Speaking of long form…

I picked up the front section of the New York Times this morning and didn’t put it down until I’d finished reading the story about the autistic teen who is entering the adult world with the help of a devoted teacher and a loving family. I’m guessing this story is over 150 column inches long.

I really want you to read it and notice how the writer is transparent (briefly but succinctly) about how she did the reporting. Think about how it’s constructed as a narrative. Then look at the pieces that go with it, like the slideshow of Justin’s artwork.

What makes this story work? Or maybe you think it doesn’t. If that’s the case, why didn’t you care to read it?

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11 Responses to Speaking of long form…

  1. Alexandria Baca says:

    I really liked the hyperlinks embedded in the writing, including photos and short videos/animations. I found this style much easier to access than clicking on a photo gallery or video separate from the story. It seemed like the writer was also able to include a lot more visual support this way, than having independent multimedia pieces accompanying the story.

    The flow of this story is consistent and strong. She answered most all the questions I would’ve wanted to find out about a person with autism- what would their adult life be like? Dating? Independence? I read every word of this story and enjoyed it.

    And as a side note, I actually found this story via a LongReads tweet this morning.

  2. reedkath says:

    And you all laughed at the notion of Tweet–>Longreads!

  3. First of all I just want to thank you for posting a link to this story. I probably never would have found it otherwise. It means a lot to me because two people in my life have autism and I often find myself wondering what will happen to them after they have gone through school.
    Moving on to what makes this story work. Wow, you weren’t lying that it was long. A very long story indeed, but I can perhaps look past that since it represents more than a year’s worth of work on the journalist’s part.
    I enjoyed that the video at the beginning of the piece essentially told the whole story, or at least summarized for it. I think perhaps, if I were the author, that would have given me the sense that if people weren’t willing to read the entire story they would at least be able to watch the video and appreciate my work.
    Multiple pages helps break up the story. I would have maybe used more pages and done less scrolling on an individual page.
    The use of lots of hyperlinks was very helpful. I’m not sure if it was just my browser, but the hyperlinks did not open in a new window. I like them to open in new windows because I feel like if I go too far into a hyperlink-ed web site I won’t be able to get back to the original story. (Maybe that’s just me though)
    I really liked the use of embedded videos and photos. That is a great idea to help the reader visualize what they are reading.

  4. I must be honest, when I first opened the story, my first thought was “10 pages??? Is she serious, that’s not long form, that’s a short book!” But almost as soon as I started reading, I got lost in the story are barely noticed the length. I also found myself a little disappointed when the story ended, because I wanted to know that Justin was going to be okay. The story was very well written, I cared a lot for all the people in the story and could understand where they were coming from. I also grew an affection for Justin and his quirks. I feel like I know him after reading the story.

    I think one thing that really made this story work, at least for me, was the uniqueness of it. We rarely hear about people with autism as they try to transition into adulthood. Autism in schools seems to always be a topic that floats around, but we rarely get to see what happens after.

  5. Julia Boudreau says:

    This story was a great read. Even though the story was long in length I found myself interested the whole way through. When my interest did sway or lose focus, I was able to click on the multimedia provided on the side or the photo slide show to get more information in a different format, which I liked. This long form also makes it clear that sometimes in order to write such a long and detailed story on a subject a person must spend a great deal of time with that subject. As said in this article the writer observed for one year. It makes me wonder how many stories does a typical reporter from the times observe for one year before writing? To me those seem like some of the most interesting and detailed stories to read. I wonder if they are the most interesting stories to write also.

  6. Emilie Stigliani says:

    This was a long read, but Amy Harmon has done the hard research and reporting to match. I was impressed by the depth of investigation and observation that she used to tell Justin Canha’s story. I really admire this piece.

    The one place where I think the writing sells the article short is in the opening sentence. Perhaps, it’s because I just read an article about writing for broadcast, but I felt like the length of the first sentence and the clauses made me me stop and have to re-read. Not exactly the best way to get into a story. Other than that, I have nothing but praise for this piece.

  7. Abbey Sussell says:

    When I first sat down to read this article, I saw that it was 10 pages and was sure I would be struggle to finish reading it. However, that was not the case. This story worked so well because it read like a novel; each page was the next page in a story. I didn’t want to stop reading at any point. I even excitedly read faster so that I could reach the next embedded photo or video.

    I think what also helped this article was the placement of the 11 minute video at the top of the article. I watched the video before I read the story, but it did not detract from the content of the article. I did not feel as if I was reading the print counterpart to the multimedia. Instead, I was more motivated to read the article and hear Justin’s voice in a different form. By the end of the article, when Amy Harmon wrote, “his trademark bluntness,” I felt as if I knew exactly what she meant. I felt as if I knew Justin.

  8. karenemiller says:

    I found this really interesting because my cousin used to be a care working in a group home for autistic adults. It’s such a misunderstood condition. What I liked about this article is that it balanced information and story. Some were videos, but I liked the ones that directed the reader to more information. Its a well researched story but it allows the reader to learn even more. That’s really important with a subject like this.

    As far as the story, I felt it was worth the investment of my time. It was a satisfying read even though it was long.

  9. Carlos D. Navarro says:

    Whoa, that certainly was long. But it was also one of the best pieces of reporting/writing I have encountered so far. Thanks for sharing.

    I just think the story works as whole. As a reader, you can easily tell how much research Amy Harmon had to do before putting her story together. But the fact that she was also able to tell Justin’s story in such a sensitive way was what I liked the most. In terms of structure, I liked the way Harmon alternated between the more narrative bits of her story and the more factual ones. That type of alternating structure is what keeps the reader going in long articles like this one.

    My way of assessing how effective this story is at keeping me interested as a reader is simple. I asked myself whether or not I would have gone all the way with the paper format, without the related multimedia pieces related to the story (which, by the way, do a great job at complementing the story).

    My answer was a resounding “yes”.

  10. Jared says:

    The story worked. My favorite part about the it is that it was written in simple language, which made the length of the story easy to read and engaging. There weren’t many unimportant medical or little-known terms that made me pause and try to comprehend what the word is. I have a little trouble while writing articles, especially over court and legal issues, in breaking the language down to simple terms. The story was also a smooth read, and I think it’s mainly due to the research and time Harmon gave to it. It’s clear she took her time going through her notes planning the outline of the article. The linked media also was a nice addition.

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