Length and Old Media

Raymond Chen describes an important old-media skill, writing to length:

If you’re like me and have a fixed-position column, things are even less flexible. My column must be one page long, exactly. If I go over, there’s no continued on page to overflow into; if I fall short, there’s no advertising to pick up the slack. When I get proofs back from the editors, they will often have remarks like “This article is ten lines short. Please fix.” (They don’t often tell me my article is long, because editors are very good at cutting on their own!)

Compare this with the practice at online publications:

I’m told that when the editors tell a writer that an article is short and ask, “Can you add another ten lines?” the response they get back is sometimes a simple, “No, I don’t think there’s anything more to add.”

I can’t see this as anything other than a giant win for new media, and a symptom of one of the major problems with traditional journalism. Online news outlets stretch and shrink (and emerge and die) to match the significance of new developments they cover. The daily paper has about as many pages when there’s major global news as when there isn’t, and the cable news channels have just as many minutes of airtime to fill.

My favorite news sources are the ones that go quiet(er) and leave me alone if nothing important is happening, and whose writers don’t try to waste my attention on fluff.