OLD Media Moves

Reuters story size down 16 percent since 500-word decree

September 15, 2014

Posted by Chris Roush

Dayan Candappa, editor of the Americas for Reuters, sent out the following announcement on Monday:

Congratulations! You’ve shrunk the file by 16 percent without spiking stories.

In June, we agreed to keep most stories shorter than 500 words unless we had something original to say. The numbers indicate our pilot project has been a success, thanks to your hard work.

The volume of words being edited has fallen 16 percent and we didn’t spike any more stories than we usually do. Average story length has dropped 10 percent and keeps declining. The proportion of stories longer than 500 words has tumbled by half. If anyone was wondering what the Sharper File project was intended to achieve, this is it; more stories told in fewer words.

I’ve always said this was never meant to be about story length, but rather an attempt to change the way we work. Any news organization that aspires to be greatest in the world should not have to choose between doing valuable commoditized news and distinctive stories. Our customers expect us to do both and this is an important step toward meeting those expectations.

Now that we’ve sharpened the file substantially, what’s next? First, we need to keep up the momentum. For all the progress we’ve made, you’ll agree that far too many stories are still overwritten.

We also need to focus on the quality of those stories that run longer than 500 words. Specifically, we need to answer these questions, which many of you have asked me.

· What sort of “distinctive” stories do we want to see more of and how do we create more space and time for the ideas and source-building needed to produce them?

· How do we improve our editing process to help good reporters produce good stories and feel good about the whole experience?

· How do we speed up our metabolism and inject urgency into everything we do?

· How does the pursuit of these stories fit into our plans as a business, especially in the areas of corporate news and consumer video?

Fortunately, the editors and bureau chiefs of the Americas haven’t spent the summer just counting words. We have been wrestling with these issues and talking to you about them. You’ll hear from us over the next few weeks in a series of regular updates we hope to send out every Monday morning. And yes, those notes, like this one, will be shorter than 500 words.

In the meantime, let’s turn our successful pilot into permanent practice.

Here is the note that Candappa sent out in May about limiting stories to 500 words.

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