article dwell time of about 40 seconds.
Thanks so much to @IRahmanJones and @LouiseRidley for a really honest chat about connecting to young audiences at #CIJWellTold. For those in the room here’s a link to one of the stories I touched upon: ‘There are no gays in Nigeria’ https://t.co/ddGlvZ2LSU pic.twitter.com/ErcXJznho2
— Ellen Stewart (@ellenRstewart) March 2, 2019
For young people, the importance of visual elements cannot be understated. “Young people will switch off if you don’t grab them. If there’s an interesting visual and graphic, that’s the best way to grab. Don’t ever use black and white. There should be a ban on that,” says Stewart.
But it’s also important to just get creative with the ways of storytelling. Rahman-Jones describes how a piece he wrote last year involved transcriptions of voice messages, text messages, and video footage. For young people, Ridley concludes, “it’s how you can sell it.”
While news outlets might need to get more savvy with how they tailor their long reads to reach young people, she says it’s still just about good journalism.
“You need to ask, is there really a story to tell here? Not just a long story. Why are young people going to give up their time to read your story?” she asks. “Who are the characters in this? It has to be that there’s a person and that leads to the topic. Always start with the people.”
According to them, longform articles are still succeeding with young audiences, and they’re not going anywhere soon.
Words by Juliette Rowsell