HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Open-mic journalism: How The Arizona Republic found success with storytelling events
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Dec. 14, 2011, 10 a.m.

From Nieman Reports: In digital publishing, content drives length, not the other way around

“Our idea was to create a new way for writers to be able to tell stories at what had always been considered a financially awkward length.”

Editor’s Note: Our sister publication Nieman Reports is out with their Winter 2011 issue,”Writing the Book,” which focuses on the new relationships between journalism and the evolving book publishing industry. Over the next few days, we’ll highlight a few stories from the issue — but go read the whole thing. In this piece, John Tayman writes about his thinking behind starting Byliner.

How many words do I have? It’s a question I’m accustomed to asking whenever I write a story. Sometimes I ask it of myself, more often of my editor. Before I started writing this piece, I asked the editor of this magazine for a length.

“You’ve got 1,000 words,” she replied.

That’s an arbitrary word count, of course, since I could tell the story of our eight-month-old digital publishing effort in fewer words. Or I could tell it in more. With my words destined for Nieman Reports’s print pages — and for its website — it’s natural for the editor to think about how many words she wants and what visuals might accompany them. This is a sensible approach and until recently was how publishing worked, whether in a magazine or a book. Editors assigned story lengths, then slashed or stretched what got delivered to a workable word count, even when that count might not serve the story well.

Over the years, I’ve often been the one doing such slashing and stretching. It’s never fun. Some stories escaped unscathed, but most suffered — and their writers suffered — simply because a few magazine ads went unsold or the marketing department felt a fatter spine would sell more copies in bookstores. Oh, we waxed poetic about “letting the story find its natural length.” But deep down we knew it wasn’t possible. A story that needed 10,000, 20,000 or even 30,000 words to be properly told inevitably fell into publishing’s dead zone. This represented the vast wasteland of impossible-to-place stories that were longer than magazine space permitted and shorter than a book was thought to be.

In January 2009, a year before the iPad was launched and two years before Amazon introduced Kindle Singles, I was chatting with some writers and editors about an idea for a company that would bring stories that fell into that dead zone to life. Our idea was to create a new way for writers to be able to tell stories at what had always been considered a financially awkward length. Such articles — at this longer length they were likely to be told as narrative accounts — would be reported and written swiftly, not unlike a magazine piece. We’d sell them on digital platforms as ebooks.

Keep reading at Nieman Reports »

POSTED     Dec. 14, 2011, 10 a.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Open-mic journalism: How The Arizona Republic found success with storytelling events
The four-year-old program has helped boost the newspaper’s events business and helped strengthen relationships with the community through nights of storytelling.
Newsonomics: Buying Yelp — and making it the next core of the local news and information business
The pricetag would be high, but it might be worth it to reassemble one part of the old newspaper bundle — tying together local news and local services.
Crossing the streams: Why competing publications are deciding to team up on podcasts
Low financial risk and a desire for word-of-mouth sharing have led news sites to collaborate, sharing audience and infrastructure.
What to read next
953
tweets
The State of the News Media 2015: Newspapers ↓, smartphones ↑
The annual omnibus report from Pew outlines a story of continued trends more than radical change.
561The Upshot uses geolocation to push readers deeper into data
The New York Times story changes its text depending on where you’re reading it: “It’s a fine line between a smarter default and being creepy.”
422Knight Foundation invests $1 million in creator-driven podcast collective Radiotopia
The money will help PRX’s collective of public media-minded shows develop sustainable business models and expand with new shows and producers.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
The Awl
Current TV
Honolulu Civil Beat
News Corp
The Weekly Standard
Neighborlogs
Sports Illustrated
St. Louis Globe-Democrat
Windy Citizen
Houston Chronicle
Foursquare
CBS News