April 13, 2016 | Category: Blog, Story Guide | Author:

Is this blog post too long for you to read?

TLDR-bigDo we have to make social-change stories shorter and shorter nowadays?

After all, people are so busy, bored, distracted, or deluged by media that there’s even an acronym that gives a reason for ignoring in-depth stories: TLDR. Too long, didn’t read. The same goes for videos, podcasts, or stories in any medium. Make it short, or people will pass over it.

How on earth can we tell in-depth stories in this kind of environment? Or should we? Seems like an all-but-impossible task.

And yet, how many TV shows, radio programs, movies, podcasts, plays, short stories, or novels do you consume on a weekly basis? Me, speaking strictly about TV, between “The Americans” and other programs I’m too embarrassed to name, I watch at least 2.5 hours.

That’s not counting the audiobooks I listen to on my weekday commute, nighttime reading, movies about twice a month, or binging on shows like “House of Cards.”

So why do I spend more time on those media than on nutritious social-issue stories?

Because they’re good stories. They’re entertaining. They’ve got drama, humor, characters I come to care about, they’re serialized and create suspense that gets me more invested in the story over time. And not least of all, they don’t use soul-killing jargon such as “capacity-building” or “social-impact indicators.”

There’s every reason to believe that stories about social issues can be just as compelling as, well, good TV. Yes, Hollywood studios have lots of money, but even low-budget nonprofits can tell good, long-form stories that will get viewers invested in them.

Consider the gripping one-hour presentation by exonerated prisoners from Resurrection After Exoneration; the plays of Cornerstone Theater Company; or oral history books from Voice of Witness.

Such stories work their ways into the hearts of students who are assigned to read the books, or Angelenos who attend a well-reviewed Cornerstone play on community issues, rather than a political lecture with the trappings of theater. Or in some cases, these stories may encourage people who are already converted, which is itself a laudable result. And while these stories may be reaching fewer people than a viral video, they might just be reaching the right people, the 50 people or 100 people who are really going to work to create change.

It all depends on what your organization wants to do. Which brings us back to the question of whether you should tell long-form stories at all, or just stick to short web videos. Or tell any other kind of story—in whatever form, and whether it’s triumphant, tragic, live, pre-recorded.

If you’re telling stories for a social or political purpose, by all means think of what you want to achieve, whom you need to involve to achieve it, and what kind of story will help you reach those people. It may be long-form stories told on a speaking tour of college campuses, or in a play, or in a series of articles on Medium.

Or, if what you want is to get a lot of eyeballs on your latest fundraising campaign, then yes, maybe your blog post is too long.