Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

What's to love about newspaper articles? For some of us, it's not length

This morning, I came across the article Cut This Story! by Michael Kinsley. I was logged in at Twitter at the time and shared the link, as well as comments, but I feel compelled to comment further on Mr. Kinsley's claim that newspapers are going the way of dot matrix printers only because the articles in them are too long.

As an avid reader of newspapers, and not just a journalist for one, I must disagree with this claim. Yes, I feel that in some instances, writers dump unnecessary and wordy information on their readers, yet some of that information Mr. Kinsley has cited is actually quite useful. I would like to know who a particular source is, why they are being quoted, and what relationship they have to the topic. I'm sure they were included as a source for a very good reason, some of which may require a little lengthy explanation by the writer as a means of introduction.

Additionally, one point I noted in my Twitter comments is that some writers sacrifice good writing and organization just to keep their articles short. I want to read a well-written article, and if that means a lengthy article to read, then so be it. Don't clutter your article with more quotes and less writing. I also appreciate it when the writer of a newspaper article goes in depth on the topic which they are writing about. I want the FULL story, not some 500-word summary I could find in a copy of USA Today. I want to know both sides of an issue, the details of what exactly happened, why this is newsworthy, why I should care and how this relates to us, as a society, on a human level.

As an example, I recently read a story in the (Eugene) Register-Guard of how cattlemen are finding their cattle stolen. The article began with one rancher's story of a discovery he made one day in which some of his cattle were missing, with tell-tale clues that they just didn't wander off. Someone advocating brevity in newspaper articles may claim that such a lead should be cut, or heavily snipped and pruned, because it tells us nothing about the topic at hand. I say, leave it. This is putting me into the victim's shoes. This is showing me on a personal level what the rancher is going through.

In that same newspaper, a reader once complained that a reporter's details about an infant's murder were too grisly for print, and should not have been included in the story. Well, I would like to know what exactly happened to the baby.

Why should journalists and newspaper reporters all of a sudden become gatekeepers of what they write and report, all in the name of "protecting" readers from unpleasant information -- or even more words to read?

My point is, if I'm going to take the time to read a newspaper article, I want to get the WHOLE story. I want all of the information and all of the facts. Don't leave readers hanging just for the sake of keeping an article short.

Yes, length can be an issue for some readers, but what must come first when writing a newspaper article is the ability to report on the news as in-depth as possible. Cover all your bases. Answer the 5 W's and H. Make sure readers can read "all the news that's fit to print" -- and that it is indeed all of it.

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  • At 3:47 AM , Anonymous Linda said...

    One of the things my local newspaper (one of the major ones) used to do was artificially inflate the length of a story so that they could have ads. So we'd get the story continued over multiple pages, each with a huge ad from the local department store. The store went out of business eventually, and that type of writing is gone.

    I doubt if the newspapers are in trouble because the articles are too long. It's more likely it's because they didn't change when they needed to, and when they finally changed, it was in the wrong direction. It used to be that you could expect the newspaper to call out someone on a big scandal; now they take give them a free pass, like they're afraid of offending them and leave the scandal discovery to the Internet. An easy thing they could have done was use the immediacy to work for them--like have the Internet version because the immediate version and the paper version have more detail and more thought to it.

    One of my newspapers just had a major cutback. Food section? Gone. Sport section? Gone. Business section? Gone. A lot of things that make the newspaper are gone to save money. Now it's just two sections0--the news and opinion, with a huge classified section. People need to start trying to come up with new ideas instead of adding one more bandage to the system.

  • At 5:44 PM , Blogger Tara McClendon said...

    Good points and things to consider.

  • At 6:16 AM , Blogger Dawn Wilson said...

    Hi, Linda,

    Oh, gosh. How depressing that the newspaper dropped both the Food, Sports and Business sections! That's also a little ridiculous, especially for the Business section. But I understand that papers gotta do what they gotta do to survive. The R-G had to make their paper smaller and combine sections. It hasn't been easy adjusting to this change, because I'm so used to their just being a Business section and a Life section, a Sports section and the classifieds. One reader complained about a story the paper ran, saying they should be more selective of what news items they run in our already abbreviated newspaper. Another reader likened it to the Readers Digest.

    It's a sad state of affairs that newspapers are hurting so much, and I agree it's not because of lengthy articles. I don't agree that a paper should artificially inflate, even to make room for ads. There must be a better way.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. :)

    Hi, Tara,

    Thank you for commenting. I'm glad you enjoyed reading the blog post. :)

  • At 1:23 PM , Blogger Angie said...

    I agree that lengthy articles, in and of themselves, aren't the problem. If they're artificially stretching things out just to make room for ads, as mentioned above, then that's clearly ridiculous and a problem. But cutting relevant information or an appropriate introduction probably just makes readers that much more likely to go to the internet where at least they can Google the subject and choose what to read, and find as much info as is available.

    There's room for an informational article between a Tweet and a book. It sounds like the newspapers are trying to shift to the shorter extreme. :/ I don't imagine it'll win them new readers.


  • At 12:17 PM , Blogger Dawn Wilson said...

    Thank you for your feedback on this, Angie. I definitely agree. News is what we're after, not length. If a newspaper article is poorly-written, even a short one, then that's the problem they need to correct, not how long the article is.


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