Journalists Should Bite the Bullet
screenshot from CNN’s website
It’s the one area where old-style journalism hasn’t really made the strides it could. I can understand why: Journalism is a very, very conservative profession. But The Journalism Iconoclast, written by Patrick Thornton, makes a telling point when he points to a nice new feature of CNN.com’s website — the bullet point:
One of the features many people may have noticed with the relaunch of CNN.com earlier this year is that CNN offers succinct bullet points above articles about the key points of the story. Most people skim stories anyway, so why not give them the ultimate way to skim an article? Maybe they will read the whole thing, but use the bullet points to help them remember key points.
Patrick suggests newspapers adopt this for their online offerings; I would actually be in favor of their doing it for their offline offerings too. Buzzmachine, for example, is not the only one bemoaning a buried lede. Indeed, I often find the inverted pyramid approach outdated and less useful for the sort of rapid scanning we do now we’re so webcentric.
One commenter to the story, Marc Matteo, points to one of the key problems with newspapers introducing this kind of bullet-point approach: Shrinking budgets and harried editors. In which case I would farm the bullet pointing out to people who aren’t even journalists. As Marc himself points out, non-journalism websites don’t seem to have this problem. How about allowing readers to add the bullet points themselves? Indeed, it may even be possible to automate the process.
The nasty truth is that a lot of what we take to be good sound journalistic writing was designed for an earlier, slower time. Now we want to catch the gist of something in a few seconds, and we’re looking for reasons not to read them, rather than feeling we should, we have to, or (God forbid) we want to.
Bottom line: Newspapers and all traditional media should not just be looking for new ways to deliver their news, but new ways to write it too. An example of good, pithy writing is actually Techdirt, which rarely strays (unlike this blog) over 250 words, including story, background and (usually quite tart) analysis.