When I published The New New Journalism in 2005, some questioned my argument that American long form nonfiction was thriving. Weren’t people’s—and especially young people’s—attention spans shrinking? Who had time to read long articles and books? How many magazines still published long form nonfiction? And weren’t they, too, disappearing?
And this was in the pre-Facebook and Twitter era—a simpler time when the phrase “social media” conjured up images of a literary cocktail party or book launch. Then came the Great Recession of 2008, which threw every aspect of the economy into doubt. Even the strongest magazines and newspapers fought for their lives. How could I possibly champion such a backward-looking, labor-intensive, time-consuming journalistic genre now?
All good questions, for which I have only tentative responses. My bullishness comes from several sources. Empirically, I’ve noticed that, regardless of macro-economic circumstances, people in advanced industrial societies tend to expect better and better things in their lives (faster and faster): multifunctional “smart” phones, cameras that produce clearer photographs and videos, lighter and more powerful computers, larger and thinner televisions, and (most recently) tablets. With the constant improvements in hardware with which to watch, listen, read, browse and communicate, isn’t it likely that their owners will want similarly high quality “content” (that dreaded word!) to watch, read, browse and listen to?