Will Byliner Save Longform Journalism?

Let’s face it: Readers’ attention spans aren’t getting any longer. We are used to receiving news in sound bites or, in recent years, 140 characters or less. This does an injustice to investigative or longer news pieces. Enter Byliner and The Atavist, two tools that have the potential to bring back longform journalism.

Both Byliner and The Atavist recognize the way people read things is changing. The stories are designed to be read on iPads and Kindles, not desktops. Although long, both sites boast their narrative pieces can be read in a couple of hours. The reader doesn’t have to devote days to reading the story, as one might with a book. Both options are also very inexpensive. None cost more than $5.

The first to really grab the media’s attention was Byliner, a company focusing on narrative journalism for the iPad and Kindle. “Byliner’s mission is to produce great stories by great writers, stories that can be read in a single sitting,” read one recent Mashable review.

You may have heard of Byliner already. It made national headlines last month when it published “Three Cups of Deceit,” Jon Krakauer’s scathing critique of Greg Mortenson, author of “Three Cups of Tea.” In its first 72 hours, it was downloaded (for free) more than 50,000 times, reported our sister blog, GalleyCat. The story also inspired a 60 Minutes segment looking into Mortenson.

The Atavist is another tool worth looking into. It’s an app (more or less) that will publish longform original nonfiction and narrative journalism on the Kindle, iPad, iPhone and Nook. The Online Journalism Review (OJR) posted a great Q&A interview by Robert Hernandez, one of my favorite Web journalists, with Evan Ratliff, a former freelancer who made headlines with this Wired article. Ratliff is co-creator of The Atavist.

“I think that first, we just wanted to kind of get away from the idea of people reading it at their desktop, where they are skipping from one bit of information to the next all day,” Ratliff told Hernandez. Ratliff wanted to create “a different kind of digital reading experience.” It’s an experience you can have with your iPhone or Kindle, not with a desktop.

Byliner and Atavist aren’t alone in the field.  In January, Amazon started publishing Kindle Singles, described as “a compelling idea — well researched, well argued, and well illustrated — expressed at its natural length.” One of its first singles was a 13,000 word report by a reporter at ProPublica on the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Many important stories, especially ones we remember, such as Watergate or the Catholic priest sexual abuse scandal, need and should be told in a longer format. They require more time, money, and investigation than many news companies can devote to them. So, reporters and writers, take advantage of Byliner and The Atavist, two companies more than willing to go the distance to make sure a good piece gets the in-depth coverage it deserves.