Every Friday, we excerpt some of the most insightful, articulate, interesting, and entertaining comments we receive each week. Think we’ve missed something? Well…comment!
Michael Kinsley’s Atlantic column arguing that newspaper stories are too long elicited two critical responses here at CJR—one, from Greg Marx, saying that all those expert quotes in newspaper article are actually a good thing, and another, from Megan Garber, positing that the stories’ structure stems from how papers have conceived of their audiences. Both drew some interesting comments in response. To Marx’s piece:
But too much quoting is done just to show quote marks, not to really impart much new information. Too many are lightweight, restate what’s already been said, and could be easily paraphrased. I’ve actually had students ask me if it’s all right to write a story without a quote when I’ve deleted all their nonquote quotes and told them they could paraphrase it much more easily and directly for the reader…I think he’s saying if you are the expert, just say you’ve talked to so and so (and so) and they confirm the thesis that …. and skip the quotes unless they are really solid and move it forward. Too often just getting the quote is an excuse not to talk to the multiple sources needed to write with authority and really tease out the nuance.
It occurs to me that it is seldom the case that the correct journalistic response in a web environment is the 300 to 400 word text news story. It is at one and the same time too long as a piece of breaking information and either not long enough or, more probably, not rich enough, to engage a user looking for more depth. Yet it is the format for which many news reporters have been conditioned to write, and for a linear newspaper it provides a handy summary size, and it is therefore the format around which the vast majority of newspaper newsrooms are organised - which is a challenge when it comes to convergence. Twitter has taught us the new language of news marketing - 140 characters and a link to something of depth and value delivered in real time by someone you trust is the obvious shape of all future news delivery. This should put a question mark over the future of the ‘middle economy’ of stories which have so long been the staple of news page layouts.
And to Garber’s:
For me, hearing that there was “a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s health care system” is a few seconds longer and somewhat more annoying than reading “Health reform was passed yesterday.” But of course, not everyone will have followed the health care debate from beginning to end and may want to know why it is significant. Also, like you mentioned, the newspapers Kinsley calls out serve as papers of record. When we look back on the health care reform bill 30 years from now, we will want a bit more context than what a blog or Twitter post can offer. (“OMG Dems totelly enact death panels, lolz.”)
So often, when I’m reading a blog and the writer is commenting on the latest development in a long, drawn-out affair, they will simply link to the NYT article that gives proper background so that the blog can focus on a quick response. But if Kinsley wants newspapers — and their websites, I presume — to adopt the blog formula and only print the latest developments, who is going to paint the full picture for us?
Excellent piece. The worries you highlight are very real. However, I’m not sure it’s entirely unreasonable, ishmael and Megan, to ask our newspapers of record to provide the updates in one easily-accessible location, and the backgrounder somewhere nearby.
Nothing Gets Links Like Walrus Sex
Every writer is disappointed when a long, detailed column ends up producing nary a comment. Megan Garber pulled off the opposite this week, sparking an engaged back-and-forth in comments with a two-word post—her Kicker item tweaking Huffington Post for running a video of a walrus engaged in oral sex, on itself:
I realize that this was a very quick post, but the subtext here is that a really weird, immature video that appeals to a streak of low-brow humor that nearly all of us have is inappropriate for a news site. And I think that subtext is unfortunate. What’s the real downside to videos like this, situated amid more serious news? I fail to see it.
—Josh Young, social news editor at the Huffington Post