New Associated Press guidelines: Keep it brief

This is a short news article about how news articles are becoming shorter.

The world’s largest independent news organization, the Associated Press, for one, has told its journalists to cut the fat — and keep their stories between 300 and 500 words, a length in which this story (301 words) would easily fit.

That’s 500 words, max, on just about every one of the 2,000 or so stories AP journalists report each day, from ballgames to bomb blasts to the latest political skulduggery.

Exceptions: AP has told its reporters that the top one or two stories in each state may run between 500 and 700 words, and the top global stories of the day may be a practically Faulknerian 700-plus words. Reporters in AP’s newly expanded investigative unit will be permitted to bust the limits.

Why? The news service says many of its members — 15,000 or so newspapers, Web sites, and radio and TV stations around the world — lack the staff to trim stories to fit their shrinking news holes. What’s more, AP says, readers can get turned off by longer stories, especially on mobile devices, an increasingly popular way for people to get the day’s news.

“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.”

AP’s wire-service rival, Reuters, instructed its reporters to keep stories under 500 words, according to a memo obtained last week by the Web site Talking Biz News. The memo outlining the policy ran to nearly 1,200 words.

Yes, speed and brevity are more valuable than ever in the digital age. But this raises another question: As stories get shorter, do readers end up missing something impor

Paul Farhi is The Washington Post's media reporter.
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