Wick Communications

Is 800 words too much?

In Media on 7 May 2015 at 3:34 pm


I’m always wary of anyone who pretends to know the future of journalism, so I approached this interview with Quartz Editor-in-Chief Kevin Delaney as if it were a rattler under a rock.

But the man makes some good points.

Haven’t seen Quartz? You know it’s cool because the URL is qz.com. See? That’s cool already. If you go there, you will see a news site that is decidedly different from most. It doesn’t place much truck in photos or images. It’s essentially a list of stories that editors think will be interesting to smart people. It also blends in native advertising in a way that I find purposely confusing to consumers. But I digress.

Delaney suggests that the era of the 800-word newspaper story is over. He may be right-ish about that. To the extent that he is, it should be said that he didn’t discover this fact. Al Neuharth and Gannett did about 30 years ago when the company started publishing USA Today. We had the “eight-inch rule” when I worked at a Gannett paper 25 years ago. Our stories were capped at about 400 words. If readers’ attention spans were challenged in the Reagan years, they are only more so now that we are all trying to consume news on smartphone screens the size of playing cards while riding the train. Incidentally, many of the Quartz stories I see today are themselves pushing 800 words and Delaney’s podcast interview on DigiDay was more than 36 minutes. … But I digress again.

He suggests that many journalism processes are antiquated. No question that is true. He takes particular aim at the beat system, which traditionally focuses around processes and places, like “cops” or “courts.” He suggests reporters focus on a rotating list of “obsessions,” probably driven by what the analytics say folks want. I completely agree that how we view our bests is very important. For example, I prefer to think of “cops” as “public safety.” That would include a lot more than what you see in the police log. …

He says the homepage is dead, or at least a lot less important than you might think. Right again. Today, we share stories via social networks. These days very few of us are relying on bookmarks to our favorite homepages on our desktop computer. That is so 2007. Nonetheless, Delaney suggests your homepage look good because it is a branding tool. I like that.

He says that reporters need to be idea people. His reporters speak 20 languages and have reported from 115 countries. I imagine that gives the staff meetings a really cool vibe with many perspectives expressed. That can only be good.

I don’t always agree with news futurists and the Internet graveyard is filled with smart projects (does anyone remember Circa?) that didn’t quite guess right. But we would be wise to consider their innovations.


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