AP Tells Reporters That Their Stories Are Too Long; Cut Out 'Bloated Mid-Level Copy'

from the but-why? dept

Every so often when we have guest posters here at Techdirt, they ask "what word count are you looking for" and I always provide the same answer: as long as it takes to tell the story you're telling -- no more, no less. This is the internet, and sometimes stories can be quite short and get the point across, and other times they can be quite long. There may be times that we're concerned where a story goes on too long, but that's mainly because it may lead to the key points disappearing in a sea of other stuff. In those cases, we may look for ways to shorten the post, or possibly split it into a multi-part series. But in an age where we don't need to fit things into a limited number of column inches, it seems appropriate to argue that any story should be as long as it needs to be.

The Associated Press, it appears, has other ideas. It has sent out a memo to folks that most of its stories need to be shorter:
Citing a “sea of bloated mid-level copy,” Associated Press Managing Editor for U.S. News Brian Carovillano last week instructed fellow editors at the wire service to limit most “daily, bylined digest stories” to a length of between 300 and 500 words. Top stories from each state, Carovillano directed, should hit the 500 to 700-word range, and the “top global stories” may exceed 700 words but must still be “tightly written and edited.”
Now, it's true that in many cases (1) the AP is shooting for a much more mainstream audience and (2) they do have to worry about a limited number of column inches. But, still, the idea that stories across the board need to be "shorter" seems like a silly way to deal with it. We could argue (and, plenty of times, we will) that AP stories should be better written, but saying that they should all be shorter seems like a very weak hack to fix bad writing. Why not just focus on writing better?

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 13th, 2014 @ 1:01am

    Seems like a typical management approach, quality is hard to measure and control, while word count is easy to measure and control.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 13th, 2014 @ 2:14am

    I think they're specifically calling out bad writing, unless "bloated, mid-level writing" sounds like a compliment to you, Mike.

     

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    justok (profile), May 13th, 2014 @ 2:30am

    ...and the cause of the end of the world and all the humans was [[word limit exceeded]]

     

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  4.  
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    PaulT (profile), May 13th, 2014 @ 3:24am

    Re:

    The criticism is that word count doesn't in any way imply quality. One article might indeed be "bloated" at 500 words, another might be woefully lacking in detail and thus low quality as a result of being too short. Imposing an artificial upper limit may well reduce rather than improve the stories.

    I, for one, couldn't help but notice that today's news of the unfortunate passing of the legendary surrealist artist H.R. Giger on a number of sites were riddled with inaccuracies and bad writing. But, from what I could see, not one of them was over 300 words, most under 150 words.

    I expect later, more thorough, articles to be of a far greater quality, and this highlights what the real problem is with low quality reporting.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 13th, 2014 @ 4:47am

    "This is the internet, and sometimes stories can be quite short and get the point across, and other times they can be quite long."

    What does 'This is the internet' have to do with getting the point across? Or are you working on filing a patent?

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 13th, 2014 @ 5:40am

    This explains a lot about the liberal media...

    So this is why they leave out the facts. Here I always thought it was their liberal bias, now I know it is just to make their word count.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 13th, 2014 @ 6:15am

    "Associated Press Managing Editor for U.S. News Brian Carovillano"

    He edits , cutting stories down means less work for him with the same pay. lazy bastid.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 13th, 2014 @ 6:16am

    TL:DR

     

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  9.  
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    nasch (profile), May 13th, 2014 @ 8:03am

    Re:

    What does 'This is the internet' have to do with getting the point across?

    This is the internet, with unlimited space, so stories can be as long as needed. It's not a physical newspaper with a limited number of pages where stories have to be cut down to fit. Does that help?

     

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  10.  
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    beltorak (profile), May 13th, 2014 @ 8:34am

    Re:

    now you are just being willfully obtuse. two sentences later that is answered:

    > ... we don't need to fit things into a limited number of column inches ...

    newspapers ("print" and other physical media) don't have an infinite amount of paper and ink. they are actually quite limited and that limit has been decided well before the stories are written. that's why the reporters are asking about word count - because that's how things were typically measured so as to ensure that there would be enough space on the page to accommodate the entire article.

    but, on the internet, those limits of space are so high that they are practically infinite.

