House style killing US newspapers?

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When I wrote for a US-owned magazine (The Industry Standard), the house style on almost any story, for example about a company closing, was like this: “John Smith looked at his watch. As the seconds slowly passed, he knew it was time to step up to the plate and tell the board what was going to happen in the next six months. But something stopped him… yada yada.”

This was totally different to the British style which was basically: “CEO John Smith today told employees they would be out of a job inside 6 months.” Now I notice a great letter to The Washington Post, which basically suggests that in the age of the Internet, mobile phones and a plethora of digital media we now no longer have time to sit down and read what in journalism we call a ‘drop intro’. To quote:

“Newspaper circulation in the United States has been sliding for about 20 years. I have an idea that might help these papers get back on track. If the average paper has about 200 stories and the average reader has about 20 minutes to read it, he can spend only about six seconds on each story. But stories are often written in the meandering style of William Faulkner. If the headline reads, “Bridge Set to Close Down for Repairs” the story might begin with: “Bob Wilson gazed down at his empty coffee cup and listened to the patter of rain falling gently against his window pane.” Then, after reading about two paragraphs of fluff like this, the reader is told to “See BRIDGE, C21, Col. 1″ to learn when the bridge will be closed. We clearly need a newspaper digest that will get to the point more quickly. I’m sure that it would be a huge hit for any publisher smart enough to offer it.”

There’s no doubt that blogs now offer that fast filter, which is perhaps why they took off so well in the US – where readers became tired of the Faulkner style, and have not been so dramatically big in the UK, where…. ahem… the media tends to get to the point a lot faster. As in the The Sun’s “Gotcha”…. I rest my case…

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