The Wall Street Journal is in the middle of a newsroom overhaul. And, according to its top editor, that transformation will include a sharper focus on cutting out editorial flab.

In a memo to Wall Street Journal reporters Tuesday, Editor-in-Chief Gerard Baker advised employees that unnecessarily long stories would be trimmed amid a newsroomwide focus on digital journalism.

For all reporters and editors, writing must come into sharper focus. We write many excellent stories, but in total, every day we write too many long stories and aren't nearly creative enough about how to tell stories in ways that engage our readers.

Editors and reporters will strive to "understand and address" busy readers as they seek to filter out important news from the rest, Baker wrote.

So we must be vigilant in keeping story lengths appropriate. Bluntly — but obviously, I hope — every story should be as short as it needs to be. There's no excuse for a single otiose word or punctuation mark in our writing. Too many stories have repetitive anecdotes or unnecessary quotes. We will cut them.

In his memo, Baker outlined several other goals for the redesigned newsroom:

  • Dividing editing operations into two groups: a digital desk overseen by Deputy Managing Editor Alex Martin and a print desk overseen by Print Editor Bob Rose:

    They and their teams have been rethinking everything from our workflow and data gathering to our production process and I strongly encourage all of you to attend their session on how the new newsroom will work, which will also be taped and available for everyone to watch. We have learned a great deal about how readers' behavior and expectations are changing, and about what types of stories and features make the Journal and our professional products so valuable to our readers.

  • A focus on producing higher-quality stories earlier in the day:

    Too often we publish at hours when readership is low, write subpar stories online in the vital minutes after something has just broken, or build our reporting and writing schedules around the print publishing cycle.

  • A platform-agnostic approach to news presentation:

    We also need to work harder as a news organization to think about how content works best on digital and especially mobile platforms, and what engages our readers, including better graphics, photos, video and other features. The digital desk will be a launching point for rethinking how we present our content digitally and how our digital storytelling needs to change as our readers do.

  • A redesign of the print edition:

    The paper needs to be more engaging and readable than it is. We need a better mix of stories of type and length, for a more attractive and varied layout that engages busy readers with new sidebars and boxes, better graphics, more photos and other ways into stories.

The Journal isn't the only news organization that's lately taken a dim view of verbosity. In August, The Washington Post launched an initiative targeting stories that meander beyond 1,500 words.

Here's the full memo, which was obtained by Poynter:

As you know, for the last few months we have been designing a new architecture for our newsroom, one that will better enable us to produce journalism that meets the demands of our many readers. The rapidly evolving marketplace for news requires us to be more aggressive than ever in producing content that achieves three principal objectives:

  • Overall aim of achieving three million subscribers
  • Delivery of a more concise, digestible daily print paper for a loyal audience that still wants to receive the Journal in that traditional way
  • Provision of news and information to a professional audience, utilizing our existing distribution methods such as Newswires and WSJ Pro, and finding new ones>

Today we embark on that newsroom transformation.

The main structural change is a reorganization of our news editing operations into two groups: a digital desk, overseen by Alex Martin, that will edit most stories and serve WSJ.com, mobile, Newswires and other digital platforms; and a print desk, overseen by Bob Rose, that will be charged with building the print newspaper's U.S. and global editions every day.

Alex and Bob will work closely together, overseeing all our editing across all our platforms. They and their teams have been rethinking everything from our workflow and data gathering to our production process and I strongly encourage all of you to attend their session on how the new newsroom will work, which will also be taped and available for everyone to watch. We have learned a great deal about how readers' behavior and expectations are changing, and about what types of stories and features make the Journal and our professional products so valuable to our readers.

But the ultimate goal of this change — and the true test of its success — will be a cultural transformation for all of us. The immediate changes directly affect the desks here in New York, but every single one of our reporters and editors needs to rethink the way he or she operates and work to an even high level of efficiency.

Of course our primary responsibility is to produce original and exclusive news — the only sure way to maintain our relevance. But we need a truly radical overhaul of the way we produce it.

Digitally, we will be requiring higher-quality stories much earlier in the day, especially in our enterprise and feature work, so we can publish stories at the times and in the ways our growing ranks of digital readers expect. Too often we publish at hours when readership is low, write subpar stories online in the vital minutes after something has just broken, or build our reporting and writing schedules around the print publishing cycle. We need to do far more to get our best journalism to readers at the time when they want to read it. We need to file alerts for mobile devices quickly. Our millions of smartphone users need concise, clear and timely reporting to inform their busy lives. The mobile culture is rapidly taking over our lives and we must ensure that our news is attuned to that culture.

We also need to work harder as a news organization to think about how content works best on digital and especially mobile platforms, and what engages our readers, including better graphics, photos, video and other features. The digital desk will be a launching point for rethinking how we present our content digitally and how our digital storytelling needs to change as our readers do.

That goes equally for the print newspaper. I have charged Bob and his team with the task of rethinking our print taxonomy and design. The paper needs to be more engaging and readable than it is. We need a better mix of stories of type and length, for a more attractive and varied layout that engages busy readers with new sidebars and boxes, better graphics, more photos and other ways into stories.

The print desk will be aggressive in setting expectations on stories and will expect enthusiastic cooperation.

For all reporters and editors, writing must come into sharper focus. We write many excellent stories, but in total, every day we write too many long stories and aren't nearly creative enough about how to tell stories in ways that engage our readers. We must urgently understand and address the reality that busy readers are looking to us to help them understand what is important and what not, what stories need a lot of time and focus and which ones less so. So we must be vigilant in keeping story lengths appropriate. Bluntly — but obviously, I hope — every story should be as short as it needs to be. There's no excuse for a single otiose word or punctuation mark in our writing. Too many stories have repetitive anecdotes or unnecessary quotes. We will cut them.

In addition to writing more concisely, we all need to be tougher about making choices on what we cover and how. Resources are precious and we must use them to maximum effect.

Cultural and structural changes on this scale are sure to be turbulent, to create unexpected challenges and raise some tension in the newsroom. We will encounter problems that we will have to fix. All of us will need patience and a spirit of collegiality as this rolls out and we will need to learn and adapt as we go. And in the coming months there will surely be more changes as we seek to remain competitive as a news organization.

But we should also embrace this change as necessary and even liberating. Our task is no less than to help translate and enliven our journalism for the burgeoning digital era, to help ensure that we continue to fully serve the needs of the millions of readers who depend upon our journalism.

Gerry