“Some daily stories have been running longer than they need to be, so we’re asking everyone to pay closer attention to story lengths to respect our readers,” read a memo from Politico Executive Editor Paul Volpe. “Most daily stories should not run longer than 1,000-1,100 words.”
Enterprise stories can run longer, but in general “we should aim for under 1,500 words,” Volpe wrote. “When you pitch a story to your editor, you will now need to provide a target story length and we will flag those that seem long. We want to focus on making our stories tighter, sharper and even more readable.”
Both The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post in recent months have put out newsroomwide guidance to editors and reporters advising them to trim the fat from their work. At The Washington Post, Managing Editor Cameron Barr told reporters and editors to aim for no more than 1,500 words without good reason. Wall Street Journal Editor-in-Chief Gerard Baker did not provide a word count in his Oct. 11 memo but admonished reporters not to include “a single otiose word” in their stories.
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Volpe’s note includes guidance that other newsrooms would do well to follow, including suggesting multiple headlines, providing editors with language for social media and thinking about multiple story formats. He ends the note with a winking nod at the memo’s clickable subject line (“Five changes to the way we file stories”).
“There isn’t really a fifth, but I was told people are more likely to read if a headline has an odd number,” Volpe wrote.
Here’s his memo:
Five changes to the way we file stories
Our journalism is connecting with more readers than ever. That’s not hyperbole or fake news — February was another record-breaking month for POLITICO — but a reflection of the amazing work you’ve been doing.
In our ongoing effort to extend our reach and expand our readership, we’re making a few changes to our workflow and asking you to tweak the way you file your stories in the following ways:
1) Offer additional headlines. Multiple suggested headlines already speed the publishing process. They also can make a big difference in how many people read your story. We’ve been doing A/B tests on headlines, in some cases doubling or tripling readership based on a headline change. Due to time and resource constraints, we’ve been running these tests on a limited number of stories. And sometimes we miss the pivotal testing window. With your cooperation, we’ll be able to run significantly more tests and capitalize earlier by switching to a headline that makes a clear difference. Starting today, reporters should provide at least two headlines that are significantly different for each story you file. If you file in the CMS, these should go in the Note field on the Notes tab.
2) Provide at least two suggestions for Tweets or Facebook posts beyond the story’s headline. Trevor Eischen and our web team publish more than 400 times daily to our social accounts. To craft compelling posts, they now must read every story we publish, search for the key points and determine what is most likely to engage readers. The reporters and editors most familiar with these stories should give them a sense of what we think is the most important information. This will save time, allow us to publish more quickly, free up the team to focus on our social media strategy and help us build our audience. If you file in the CMS, these should go in the Override tab under Twitter Title.
Mitch and Trevor will offer feedback in coming weeks on what has worked best in both areas, including at their March 24 brown bag.
One exception to these is for breaking news. In those cases please provide the headlines and suggested social text to your editor AFTER you have filed.
3) More discipline on story length. Some daily stories have been running longer than they need to be, so we’re asking everyone to pay closer attention to story lengths to respect our readers. Most daily stories should not run longer than 1000-1100 words. Enterprise can run a little longer, but we should aim for under 1500 words. When you pitch a story to your editor, you will now need to provide a target story length and we will flag those that seem long. We want to focus on making our stories tighter, sharper and even more readable.
4) Think about story formats. Politico has established a clear and distinctive style for our articles. We’re comfortable writing with authority and also in a conversational style.
Now we’d like everyone to think more about the best way to tell a story. Would the topic lend itself to a Q&A? Should we write it as an explainer? Is your set-up piece a ‘What to Watch’ listicle? What are other ways we can capture a moment, break news or explain what’s really happening? There isn’t a set number we’re looking for, but we’re asking for special attention as we push into different story formats and more visual storytelling.
5) There isn’t really a fifth, but I was told people are more likely to read if a headline has an odd number. Thanks for your cooperation with this. Happy to answer any questions or field concerns.
Paul, Carrie, Sudeep and Karey