Most reporters like to write long. There’s no better way to show off one’s style, erudition and depth of understanding. But my days as a sub-editor taught me one important lesson: Reporters are mostly wrong. In particular, there was never once a story that didn’t benefit from a bit of pruning. Most writing – and this is as true of novels as it is of reportage – reads better without those annoying writerly flourishes that get in the way of the yarn.
If that were once true of newspapers, then it is even more so of writing for the web. So it’s interesting to see both AP and Reuters America issuing guidance that stories should in future be shorter. Both are doing it in part because newspapers no longer have subs to make stories fit their shorter news holes.
REUTERS: Newspapers rarely have enough space to accommodate a wire story that is longer than 500 words. The trick is ensuring that those words really count: tight nut graphs are key.
AP: “We need to be more disciplined about what needs to be said,” Kathleen Carroll, AP’s executive editor, said in a (short) interview. “We don’t do enough distilling and honing, and we end up making our readers do more work.”
And this is the point. The real skill of a writer is not verbosity. It is precision.