From LA Times spokeswoman Nancy Sullivan:

I touched based with Times Managing Editor, Marc Duvoisin re your inquiry below.

To provide context, fewer stories of 2,000-plus words does not signify a retreat from narrative journalism. Narrative is not a function of length and never has been. It’s a way of telling a story, an approach built on direct observation, carefully rendered scenes and the patient accretion of detail. We are as committed as ever to the form.

For instance, “Column One,” appears on our front page every day. Most of these stories are in narrative style. And we consistently publish ambitious, longform narratives outside Column One. Two recent and widely admired examples were “Standing Up: Davien’s Story,” Molly Hennessy-Fiske’s two-part series on a young man crippled in a gang shooting and his courageous decision to testify against his assailant, and Tom Curwen’s absorbing account of a young cancer victim’s final months. Other examples include Christopher Goffard’s 2011 two-part series “A Nightmare Made Real,” about a man falsely accused of a sexual assault; Goffard’s “Four Walls And A Bed,” a searing portrait of the homeless on L.A.’s Skid Row; and Joe Mozingo’s “A Family Secret,” an inquiry into his family’s roots and the uncomfortable discoveries he made. The just-released film “The Gangster Squad” is based on a 7-part LA Times serial by Paul Lieberman.

In recent years, our longform storytelling has also typically incorporated unique videos and photo galleries. The two media - print and pixels - are seamlessly integrated in a way that a Factiva search can’t capture. Take a look at the suite of short films embedded in Ken Weiss’ and Rick Loomis’ “Beyond 7 Billion” series on global population growth, the video with Hennessy-Fiske’s series mentioned above and the riveting Liz Baylen videos that accompany Scott Glover’s and Lisa Girion’s series on prescription drug abuse, “Dying For Relief.

From Kris Coratti, spokeswoman for The Washington Post:


We really can’t evaluate these numbers without seeing what’s behind them. We are absolutely committed to in-depth reporting, as is evident from the investigative, narrative, analytical, and profile stories we regularly publish. We evaluate each story individually and endeavor to give stories the length that best serves readers and the subject matter.

And from The Wall Street Journal’s Sara Blask:

Re your inquiry today: The number of words in an article has never been the barometer by which the quality of a publication or its value to readers should be measured. Every article is reported with unique facts and anecdotes that are needed to best tell the story. We consider those factors, while respecting our readers’ busy lives, when determining the length of an article. Our very strong circulation numbers suggest that readers think we’re doing a good job.

The points are all well taken. Good work is still being done. And length is, as I say, should not be equated with quality.

All the spokespeople gamely avoided citing the backdrop to all this, the elephant in the room, the catastrophic migration of advertising revenues across the board away from newspapers. The LA Times’s parent is, of course, just emerging from bankruptcy (after shooting itself in the foot). The Washington Post has suffered its own wounds, some, in our view, also self-inflicted. The New York Times not long ago was reduced to borrowing from the corporate equivalent of a hard-money lender. The Wall Street Journal, does not admit to financial hardship, but, its new parent, too, has been forced to write down a third of its 2008 purchase price. The Journal, it must be said, was not driven so much driven by circumstance as by its own editorial choices made under its new overseer, Rupert Murdoch.

In any case, the decline is real, and the loss in public knowledge can, at least to some degree, be quantified.

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Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014). Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman.