Newspaper articles are too long, says Atlantic columnist

“On the Internet, news articles get to the point,” writes Michael Kinsley, a columnist at The Atlantic. In a recent column titled “Cut this story,” he continues: “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.”

Kinsley uses recent examples from The New York Times and The Washington Post to show that “the old wordy conventions survive.” He points to “quotes from strangers restating the reporter’s opinion,” “adding protective qualifiers to statements about which there is no real doubt,” attributing “the article’s conclusion to unnamed others” and “the lure of closure” as problems and reasons for unnecessary length.

Here is one of Kinsley’s many examples (from the lead story in The New York Times on Sunday, November 8, 2009, headlined “Sweeping Health Care Plan Passes House.”). He writes:

“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.”

Read Kinsley’s full column here.