March 17, 2011

Long-Form Storytelling in a Short-Attention-Span World

Last night, I attended Long-Form Storytelling in a Short-Attention-Span World, the first public event of the nonprofit investigative journalism organization ProPublica, in conjunction with The New School. The panelists were:
Ira Glass
, Host and Producer, This American Life
David Remnick, Editor, The New Yorker
Raney Aronson-Rath
, Series Senior Producer, Frontline
Stephen Engelberg
, Managing Editor, ProPublica
The moderator was Alison Stewart,
Co-Anchor, Need To Know.

Here are my notes from the discussion

If it's a really great story, you wind up in a place you couldn't imagine at the beginning.

Sometimes you have to publish a writer's B piece in order to get their A piece.

Great stories happen to those who can tell them.

Glass said that his mentor, Keith Talbot of NPR, told him: "Every story is an answer to the question, "How should I live my life?"

The new era of all these choices tends to crowd out poorly done, bad journalism.

We used to save the good stuff for the end, because we thought everyone would watch all the way through. Now, we're seeing that we need to know more, earlier.
[On the use of iPads, etc, to watch Frontline]
People want to be more engaged in the content. We need to move from 2-dimensional to 3-dimensional storytelling. We need to let people see eyes and pores.

Language is still the greatest invention we have...I'm not sure I want readers to leap out of language and into video just because the technology is available.

We use the other media to take the viewer 15 feet deeper. How do you use the other media, righteously?

I'm not sure I agree with the premise of this panel: that we live in a short attention span world. People listen to us for an average of 48 minutes!

If the story is good enough it's going to reach 2 degrees deeper than the surface stuff and change somebody's life in a significant way.
We have to think about the density of a story. I mean density in the best sense, like chocolate cake.

I try to outwit the reader...I try to give people enough candy to keep them interested.

It can't all be brown food.

The Kindle, the iPad, etc., is about to make long-form journalism incredibly accessible.

The New York Times is elitist because it tries to do the greatest thing possible.

Radio is reporting on things that have happened. In order for TV to be compelling, it has to be emotionally compelling; something has to be happening. TV is like reporting on the future!

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