Managing Editor Doug Frantz thinks that stories in the Los Angeles Times are too flabby and he wants to tighten them up. Everyone at the paper has heard this before—it comes up every couple of years—and yesterday afternoon they heard it again via memo from Frantz.
As you've no doubt noticed, the news hole is fairly tight and the news report is wonderfully robust. The resulting friction necessitates a brief note about story length.
Ever since my first days here in the summer of 1987, editors have railed about story lengths. The problem is not the special stories that we all love, but it's the inch inflation that spills over into stories that could be told in a more disciplined fashion. I know because I was guilty of this sin very recently -- and I'm now the worst case, a reformed sinner.
The simple fact is that we need to get control of our story lengths, and it starts with you, the reporters. You need to think about what a story really deserves at the front end. That's the time for a frank conversation with your assignment editor. After weeks of reading literally every news story every day, I am convinced that most over 30 inches could have been shorter; there were several examples in today's paper.
This is in no way a retreat from the kind of long-form journalism that is an LA Times hallmark. We'll continue to run long narrative stories, long investigative projects and long daily news stories -- when warranted. But a story doesn't have to be long to be powerful. Quite the opposite is true in many cases, perhaps in most cases.
If we keep the other stories tighter, we'll have room for more news. And I suspect that our readers will be happier, too.
So please, think hard when you talk to your editors about stories on the front end, think harder when you are writing them. Finally think hardest just before you turn in the piece. It's easier and less painful for you to cut, and it gets harder and more error-prone each step beyond your computer.
I promise you that stories weighing in at 20 inches get the same consideration for page one as those that tip the scales at 30 or 35 inches or more.
Previously in the Los Angeles Times topic