In It For the Long Run

Although we live in an era where 280 characters can recount an amazing moment, it is impossible to beat a full-length story. Long-form content, or content that is more than ~1,200 words, is steadily coming back into the limelight as an important form of digital storytelling. Social media and technology have skewed our attention spans to be short and obsessive. The shorter the content, the zingier (and more popular) it was, but with that came fatigue. Now, we are seeing traditional long-form content sneaking back into content strategies – and with great success. Readers are becoming increasingly more invested in what they are engaging with and who is writing.

Social media and digital platforms have allowed “the common folk” to become powerhouse voices. Instagram and publishing sites like Medium have been growing communities of people who care about other people, diversity of thought, and quality content. No longer are we relying solely on journalists or master copywriters for inspiration or learning. Everyone has become a teacher, a storyteller, a friend. Great content, regardless of origin, evokes emotion and deep thought. In an effort to identify what really makes successful long-form content, I’ve spent the week digging through various sites for a powerful story. Stick with me and see why you should commit more time to reading these extensive pieces.

The Story in Question

Late one night, I came across Zak Stone’s story on Medium entitled “Living and Dying on Airbnb.” Intrigued by the headline, I clicked into the entry and was met with the jarring subhead “My dad died in an Airbnb rental, and he’s not the only one. What can the company do to improve safety?” Needless to say, my world was rocked just from reading that one statement. The brevity and matter-of-fact tone of that statement made me experience a variety of emotions that were then followed up with a bunch of questions. I read on – I was in it for the long run.

In his Medium article, Stone recounts the tragic Airbnb accident that took his father’s life. In the aftermath of this terrible moment, Stone begins to pick apart the online lodging marketplace business. From shedding light on previous Airbnb deaths to illuminating readers on the dangers of illegal listings, Stone guides his readers through his stories with stoic reality. As a journalist himself, he takes advantage of using external sources and cites legal policies to bolster his position. After leading the reader through his tumultuous story, he closes with a poignant faux Airbnb listing for his own home. For 20 minutes, Zak held my attention, my sympathy, and my unspoken solidarity.

Why Was it Successful?

When determining if a piece is successful, one needs to take into account various elements like style, verbiage, structure, and attitude. Stone’s story combines all of these to grab readers by the heartstrings. Throughout the article, Stone’s attitude is not one of grief or anger, but rather a solemn determination. He makes it very clear in his writing – and by not pursuing legal action with Airbnb – that his aim is not to take down a corporation but to illuminate others through his family’s harrowing experience. The words he uses are not filled with aggression, but rather, with realism and sensibility. Not once does he point fingers or try to communicate rage, and for that I commend him. This shows the great deal of reflection and soul searching he has had to do while recovering from the loss of his father.

In regards to his style, Stone uses first-person storytelling to keep the reader engaged. The opening paragraphs of the article truly felt like a fiction story until it segued into the discussion about a New York Times article. Stone implements this device throughout the story, using the timeline of the accident to supplement the factual concerns he was discussing. It felt like I was on that journey with him – trying to fit his story into the bigger picture. What I also enjoyed about this Medium article was that it made use of strong verbiage and structure in order to create a consistent pace.

While the vocabulary in some places was somewhat above the average reading comprehension, I felt his command of the language was necessary for communicating his position. Although some areas were a little heavy on legalities and statistics, Stone was able to combat reader fatigue by maintaining a consistent pace. This meant balancing the heavy parts with simple sentences and vocabulary. Structurally, Stone uses breaks and drop cap letters to separate main ideas or moments. Breaking apart the article into these chunks makes it obvious when there is a transition of subject, making it easy to follow along. 

Lastly, Stone utilizes imagery to take his story to the next level. Throughout the article, he intersperses current Airbnb ads with family photos. This juxtaposition creates a jarring effect on the reader and allows you to feel more connected to his family. Stone meticulously chose and placed the Airbnb advertisements in the article as their headlines correlate to the paragraphs beneath them. Upon completion of the article, you are left with the lingering image of Stone’s parents in your mind, thinking of what his family could have been or what could happen at your next Airbnb stay.

My Personal Thoughts

When it comes to stories, you know its a good one when you immediately send it to someone else to read. With Stone’s article, I did just that. I messaged my significant other and had him read it and we discussed together what that 20-minute read meant to us. For me, this article was a harsh reminder of why I do not trust services like Airbnb. For him, it was an eye-opening source of truth that made him wary of large corporate loopholes. This piece was incredibly readable and real. There was never a moment where I looked away and had to ask myself why I was reading it. It was an excellent heartfelt piece that clearly resonated with many as it boasts nearly 40,000 claps on and hundreds of comments Medium. 

In an effort to find some sort of follow up, I went to Zak’s Medium profile, but it seems like he hasn’t really been active on the platform since 2016. His other Medium posts barely break 300 claps – and that’s on the high side for most of them. From this singular article, I’ve become invested in learning more about him and his work, displaying the unique power long-form content has that a short tweet could never achieve. 

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