Media Moves

Insider global EIC Carlson: Let’s limit stories to 600 words

June 17, 2021

Posted by Chris Roush

Nicholas Carlson

Insider global editor in chief Nicholas Carlson sent out the following on Thursday:

Team —

During today’s newsroom meeting, I announced that all posts, with some exceptions, must now be under 600 words. We’ll try this new rule on for size during the summer and, in the fall, solicit feedback on his it’s going.

Who does this rule apply to? This rule applies to everyone except our investigations team, features writers, commentary/explainer team, and Service Journalism team. It also does not apply to slideshows, listicles, and approved features. To be clear, this rule applies to stories that are behind and in front of the paywall.

How will this work? Editors must always assign a word count and a deadline for any assignment. Reporters should file stories that do not exceed 600 words. Editors should send back stories that run longer and ask that they be cut to fewer than 600 words. If the writer can’t figure it out, the editor should.

Editors in chief, executive editors, and bureau chiefs can give writers and editors permission to publish posts longer than 600 words. Writers should strive to ask for permission to go long before they write. They should pitch them via Slack, email, or phone — or by speaking to them in person at the office.

Importantly, stories don’t have to reach 600 words! That’s actually much longer than a lot of our top-performing stories. Your editors might ask for just 200 or 300 words on a topic, and you should stick to that.

Some of you have asked about enforcement. Enforcement is not a priority for me or the rest of edit leadership. We’ll go by the honor code. Don’t break the rule. No one is going to go through and check every story. But if we’re reading a story and it seems too long, and it turns out that it is, we’ll ask the editor to go in and cut it down to size.

Why are we doing this? For our readers. Data shows they like short stories and don’t want to spend time on longer ones. Readers can reach about 250 words a minute. The current average engagement time for a story on our site is 51 seconds. Some people are reading about 212 words and moving on. Our stories now average more than 700 words.

For our reporters. You have lots of great insights, analysis, and facts to share, but too often we try to stuff it all into one post. It’s a much lighter task to say one thing with one post, publish it, and then start another post to say the next thing, even if it’s on the same topic. It’s OK (and even encouraged!) to write several posts on the same topic from several angles when you have a lot to say. Often, writing a post will lead you to a surprising or interesting conclusion. That’s why we say the last line of our story should be the headline of your next story.

An advantage of this habit is that by publishing shorter stories on the same topic, you’re creating more opportunities for a hit. It’s hard to know which framing will attract and satisfy readers, so try two or three!

For our editors. The constraint of a word limit is a helpful took for editors. It forces them to compress and cut. And it’s easier to edit a story that’s filed to you at 600 words versus 1,200.

(This email is 570 words long.)

Nicholas Carlson

Global Editor-In-Chief

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