A few years back, I was writing regular commentary for the local papers and they used to have no problem giving me between 1200 and 2000 words per article. I found out later, when a friend went to journalism school, that this was sort of a big deal. It turns out that they way the newspapers are laid out is that all of the ads go in first. I suppose that makes sense because, often, a paper is making more in terms of advertising dollars than in subscription sales. The space that is left over is called the “news hole.” All of the news, commentary, sports, etc., must be edited to fit the “news hole.” Space for the news is secondary to the space for the advertising.
So, getting 1200 words in the commentary section is huge. After a while, and with bigger publications, the word count allowed dropped to about 700 or 800. This really isn’t a lot of words for people who write. But apparently it is for people who read. And my journalist friend was taught two more important points. Tell the entire story in the headline, and tell the entire story in the first paragraph. It seems many people don’t make it any further into the article besides these two breathing points. Two breaths, and they’re out of there.
The last figures I saw measuring the ability to maintain focus showed that the modern human attention span was about 8 seconds. Or about 1 second less than that of a goldfish. This could explain why newspapers, over time, became less willing to allow more words in the commentaries – people weren’t really reading them. Of course, it could mean there was more ad space and that the news hole had shrunk. Either way, it begs the question, how much is too much? When will the reader quit?
So, I put those questions out there in this blogosphere as I add an article to the legal section of Earthwalking. It’s about 1836 words in length, and I hope a few people make it to the end.