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News should get straight to the point [ClearOnMoney]
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Commentary

News should get straight to the point

6 Jan 2010 by Jim Fickett.

One reason newspapers are dying (as pointed out by a columnist) is that stories are too wordy and don't get to the point. My goal is to give you the information you need as efficiently as possible – the faster you find what you need and finish, the better.

A friend recently pointed out to me an article in the Atlantic, entitled Cut This Story!:

One reason seekers of news are abandoning print newspapers for the Internet has nothing directly to do with technology. It’s that newspaper articles are too long. On the Internet, news articles get to the point. Newspaper writing, by contrast, is encrusted with conventions that don’t add to your understanding of the news. Newspaper writers are not to blame. These conventions are traditional, even mandatory.

Take, for example, the lead story in The New York Times on Sunday, November 8, 2009, headlined “Sweeping Health Care Plan Passes House.” There is nothing special about this article. November 8 is just the day I happened to need an example for this column. And there it was. The 1,456-word report begins:

Handing President Obama a hard-fought victory, the House narrowly approved a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s health care system on Saturday night, advancing legislation that Democrats said could stand as their defining social policy achievement.

Fewer than half the words in this opening sentence are devoted to saying what happened. If someone saw you reading the paper and asked, “So what’s going on?,” you would not likely begin by saying that President Obama had won a hard-fought victory. You would say, “The House passed health-care reform last night.” And maybe, “It was a close vote.” And just possibly, “There was a kerfuffle about abortion.” You would not likely refer to “a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s health care system,” as if your friend was unaware that health-care reform was going on. Nor would you feel the need to inform your friend first thing that unnamed Democrats were bragging about what a big deal this is—an unsurprising development if ever there was one.

Indeed, this is one of the main reasons I started this site.

One might think from the title of the Atlantic article that cutting the story length should be the main goal. But in fact many newspaper articles are useless because so much has been cut out that one cannot discern with any clarity either the main point or the support for it.

Rather, the right goal is to get to the point immediately. In every article I write in the Commentary and Investment sections of this site, I put the main conclusion, succinctly stated, at the beginning. My goal is not to lure you into reading my wonderful prose, or to get you to stay on the site as long as possible. No – read the conclusion and, if it doesn't interest you, skip the rest. If it does, the rest of the article lays out the support for that conclusion concisely but with enough completeness to make the case.

Similarly, the Reference section gives an overview of each topic in perhaps 10-20 lines. No need to read an archive of articles, or a Sunday Times-length leisurely overview. A few lines and you know the essentials of what is going on in that area.

The goal is to make my writing, and your reading and investing, as efficient as possible.