Online storytelling

I bought the Observer at half nine on Sunday night on a break from a massive traffic jam on the M4. In the interests of being honest about my news consuming habits, I bought it for Food Monthly – I wanted Nigel Slater’s Christmas recipes and to see what tone they were going to take with Jamie Oliver.

Last night I sat down to read the Magazine. The cover story is this about the stabbing of teenager Kodjo Yenga. I didn’t think I was going to read it. When I realised how long it was, I definitely wasn’t going to read it… but something in one of the pull quotes made me think I’d give it a go. And I was gald I did. it’s brilliant.

But here’s my point. Go to the Observer website and it’s their top story. They’re obviously proud of it. And they should be. But it’s 9,000 words long. And in that 9,000 words there’s not a single picture. None of the participants on video, not even 30 seconds worth. No links out. No formatting, no pull quotes like the one that changed my mind about reading it. Nothing to break up the stream of words that goes on for miles.

So does this story not work on the web because of its nature? Do we say ‘this kind of journalism only works in print?’ Or should we be trying to find a way to tell that story in a way that works online – because what it has to say is important, and fascinating, but completely lost when told in this way.

And if we don’t find a way to get round that, to get the essence of what we do in a format that works for people who won’t sit down and read 9,000 words of text, then we really will struggle.

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