AP, Reuters tell reporters to keep stories under 500 words

Is it a good thing or a bad thing that the Associated Press and Reuters have both told their reporters to keep (most) of their stories under 500 words?

I suppose it depends on what purpose you think AP and Reuters actually serve.

In the old days, I used to go to AP and Reuters to find breaking news. I simply wanted to know what happened, and then find a short description filling in some of the details. And papers around the country had to subscribe to one feed or the other, in order to have sufficient content.

But AP and Reuters have both become so much more since then, and they’ve had to.  It’s not enough, in the Internet age, to simply let people know that something happened.  You don’t need AP and Reuters for that, you can just go to Twitter.  And, newspapers are dying.  So if that were still AP’s and Reuter’s models, they’d be in for some hurt.

At least for me, I’ve found both publications to have gotten richer, more substantive, over the years.  Maybe it’s because I don’t hold a newspaper in my hands anymore when reading the news, but I tend to think of both wire services as writing more substance than they did in the old days.  And I like it that way.

Video: Kitten meets cursorSo what’s the media recipe for success in the Internet age?  Beats me.  Unless you put a kitten in every post, or are willing to find a way to weave Flight 370 and Beyoncé’s sister into every story, it’s not clear that any one media entity is viable in today’s economy.

Clearly, for whatever reason, both AP and Reuters have decided that shorter is better.  Ironically, when we relaunched AMERICAblog back in October of 2012, we cut back our number of posts, writing fewer longer stories instead.  And our unique visitors doubled and tripled, alongside a significant jump in pageviews.  But that’s not been enough to make this site financially sustainable over the long-term.

I wonder if the Internet is truly changing reading patterns, and whether, as AP fears, people using smartphones don’t want to read long stories they’d have otherwise read in the past had the story shown up in a printed newspaper.  It is harder, I find, to browse a long story online.  In the paper, the story was on two pages, or even one.  Online, even if the story is one (rather long) Web page, you have to scroll down while you read it.  And I wonder if psychologically that ends up feeling like too many individual pages, because you can’t just scan the story the way you could in print, by looking at it in its entirety.

I do think that if your goal is simply to inform someone of the headlines, then yes, you can easily tell a story in fewer words than even 500.  USA Today has been doing the short-story thing for years.  I’d be curious what their experience has been, in the past, but also now that readership has moved online and mobile.  Have they weathered the storm better by already being shorter?

524 words.

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Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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