AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And I'm Melissa Block. In the age of 140 characters or less, fear has been growing among journalists and many readers that long-form storytelling may be lost. People typically sort long-form journalism into two categories. There's investigative or watchdog reporting, and then there's the kind we're going to talk about now - richly textured, nonfiction narratives that delve deeply into the human experience, and may have nothing to do with the day's headlines.
As NPR's David Folkenflik reports, far from being lost, these long-form stories are starting to crop up in new and sometimes surprising places.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: As a youngster, Jacqui Banaszynski always knew where to turn for a good read.
JACQUI BANASZYNSKI: Magazines, of course, have always been a home for that and especially the big-name magazines - Esquire, Sports Illustrated. A lot of the stuff I learned when I was younger, and trying to figure this out, was by reading Sports Illustrated. But I would be reading not about a sport, but about the people in the sport. Playboy did this stuff back in the day - ooh.
FOLKENFLIK: Banaszynski became a newspaper reporter and editor herself, a Pulitzer winner. She says in their heyday, the nation's great newspapers published such work routinely, and not just at The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
BANASZYNSKI: The Philadelphia Inquirer, in my mind, was the gold standard. It was the one we looked to. The Miami Herald, the Detroit Free Press had some amazing writers.
FOLKENFLIK: But it's expensive to tie up reporters on intensive projects, and newspaper budgets are tight. Banaszynski is now a professor at the University of Missouri Journalism School.
BANASZYNSKI: When you have 30, 40, 50, 60 percent fewer reporters, and when the reporters that you have left are so busy chasing info bits online, you're not going to have as much time for this kind of work.
FOLKENFLIK: Prestige magazines are thinner than they used to be, yet readers are stumbling across some intense reads in unexpected spots. On SB Nation, readers can find passionate postings as well as analyses of a lot of those info bits when it comes to professional and collegiate sports. It is a network of more than 300 fan-driven blogs. Glen Stout describes SB Nation as...
GLEN STOUT: A place that quite frankly, a little over six months ago did not really exist as a place for work of that quality.
FOLKENFLIK: Late last year, SB Nation hired Stout to commission and edit long-form pieces for the site. For more than two decades, he has been the series editor of the annual book "Best American Sportswriting." Now, SB Nation posts two to four such deep dives a week, often multimedia efforts; including a look at how a pair of brothers from Seattle built an empire based on posters of sports stars.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: They wanted to be part of the picture. It became a thing where, I want a Costacos Brothers poster made of me.
FOLKENFLIK: And the suicide of a former University of Maryland men's basketball player, who made one of the most famous shots in the school's history.
(SOUNDBITE OF SB NATION VIDEO)
(CHEERS FROM CROWD)
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Yes, it's good! It's good!
STOUT: I want stories that once I read them once, I want to read them a second time.
FOLKENFLIK: Again, Glen Stout.
STOUT: Readers are hungry for really good work. And more and more - they are more and more likely to go looking for that work online; for something they can read on their tablet, or read on their phone.
FOLKENFLIK: SB Nation is owned by Vox Media, which also created The Verge, a site covering digital culture; and Polygon, a gamer review and news site. Jim Bankoff is CEO of Vox, and he hired Stout.
JIM BANKOFF: We looked around the Web, and we realized that there was a race to the bottom, if you will, with a lot of content.
FOLKENFLIK: Bankoff says many online aggregators focus on lists and photo galleries, to the exclusion of reported pieces.
BANKOFF: Part of why Web content became shorter and less substantive was that publishers believed in order to have a successful digital business model, they had to produce things as quickly and as cheaply as possible.
FOLKENFLIK: Bankoff says he decided to dart in the opposite direction, at SB Nation.
BANKOFF: What we found at Vox is that long-form stories are incredibly attractive to advertisers. People are spending a lot of time with them. I think, on average, it's about 17 minutes in our case, but it's sometimes much longer than that. And with such a glut - and such a sea of stuff on the Web that is often not substantive - often is quick listicles(ph) or even worse - we find that advertisers are flocking to quality and trying to get it where they can.
FOLKENFLIK: Vox is not the only new media publisher betting long. The viral website BuzzFeed, which posts adorable animal and baby pictures by the cartload, also publishes many lengthy and original political pieces. In one, the reporter McKay Coppins wrote about his experience as a Mormon, covering the nation's first Mormon major-party presidential nominee.
Reuters and Bloomberg News have beefed up their enterprise reporting and hired many experienced newspaper reporters. Some not-for-profit news sites have surfaced as well. None of this activity fully replaces the watchdog reporting that was lost at state capitals and city halls throughout the country, due to the hollowing out of major metropolitan newspapers. But Jacqui Banaszynski sees some hope for the textured reporting in deep dives, to which she has dedicated her career.
BANASZYNSKI: When I go online, there's all of these little pockets of passion that have sprung up, that are creating homes for it that never used to exist - or at least were harder to find.
FOLKENFLIK: SB Nation's Glen Stout says he doesn't care whether his bosses' motivation is commercial or journalistic. All he cares about, Stout says, is their willingness to let him publish the kind of writing he thinks is worth reading.
David Folkenflik, NPR News.
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