In good form
Long-form journalism gets another platform in a new cooperative formed by award-winning journalists
The symbols “#LongRead” and “TL;DR” are recognizable to many of us. The former refers to a piece of writing online—usually journalistic narrative—that ranges upwards of 1,500 words with a read-time of 15 minutes at the very least; the latter, standing for Too Long; Didn’t Read, is its nemesis. Yet the death of long-form journalism, long predicted as a necessary fallout of the Internet, hasn’t quite occurred.
A good narrative will always find readers. Moreover, writers and editors have adapted to changes in reading habits brought about by the Internet. In April, for instance, The Guardian started an independent journalism network designed as a cooperative where stories are written in collaboration between writer and reader.
Another cooperative of journalists, Deca, will launch its first story on Kindle on 24 June.
Nine established magazine and book journalists, who have either won or been finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, National Magazine Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, among other prestigious awards, have created a collective that aims to publish one long- form work of narrative journalism from across the globe each month. Mara Hvistendahl’s And The City Swallowed Them is their first offering.
The 34-year-old Shanghai-based editor for Science magazine and Pulitzer Prize finalist writes about a crime that took place in the hyper-global city shortly before the Olympics in 2008, sending shockwaves through the expatriate and middle-class Chinese communities.
Other pieces lined up include a story on the trial of an American soldier accused of murder in Afghanistan, a $6 billion (around Rs.36,000 crore) energy boondoggle (a project that’s a waste of money and resources), and the hidden economy of “dark tourism”, a nifty phrase used to describe travels to places of disaster or tragedy.
Faris and Barcelona-based author and journalist Marc Herman first came up with the idea of creating a co-op that would share labour, cost and profit. “The idea evolved as more people came on board. We came to the current group of journalists by getting in touch with people whose work we had read and admired, and as importantly, with whom we thought we would enjoy working,” says Sonia Faleiro, author of Beautiful Thing: Inside The Secret World Of Bombay’s Dance Bars and Deca member. The collective aims to share costs and spread risk so that each writer can write what he or she wants, without worrying about sales. They are crowdfunding their effort through a campaign on Kickstarter, a website that supports projects by crowdsourcing money.
Each writer is paired with an editor, chosen from within the group, and each story needs to be approved by all members before it is published.
“We have chosen to be in the ‘book space’ instead of the ‘Web space’, because for some reason people still spend money on books,” says Faris, when asked how Deca hopes to overcome the challenges that long-form journalism faces online.
Herman clarifies that Deca follows a book-publishing model. “You don’t read us on the Web and we don’t make our money on the Web through something like advertising or metrics of ‘eyeballs’.” The stories will be published by Amazon Kindle’s Singles, and with an iOS app coming up, it will be available on the iPad and other Apple devices. An Android and Windows 8 app are also in the works.
The cooperative takes inspiration from other collectives—including Magnum Photos, formed in 1947 by photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa and David Seymour—where professionals banded together to sell their work and bridge the distance from their audience.
If their online campaign is anything to go by—they achieved their $15,000 target in three days with as many weeks to spare—Deca’s audience, the tenth member of this nine-person group, is ready.
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