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Why don’t newspaper journalists get to the point?

Is print newspaper journalism too long, too florid, too full of conventions compared to leaner, sharper online writing?

Is traditional newspaper journalism doomed? Is the style of writing itself one of the reasons for the decline of newspapers? Is that why people often prefer to get their news online – because it’s better written?

There’s an article in The Atlantic magazine online here, which says online writing is much simpler, more straight-forward, and gets to the point much faster than traditional print journalism. The whole article is worth a read, because the author back up this assertion with some convincing detail and evidence.

ONE REASON SEEKERS of news are abandoning print newspapers for the Internet has nothing directly to do with technology. It’s that newspaper articles are too long. On the Internet, news articles get to the point. Newspaper writing, by contrast, is encrusted with conventions that don’t add to your understanding of the news. Newspaper writers are not to blame. These conventions are traditional, even mandatory.

Now, I’m from the UK where our newspapers tend to be a bit less formal in their writing style than those in the USA. That’s a pretty sweeping generalisation, I know, and might take some people by surprise. But I think it’s the case.

Nonetheless, I think the writer of the piece in The Atlantic has nailed something pretty important. He analyses a report in the New York Times, and shows clearly just how verbose it is, how long it takes to really get to the point, how many words are wasted justifying things unnecessarily.

In the newspaper article. people you have never heard of are quoted, yet explaining who they are takes up more room than what they have to say. There is hype all over the place. The reader is constantly being reminded of things they must surely already know, and the article is packed with ‘florid subordinate clauses’.

You look at the style of online writing, especially in blogs, and you see something very different.

Online writers tend to get straight to the point, be clear what they are writing about, kill all those ‘florid subordinate clauses’ and pack articles with useful information.

Blog writers, of course, are free to put forward their own opinions, rather than having to quote those of others.

And blog writers don’t have to write 1,000 words where 500 will do, just to fill a space.

The summary of The Atlantic article is itself pretty succinct: ‘newspaper articles are too long.’

Is it time for the newspaper industry to take stock, learn some lessons from the blogosphere?

Are the conventions and traditions of print journalism holding it back, and contributing to its demise?

I’d love to hear you opinions.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • seo packages January 22, 2010, 9:30 am

    its not just journo’s. Take a look at business letters as well .

    • Simon February 16, 2010, 6:24 pm

      That’s true, but then there’s an awful lot of business writing which leaves a lot to be desired.

  • executive coaching January 22, 2010, 9:35 am

    I totally agree, and it is really frustrating. They seem to generate poetically licensed copy using ten words where two would do the trick. If nothing else, more trees could be saved in the process of “getting to the point”!
    In my experience of how to write copy for the web it is essential to get to the point and bring the key benefits of reading the page to the forefront.

  • executive coaching January 22, 2010, 10:10 am

    I totally agree – journalists seem to feel the need through poetic licence to use ten words where two would do the trick.
    In my experience in writing copy for blogs where readable screen space is restricted just like the newspaper columns, it is essential to bring the benefits or key point of the article to the forefront of the piece to at least engage with the audience. Then it is key to keep to the point as clearly as possible. Would anyone agree?

    • Simon February 16, 2010, 6:23 pm

      Yes, I would agree. I think the newspapers, some at least, are starting to look really old fashioned because of their writing style.