Extra! Extra! Read (a Little Bit) about It!

The Associated Press has found that short, 300-500 word stories keep readers engaged, and we leverage their new tactics on our blogs and websites.

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Newspapers are shrinking to the size of our smartphones. This week, the Associated Press, a group that distributes many of the news stories we read every day, announced their decision to have most reporters limit their stories to around 300-500 words (for reference, this blog is 315 words). The decision is controversial because it makes journalism even leaner, forcing reporters to cut out possibly important details and leave out relevant background information that can serve to inform the reader.

So, why is the AP cutting these stories? Because they’ve found that short stories keep readers engaged. We’re processing our news (and practically everything else) mostly on screens now instead of on paper. When we’re reading on our phones, even a 500-word story feels long. We don’t turn to our phones for long stories — we turn to them for Twitter, for Instagram, for bite-sized information.

I’m not sure if these micro-stories are good or bad news for journalism (okay, I’m pretty sure they’re bad news for journalism). But we can use what the AP has discovered to keep our blogs and websites appealing to readers. The audience just isn’t making it through long stories, and keeping your blog short and sweet is the best way to keep readers.

How do you write short? In your first draft, feel free to write as long as you’d like. When you read back through, take the role of a brutal editor and cut anything non-essential. If the blog is still too long, consider breaking into several parts and publishing it as a series. It’s tempting and sometimes even easier to write wordy blogs, but we have to remind ourselves that it’s not worth it if that stops readers from engaging with our blogs. For better worse, the AP has decided to keep it short, and most bloggers find that they gain and keep more readers when they do the same.

Photo Credit: *Peanut (Lauren) via Compfight cc

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Carrie has been copyediting and writing for fifteen years. Her skills were forged in the newsroom at The Birmingham Post-Herald and she’s a huge book nerd (she moonlights as Southern Living’s book reviewer), but a love of paper and ink hasn’t stopped her from mastering the digital world as well: She’s had a blog pretty much since they existed, and she’s run social media for companies big and small. Carrie’s always ready to take on a new communication challenge, lecture us about the proper use of semicolons, or defend the fact that her Instagram account is filled with selfies.


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