Journalists Should Bite the Bullet

By | August 31, 2007

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’s website — the bullet point:

One of the features many people may have noticed with the relaunch of 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 Indeed, I often find the inverted pyramid approach outdated and less useful for the sort of rapid scanning we do now we’re so webcentric.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.  

The Journalism Iconoclast

One thought on “Journalists Should Bite the Bullet

  1. Danny

    You are here highlighting a very interesting point Mr Jeremy.

    If you’ve been, even for a short while, in touch with the web-design world, you already know how a huge majority of web-designers are concerned about data accessibility and readability over the net.

    However it seems that some improvement is yet to be made. Not that the standardization of the markup code (may it be HTML 1, 4, xHTML and so on…) is not already acute enough, but the problem remains that you are never sure to view the same page in the same way twice in a row.

    Just resize your browser’s window and you’ll understand what I mean.

    Since people are now able to view a web page in various conditions, may it be on a PDA, a cell phone/smart phone, or a 21″ computer screen, the –>presentation<-- of the data has, to my mind, become a key to the comfort and understanding of the reader. I am a graphic designer, working mostly advertisement, ant the basic for what I produce are : Visibility Contrast Proportion Colors Lightness of design/content In the book about business presentation "That Presentation Sensation: Be Good, Be Passionate, Be Memorable" (Martin Conradi, Richard Hall), the most given advice is "shorter is better". This goes for a corporate presentation as well as for any kind of quickly-to-be-assimilated informative content. I know that when I am surfing, I like th get the info I want as fast as possible (ever been looking for something the whole day ?) and when I get it I like it to be as understandable as possible. This bullet point technique is therefore very interesting and should be taken as an example by many designers, coders, templaters whatevers that still don't understand that informations has to come to people if people don't go for it. NEVERTHELESS (Am I writing too much ?) It shouldn't let us forget the real content, the one with the texture and stuff, the one that make us think. This content, to support your argument, also has to be adapted to the plateform. And this leaves me a bit worried. What if, by this clarifying process, the reader was used to a pre-chewed information and became analazy (analysis lazy ?) I know for a fact that a shorter amount of data is easier to memorize and understand, but what if one day we are to get only the bullet point ? You are probably right about this : we should re learn to write.


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