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Maybe health care news consumers prefer longer stories

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It’s only one little data point, but I find it very interesting.

A column on Forbes.com explains how Matthew Herper, who covers science and medicine for them, is posting less often, but with longer articles, and online traffic is responding positively.  Excerpt:

Take a look at his numbers in the chart. Matt started out posting quite a bit (the green line), but reduced his output as he discovered the long-form rhythm worked best for the topic, his audience and his traffic numbers. “I think it’s partly because, in medicine, a lot of the challenge isn’t just pointing out what is important, but also why,” Matt says. “For a piece to be really valuable, you may need to take the reader into another world.” As you can see, his audience is trending up even as his output dramatically slows down.

It would be fascinating if more news organizations would share some of their data like this.  I  have often felt that there hasn’t been a true, fair test of readers’ wants and needs when it comes to health care news stories.  While this Forbes info is short-term, about only one writer’s work, from only one news organization, and with a selection bias among its readers, I still find the trendline hopeful and important.

ADDENDUM ON DEC. 16:

Poynter.org today posted a series of links about the continued or growing popularity of indepth, long-form journalism.

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Comments

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Susan Fitzgerald

December 13, 2011 at 6:51 pm

Anybody’s who’s slogged through one of Atul Gawande’s excellent New Yorker articles can testify that when the writer tells a good story and wrangles the data to support it, he or she will find an audience.

It is heartening to see this bit of evidence that some of us do still have an attention span. But Gary – don’t take this as an excuse for you to post less! :-)

Gregory D. Pawelski

December 14, 2011 at 9:16 am

I’ve personally found that writing in narrative has increased the attention of readers. The “story” is very much real, but when you explain information or put it into context the reader understands, it makes for good reading. Though a subject (like cancer medicine) tends to be thick as split pea soup. Has anybody ever read the recipe for split pea soup and understood it?