Making long-form narratives look sexy online

I love words as much as the next guy, don’t get me wrong. But when it comes to online journalism, there’s definitely an inverse relationship between word count and aesthetics. The longer a story is, the uglier it looks online.

Before you go dismissing me as a superficial, word loathing, design knob — hear me out. Long-form narratives are hard to read on traditional news websites. If you’ve ever tried reading a 10,000 word story online, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It doesn’t matter how engaging the topic is, after ten minutes of reading (barely making a dent in the scroll bar) you start to wonder if it’s ever going to end. And if you’re anything like me, you inevitably scroll down to the bottom of the page to see how much is left before promptly saying ‘screw it,’ and heading over to youtube to watch cat videos.

I love a good long read in a newspaper, but for some reason, this doesn’t quite translate to the web. There is nowhere else for your eye to go, nothing to pause on and examine. I know I’m not alone on this. It’s why we’re starting to see news organizations experimenting with new long-form narrative formats online. A new form of storytelling has been born.

There doesn’t seem to be a specific structure that has set the gold standard, but there are a few components that a lot of them seem to have in common. Stories are being broken into chapters, often using a mix of media (photography, video, maps, graphics, illustrations, audio) to give the story additional context and add a visual pause. Some even include interactive elements that the reader can engage with directly. Genius.

One other trend in the design worth mentioning is the use of parallax, a technique where background images scroll (or zoom) at a different speed from the rest of the page. It makes the design look more animated as the reader scrolls through the content — a nice little touch, if you ask me.

Here are few of my favourites so far:

The magnetic north
The Magnetic North (The Globe and Mail)

 

The Last Voyage of the Bounty
The Last Voyage of the Bounty (Tampa Bay Times)

 

Refuge
Refuge (The Washington Post)

 

Washington A World Apart
Washington: A World Apart (The Washington Post)

 

South China Sea
South China Sea (The New York Times)

 

The Russia Left Behind
The Russia Left Behind (The New York Times)

 

Tomato Can Blues
Tomato Can Blues (The New York Times)

 

Snow Fall
Snow Fall (The New York Times)

 

Firestorm
Firestorm (The Guardian)

 

Gettysburg
Gettysburg (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

 

If I’ve missed any good ones, please let me know in the comments. This sort of storytelling is definitely worth keeping an eye on as it advances and matures.

Category: InnovationsTrends

3 comments

  1. Great article and fantastic links. Useful to see examples of how others are keeping readers interested especially in content heavy articles. Online articles certainly require a slightly different approach to paper. Thanks

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Article by: Matt French

Assistant art director for The Globe and Mail. Matthew is an award-winning editorial designer based in Toronto, Canada.