     

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    madasahatter (profile), May 13th, 2014 @ 9:44am

    Re:

    The real problem which Mike alluded to, is the lack of proper editing for content, facts, and solid logic when making conclusions. Mike says he wants quality over an arbitrary word length. Since I get most of my news online or the local TV for local stories and weather, story length is less of an issue; well written is an issue.

    Also, the AP story can be used by the local fish wrap as a source for their story.I have seen stories from my local fish wrap that should have been longer online. They looked like they were shortened to fit a space on physical page.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 13th, 2014 @ 10:21am

    Fair abridgement

    Even when it's a long, involved, complex story, taking place on multiple levels, there still remains enduring value in cutting each piece down to savage essentials…

    Commentary on Gyles v. Wilcox (1741)” by Ronan Deazley
    Abstract
    Case in which Lord Hardwicke introduces the concept of the ‘fair abridgement', and which is generally regarded as the forerunner to the broader doctrine of ‘fair use' developed in the courts throughout the nineteenth century. . . .


    The design of an abridgement is, to benefit mankind by facilitating the attainment of knowledge, and by contracting arguments, relations, or descriptions, into a narrow compass; to convey instruction is the easiest method, without fatiguing the attention, burdening the memory, or impairing the health of the student ... By this method the original author becomes, perhaps, of less value, and the proprietor's profits are diminished; but these inconveniences give way to the advantage received by mankind from the easier propagation of knowledge...

                ——Samuel Johnson


    We would call a fair abridgment an infringing derivative work today, although it is only since 1909 that there was a general derivative right in the United States.

                —— William Patry (“Fair Use and Fair Abridgment”)

     

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  13.  
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    Chris Brand, May 13th, 2014 @ 10:50am

    A good first step

    They probably heard about a 140-character limit to online stories, and decided to work towards that in stages.

     

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  14.  
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    User is Bland, May 13th, 2014 @ 10:57am

    Re:

    I was going to give a funny because I thought (hoped) they were making a joke but not sure now...

     

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  15.  
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    nasch (profile), May 13th, 2014 @ 1:29pm

    Re: Re:

    I was going to give a funny because I thought (hoped) they were making a joke but not sure now...

    I guess it's possible they were just setting up a joke about the old "on the internet" patent pattern.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous, May 13th, 2014 @ 3:32pm

    Re:

    Dang it! You got there first!

     

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  17.  
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    BernardoVerda (profile), May 13th, 2014 @ 4:48pm

    Didn't Noam Chomsky talk about this in *Manufacturing Consent*

    The movie version had a great scene illustrating this, in which the comparative amounts of coverage (in column-inches) of particular stories and different perspectives were un-spooled side by side across a gym floor.

    He also pointed out that simply reducing the amount of coverage is in itself an excellent way to suppress conflicting and/or more sophisticated understanding of the issues.

    (Someone refresh my memory -- Did Orwell reference this in particular, in Nineteen Eighty-Four?)

     

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  18.  
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    Mr. James P. Crothers (profile), May 13th, 2014 @ 8:42pm

    Before there was a 09/11/2001 there was a plot to change the United States. Using Terror, as a means of change. I want to Know how the teliban was able to (dustifi?) turn to dust the World Trade Center, and if they could do that to buildings using jet fule,(ha) why did they stop there in this country. Hell they could of used a couple of "Cesnas" to take out the rest of the U.S.. besides, what ever happened to the gold that was being stored in building seven? I mean the vault was open, and nada inside! I do believe there is a problem, an it ain't being given any coverage.. or very little. I do appoligize for being out of context.

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 17th, 2014 @ 2:29pm

    giger

    Curious to know what you think of the AP obit on Giger, which ran to, uhm, 533 words:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/13/hr-giger-dead-alien-artist_n_5314408.html

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 17th, 2014 @ 2:31pm

    There's a far simpler explanation for why these word limits are being introduced: there aren't enough reporters to cover the news properly, and those that are left don't have the time or resources to write anything beyond 300 words that makes sense.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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