The Economy of Words and the Internet

Sometimes leaving stuff out is just as important as getting stuff in.

I was reminded of this recently while judging in the Neal Awards. These awards recognize the best in business-to-business journalism. Many folks don't realize it, but there is a whole world of coverage out there that focuses on specific business niches and industrial sectors.

You'd think articles and videos on topics like lawyering, building materials, meat processing, or veterinary medicine (to name just a few) would be pretty dry. Not really. By and large the entries in this contest were pretty terrific and in some specific cases, moving.

But in discussing which articles should get the very top awards, the judges agreed that a few suffered a common problem. They were way too long.

Usually you see the length problem on the Internet, especially in blogs where there is one writer and no editor (some of the favorite blogs of my colleague John Carney have this problem). Paper based media generally guard against such rambling length because, well, the paper costs money.

Maybe the need to compete with the Internet is making old media editors think they need to go longer? I hope not. Newspapers and magazines instill a discipline in writers about economy of words. You have to write to the space available. Period.

Internet writing and reporting could use a little more of that discipline.