News & Politics

Memo to Post Style Reporters: Write Shorter

November 14, 2006 memo from Post Style Editor Deb Heard and Deputy Steve Reiss

People of Style:

So a priest, a rabbi and a minister walk into a bar…

Actually, this isn’t a joke.

Style stories are going to have to get shorter. Not just our display pieces, but our secondary pieces as well. In survey after survey, our readers tell us that stories are too long, that they are pressed for time, that they don’t read to the ends of stories. (When was the last time you read to the end of every story in the section?) We can pretend that this issue doesn’t apply to Style, but that would be putting our heads in the sand. It could also lead to unemployment as more people stop buying the paper. On this question, Style is not an island separated from the pressures that confront the rest of the newsroom. We must do our part to retain the readers we have and attract new ones.

Style will continue to be the premier home for vibrant, evocative, risky writing. We want people to read and savor every word that you so painfully slave over. But it is not necessary to write long to write well. And length isn’t needed to get good display. Today’s display package, for example, featured a 25-inch story and a 13-inch story.

Believe it or not, it is less painful to write a shorter story than to have a story cut by an editor. In the past, we have been reluctant to dictate inch counts for stories, feeling that they should run at the length they deserve. We still believe that. But this kind of discussion isn’t useful in the abstract. So here are some guidelines:

Stories that you might previously have written at 20 to 25 inches should be 15 to 20 inches.

Stories that you might previously have written at 35 inches should top out at 25 inches.

Fifty-inch stories should be 35-inch stories.

Sixty-inch stories should be 40 to 45 inches.

We will still publish stories of significant length. But those instances will be more infrequent than in the past.

Yours in brevity,

Deb and Steve
(heard and reiss)