Length is Relative–at Least When It Comes to Writing Articles

Posted on May 7, 2012

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Even in this age of Twitter, it’s  hard to find a journalist who doesn’t like to write long.

We all love to share our prose and think ourselves masters of wit and language. We can turn a phrase like a ballerina on pointe.

Which is why I was a little surprised today when my students told me they had trouble make count for a 300 word article.

In their defense, the article was an in-class press conference that they watched for a midterm about the appointment of Columbus’ previous police chief. It was only about six minutes, but it had some great background and terrific quotes from the two speakers–Mayor  Mike Coleman and Chief Walter Distelzweig.

Whenever I pick a press conference for an exam I write a sample story just to make sure it is easy to understand and chronicle. At 550 words, I pulled the one to a close, though I had a lot more I thought was relevant about Distelzweig’s predecessor. And even though the event happened two years prior, I wanted to call some sources to get quotes just to round out my piece.

Helping young writers see the angle of a story is one of the best parts about my job, but I admit it is hard to teach people natural curiosity. Ever since I realized I could make money writing, I have craved story ideas like a chronic dieters yearns for Jeni’s ice cream–I see them everywhere, I mold them around in my mind to see how many angles I can make from one situation.

I still want to know why the car got pulled over or where the fire engine is going or what that rally is about.

Sure, I write tight when I need to–blogs micro and macro for sure–and pride myself on missing neither deadlines nor word counts.

But the other day when an editor asked if I could do a story in 1800 words or I thought it needed more, I jumped at the chance to let the words flow.

I can’t paint and I can’t sculpt. Words are the only artistic tools I have.

The question is, will you read all the ones I wish to write?

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Posted in: Journalism, Writing