Ok, so while longwinded Upworthy-style headlines are in vogue right now, so should be tighter editing. Earlier this week, Erik Wemple reported on an AP memo announcing a move to start “policing” story length. Daily bylines digest stories should be around 300-500 words and top, ‘global’ stories should never exceed 700, unless it’s necessary and still ‘tightly edited.’ I’m all about it. Some reasons managing editor Brian Carovillano wants them shorter?
1) Good stuff is drowning in a ‘sea of bloated, mid level copy.’ I know we’re all supposed to be all about ‘longform,’ but it seems like everything I read these days is at least two paragraphs (or pages, if you’re The New Yorker) too long. One day when I have a free weekend, I’m going to compile my evidence, but for now it remains a hypothesis: I think a lot of us are writing too much to seem more serious and in-depth so as not to appear too beholden to the ‘clickiness’ of the Internet. Yes, we can do serious journalism on mobile and digital-first platforms. But it can also be concise.
2) ‘Readers do not have the attention span for most long stories.’ About those mobile platforms and audience. It’s a given that readers are ‘snacking‘ on news. It’s not that people don’t want good reporting, it’s that they want it everywhere, always. In line at Starbucks, on the train, in the bathroom, waiting for their date to show up at the table. So sticking to your guns on the length of pieces is not only more efficient for editors, it’s actually giving people what they need.
3) In sum, the only way to stay competitive is to not bore people. I think sticking to word count guidelines from start to finish is a must. Budget 300 words for that speech the governor made, stick to it. If he goes all Rob Ford by mid-afternoon when you’re logging into your CMS, then it can turn into 700. Maybe. Too strict?
What do you think of Carovillano’s memo? Do you think having preset word count guidelines inhibits reporting? Let us know in the comments or @10,000Words.