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Editor Beers explains success of Tyee 'long form' online journalism

In an interview published August 24, J-Source's Lauren McKeon had Five Questions for David Beers. Here is how he answered one of them, about how long articles can succeed in a medium that encourages brevity.

J-Source: When does long-form journalism work online?

DB: When it is definitive. Or when it is long form because the telling of the story, the narrative structure, demands it. We run four features a day that almost always run over a thousand words, often 1500 words, and many times we break a 4,000 word piece into two or three parts and run them over the course of two or three days.

The series function on The Tyee includes a yellow button on the story and a page where the entire series it's part of is collected, allowing the series to be viralled around as one url. That's a design example of how we strive to make long form journalism digestible on the readers' own terms.

The rise of social media -- which many people decry as confining thinking to 140 characters -- has actually been a boon to long-form journalism. If you figure the audience for a long piece is going to be either people wanting the definitive piece, or people whose tastes cause them to want to immerse and invest in in a creatively structured piece of storytelling, then that audience is probably pretty dispersed yet potentially very passionate about your article.

Social media -- trusted recommendations via Facebook, Twitter, etc. -- allow these people to find long form journalism that satisfies their needs and desires. The Tyee's Twitter feed has nearly 12,000 followers, so our longish stories don't seem to be discouraging those people.

Instead, I'd submit that these are a loose-knit tribe of long-form journalism appreciators. And we reward that, by, for example, peppering our stories with hyperlinks, so that readers can check our work or go deeper if they want.

The supposed rule is that hyperlinks allow people to leave your site, so don't put them in. We see hyperlinks as another way to say to our readers: we get that you are intellectually curious and don't want dumbed down journalism. We're going to extra effort to satisfy you.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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