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.”
Carovillano’s memo itself references the driving force behind the limits: “Our members do not have the resources to trim the excess to fit shrinking news holes,” notes the editor.
Paul Colford, a spokesman for AP, notes that a “common concern” among AP members and subscribers is that stories are too long. In recent months, says Colford, the wire service has been trimming stories in Europe and the outcome has been “successful.”
For context, consider that the AP produces 2,000 stories per day (2013 output). The stories affected by the Carovillano memo cover the majority of stories produced for both state and global audiences, says Colford. However, those constraints don’t apply to the royalty in AP’s investigative division, who aren’t bound by the directive.
There are 1,400 daily U.S. newspapers that make up the AP cooperative, not to mention a number of radio stations, TV stations and web-based news properties such as Yahoo and MSN.
Here are a few additional motivations for the story-length directive, per Carovillano’s memo:
- We are failing to exercise important news judgment when our stories are overlong and not tightly edited;
- We give our competitors an opening to make inroads with our members and subscribers when our stories are too long;
- Our digital customers know readers do not have the attention span for most long stories and are in fact turned off when they are too long;
- Our regional desk editors are spending a lot of time cutting stories; they can give better, more comprehensive, faster-to-the-wire edits to stories that are more tightly written.
- The reporter and editor should have a discussion about the appropriate length of stories at the outset of reporting — and stick to it;
- Consider using alternative story forms either to break out details from longer stories, or in lieu of a traditional text story.