Has the news article become outdated as the principal way of conveying information? An increasing number of voices are saying so.
Jeff Jarvis's blog post from last week about the role of the article generated some discussion. In his post, Jarvis argued that the article form is not the best way to convey information in many cases. Instead, journalists and news organisations should explore other options for reporting and write articles only when they are necessary.
Business Insider's Jonathan Glick agreed with Jarvis, arguing that turning short news bites into articles doesn't add much value to the information and probably isn't what most news consumers want anyway. He suggested that news nuggets and long-form journalism would eventually go their separate ways. His logic is that articles, and other types of journalism that add value to information in the form of analysis and context, would thus be easier to monetize, as readers are generally more willing to pay for lengthy pieces than for quick news updates. Short, "snack-size" news will, instead, form part of readers' constant and free news stream.
Continuing on the topic in another post, Jarvis agreed with Glick but questioned the term "long-form journalism" as a way to address news that requires the reader's concentration. He noted that the term seemed to promote length as a positive attribute, while lengthiness in itself shouldn't be pursued. According to him, what is important is that so-called long-form journalism adds value to original facts.
Also Nieman Journalism Lab took part in the discussion and examined the relationship between articles and "news nuggets". Often readers become interested in updates on a particular, complicated topic after having read a long piece that explains the context and provides sufficient analysis. Thus, explanatory journalism more commonly creates an appetite for news updates, not the other way around.
The distinction to "news nuggets" and explanatory (long-form) journalism may help in understanding the developments in the news industry. Could it also help in envisioning rough outlines for financially sustainable publishing models?
It appears that websites that concentrate on breaking news, celebrity gossip and other kinds of journalism quick and easy to consume are more successful in attracting a high volume of traffic. The success of the Daily Mail is a clear sign of this. It isn't difficult to predict, therefore, that more and more news sites will take this approach in an attempt to draw more news snackers. Thus, an ad-based business model seems to be most suitable for such sites.
Where does this leave the article, or long-form journalism in general? It seems obvious that taking the time to analyse and look behind the bits that form the news stream is a luxury that most people don't have. The article, in one form or the other, would seem like a good way to provide a more profound look into current events. It's probable that people are willing to pay for such service also in the future. Therefore a paid-for model would seem like a plausible option for those news outlets that focus on explanatory or investigative news.
Even in this model, the article form will most probably see some kind of transformation. Many commentators have noted that the linear form of the article isn't always the best way to convey complicated information. Amy Gahran suggested one alternative, which she described as "the Lego approach to storytelling". In this model, news articles would consist of modules that are intelligible on their own but, taken together, would form the full picture of the described event. This approach has the added benefit of making explanatory journalism more accessible for news snackers, who might approach it through one of the modules.
Whether or not Gahran's idea takes flight - it would require an overhaul of content management systems, to start with - it seems clear that the more intensely news organisations embrace the web's possibilities for news publishing, the more the status of the article as the main form of reporting is threatened.