The Long Form Life
Last night, Chris Hughes spoke at Elmhurst College as part of the Roland Quest lecture series at Elmhurst College. This series has brought in some big names, so it is no surprise (still surprised me) that one of the founders of Facebook would be speaking last night.
One of the intriguing takeaways for me, was Hughes’ old-school view of journalism. As seemingly someone who would be sitting on the front line of progress toward a different form of journalism, he seemed steadfast in his approach.
This approach, of course, is that long form stories will never go away (which is an easy claim to make) and that the Millenial generation will somehow return to the world of Woodward, Bernstein and Cronkite (I know he didn’t write, but he did “long form spoken-word”).
Why does a co-founder of Facebook care about long form journalism? Well, Hughes bought The New Republic about two years ago. He also helped President Obama get elected the first time (Romney helped Obama the second time…OOOOOOOOOOOOO).
So, the long form that Hughes supports so much is something, that as much as I want to agree with him and show those Baby Boomers who doubt our ability to read really, really, really, like really long stories, I just can’t really get behind.
One of the items he pointed out, as evidence to support his claim, was on stories that ran about 5,000 words (holy hell) most readers made it 2,500 before dumping out of the story.
So, 50 percent of reading a story is a success?
I don’t really understand that, but it seems to be a model his site and news outlet makes work.
The biggest thing though he described, was really…well…nothing.
Journalism is always evolving. Foundational principals exist, but even then those have completely changed as we see massive amounts of money being dumped into news organizations just so they perpetuate the views of their readership and viewership.
The “good ol’ days” of Woodward, Bernstein and Cronkite are dead and gone. Think about a story right now such as Watergate. Fuck, there are so many examples of -gate, I could spend a whole post listing out examples.
But let’s play out a long form story like Watergate.
Today’s Woodward and Bernstein post a story about the president attempting to steal information.
The Oval Office counters with it being a political hit job and lies.
The opposing party picks up the story and tells the president to resign.
Oval Office says fuck off, public doesn’t care because they only get the news from their preferred outlets to support their idea and the next news cycle hits and there is a new -gate.
The evolution of journalism has been a devolution, ever since the 24-hour cycle of news was adopted.
News online is one thing because it is still consumed when the reader wants to read it. The constant wait-for-doom-and-despair of CNN, Fox and MSNBC has crippled the concept of journalism. They fill their time with news that isn’t news, with stories that aren’t stories. Then when those real events happen, when those real issues sit right in front of their faces, they have no idea about how to handle them because they just talked about Beiber’s tattoos.
Hughes is right to claim that long form journalism will exist, I don’t disagree with that point. Write all the words you want, and someone will read them. This blog is proof of that.
The issue I have is his image of long form journalism isn’t far reaching enough. It should be in television news, written news and radio news.
Our daily lives should be filled with thought and long form.
We should take time to process information, to gather stories and facilitate truth as often as possible to each other. We should want the truth, not what we believe to be the truth.
We shouldn’t just read and listen to the things we agree with, we should be challenged and we should challenge.
But that is tough to do, and maybe Millenials can do it. Maybe my children’s generation will finally be the ones to cut through the bullshit fed to them and live a long form life.