It is a mistake to think that online news readers are only looking for memes, GIFs and YouTube-style videos. At La Prensa, the largest newspaper in Nicaragua, longform articles are still in high demand.
On January 14, the special feature “Fortuna y desgracia del 'tío' Roberto Rivas” ("Fortune and misfortune of 'uncle' Roberto Rivas"), published in our Sunday magazine, averaged nine minutes and 37 seconds of reading among the tens of thousands of users clicked on it, which is considerably more than the newspaper's average of two minutes and 59 seconds, according to Google Analytics.
This longform piece, with its narrative style and data analysis, explores two decades of corruption attributed to Roberto Rivas, president of Nicaragua's Supreme Electoral Council.
Whether in the reconstruction of a crime, in the political analysis of cases of corruption, in the profile of a key public figure or in an effort to shed a light on an episode of the past, longform, in-depth journalism is essential for understanding reality.
But how can you guarantee that this journalism will be read?
Although there is no magic formula, we can examine the distinctive features of good longform journalism pieces and strive to learn from them, said Fabián Medina, a journalist, writer and a past judge for the King of Spain International Journalism Prize.
"Its intention is to grasp the subject as a whole,” he said. “This doesn't mean writing EVERYTHING about a topic, but asking – and if possible answering – all the questions about a topic that we think readers would pose. It means approaching a topic from all possible angles."
Longform stories are not just extended news or explainer articles. For Medina, the difference between these and a good longform feature is the same as "a bowl of white rice and a paella."
Miguel Ángel Bastenier, the late journalist and professor at El País Journalism School, said about the genre, "It’s a journalist in charge; reporting and becoming the source of what he tells, because he has heard it, seen it and [verified] it."
In addition to offering information in a unique and compelling format, successful longform features are presented in a way that makes a user feel bad if they see the story and don’t click. And when they click, they will not stop reading until the end.
In February 2017, the British magazine Press Gazette published a somewhat discouraging article about online journalism: While newspapers are read for an average of 40 minutes per day, the average online visitor spends less than 30 seconds per day on a newspaper website.
However, the Roberto Rivas story is an example of successful longform journalism, even in the era of online news. La Prensa and several Hispanic publications, including large newspapers and magazines, have managed to get their followers used to spending up to nine minutes reading longform pieces.
Although they pose a challenge to publications, these types of longform, in-depth pieces are a critical part of journalism.
Octavio Enriquez is an investigative journalist, and the winner of the Ortega y Gasset Award (2011) and the King of Spain Award (2014). "It is my worst nightmare that one day newspapers announce that they will no longer have time for publishing longform, in-depth stories; that everything has to be written quickly and urgently," he said. "For me, a good story helps you think and sometimes we need to pause and see how everything works around us. Journalism can't do without this genre.”