Michael Kinsley has a funny column in the current edition of The Atlantic. In it, he argues that people are abandoning newspapers for the Internet not because of technology, but the simple fact that print articles are too long.
The software industry has a concept known as “legacy code,” meaning old stuff that is left in software programs, even after they are revised and updated, so that they will still work with older operating systems. The equivalent exists in newspaper stories, which are written to accommodate readers who have just emerged from a coma or a coal mine. Who needs to be told that reforming health care (three words) involves “a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s health care system” (nine words)?
I don’t agree. Well, not completely at least.
It comes down to this: People are busier. They (We) have more competing activities and face numerous distractions even while sitting at our workspaces. Pings, tweets, new emails, text messages. Arrgh.
It’s not about the length of the article — it’s about the storytelling. Concision has never mattered more. And in this age, if you can’t get your point across before the next tweet comes in, you’ve lost the plot.
In effect, our pursuit of the “now” has killed storytelling. Who cares if a reporter is giving enough “color” to the piece? News is now faster than ever. And in shorter sentences. And connects faster. That’s compelling.