In both print and online, The Washington Post has been asking staff to give a critical eye to articles that take up more than 50 inches of print or go over 1,500 words online, with the aim of slimming them down.
The reason, as Washington Post managing editor Cameron Barr explained to Poynter’s Benjamin Mullin, is to get writers to give a piece the length it deserves, and not more. “We were seeing too many pieces that were in the mid-range of their ambition and their success—coming in at 60, 70 inches of copy,” Barr told Mullin. And it held true for blogs as well, “where pieces were just too long, and we felt as though editors were not applying the necessary discipline and rigor in how these pieces were being handled on the desk.”
To raise awareness among staff, the senior editor in charge of the copy desk tracks stories that go over the limit and adds them to a list, but don’t think of it as a wall of shame.
“What we want to do is make the writing better. We’re not interested in punishing people. It’s not a data-driven enterprise. It’s a quality-driven enterprise,” said Barr.
No stick, but there is a carrot. Writers who are good at keeping it short can end up honored with the Brevity Cup, which entitles the honoree to drinks with a managing editor. We’re not sure it applies to tweets, though:
— Rebecca Sinderbrand (@sinderbrand) September 29, 2016