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by Clarence Page
Are words going out of style? At a time when the public's hunger for news reaches new heights, it is startling to hear the new word-count limits that
Top editors at
How should an old-school news scrivener and former assistant city editor like me view this development?
First possibility: There's nothing new here. Editors always have called for shorter stories, even if only to save them the time and effort of reading longer ones. Quite often they were right. As an old saying widely attributed to many authors goes, "If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter."
Second possibility: Our world is coming to an end. People don't read enough as it is -- either for news or for pleasure. AP and
Third possibility: Both the above are correct. Our world in print media is coming to an end, but only in the sense that the world of, say,
The old paper-based model of news delivery, which has served us well since the printing press was invented, is on its way out as the digital age comes rushing in. Our challenge is to figure out is how to make the new digitally based business model anywhere near as profitable as the glory days of newsprint.
In the meantime, we old-school media types adjust and innovate. Reuters Handbook, for example, already advised 500 word limits for most stories, the memo reminded. What's new are Digital Age justifications for enforcing those limits.
"Our digital customers know readers do not have the attention span for most long stories," says the memo issued by
"Most readers tend to give up well before the 500-word mark,"
Yet the ridicule faded and imitators surged as USA Today became one of the most widely read news papers in America. By the 1990s, television news stories were getting shorter, too. News audiences were becoming conditioned to shorter stories long before Internet came along to offer an abundance of new temptations for their time.
"If editors were serious about shorter copy, which often takes more effort than longer stuff, they'd give their reporters more time," complains
Me, too, partly because today's print and broadcast newsrooms have fewer personnel -- even at behemoths like the
But that doesn't mean the end of long-form journalism. Excellent examples still flourish across many media. People still read. They're just finding new places to do it. Even smart phones have become popular platforms for article and e-books that offer something readers want.
Yet in the daily decisions to figure out what will attract the most eyeballs for the longest time, the old
Article: Copyright © Chatham House Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC