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How long is too long?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Bumpkin, Oct 23, 2012.

  1. Bumpkin

    Bumpkin New Member

    7 inches? 8? 10? ::)

    With the penis stuff out of the way: I learned the business a while back under an editor who taught me to write long. 20-25 inches was common on anything and everything from advances, to gamers to features. This was at a small daily where preps were king. Admittedly some of those stories were probably too long.

    These days, I've learned that anything over 15 inches is too long (same size paper, same amount of space). I can see where you'd want to keep a prep gamer around 15 inches, give or take an inch or two. But I have a hard time with the idea of a feature being considered "too long" if it's over 15 inches. I've written 15-inch features and I don't feel like I'm doing them justice a lot of times. Talk to the kid, coach and maybe a teammate or parent for some background and it's easy to blow past 15 inches in my experience.

    What are the rules others live by for story lengths for features, gamers, advances?
  2. imjustagirl

    imjustagirl Active Member

    Cliche, but write what the story deserves.

    Well, talk to your editor about what the story deserves, then write what the desk tells you they have room for.
  3. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    In general, I try to keep my gamers and advances around 15-17 inches. Sometimes it's more, sometimes it's less. I usually try to cut it off at that 15-17 range for space purposes.
    If you can't get at least 12-15 inches out of a game you covered in person you're just not trying, but you shouldn't force it either.

    As for features, it should be whatever it's worth. And you usually have an idea of what it's worth before you start typing. There's some throwaway prep features that shouldn't be more than 15 inches. And then there's huge takeout pieces that are well worth 40 or more. As long as the story is flowing, flow with it.
  4. Alma

    Alma Well-Known Member

    Prep gamers? 625 preferably, 700 words max, IMO, unless you're deep in the playoffs, or it's anomaly (50-point night for the shooting guard, brawl at the game, etc). Learn how to be colorful and brief. Practice word choice. Use quotes to punctuate your story, not take a dump halfway through. Be tight, be fast, stay in active voice and somewhere for some reason or another, you'll get employment as a writer of some kind.

    To me, prep advances can be even shorter. Get the numbers out of the advance, make it a visual, and give your advance more of a narrative quality to it.

    Features are what ijag said. Learn how to sell the editor on it, the desk, too, and lobby for space, if it needs the space. Take an active role in the placement and length of your own work. And know what else is in the paper that day. Sometimes, the desk's giving you shit over 5 extra inches that make the story better, but they could be sitting on some 12-inch pastry that could have five inches of filling sucked out of it.
  5. albert77

    albert77 Well-Known Member

    For a prep gamer, I aim for about 15, but usually end up around 16-17. The only time I go longer than that on preps is for championship-level games, then I usually shoot for about 20-22. For the occasional college gamer, I'll shoot for 18-20. I'm not big on elaborate game previews, so 12-14 is generally the max on those.

    Features, though, I'll lend my voice to the chorus to those who say let the story dictate the length. BUT... Keep it tight. I am the voice of experience on that front.

    The longest feature I ever wrote was an 84-inch job on Al Jefferson during his senior year of high school, when it was looking like he'd be the latest to go to the NBA out of high school. I spent a week in his hometown of Prentiss, Miss., talked to everybody I could find, and felt like I had a potential award-winner. I had all the room I needed, and I felt like I had to justify all that space and all the time I spent there, so I threw everything into the story. Could have lost 25 inches and it probably would have been perfect, but afterwards I just felt like it was bloated, and the real story got lost. Didn't win anything, either. Lesson learned.
  6. Versatile

    Versatile Active Member

    That doesn't work. Many reporters get swept up in what they're covering. You can tell the desk that and have them hack away at 800-word gamers, but that's inefficient. I would tell my reporters to generally follow these word limits on game stories, adjusting for big or interesting games:

    High school non-football: 400 words
    High school football: 500 words
    College non-revenue: 400 words
    College men's basketball: 600 words
    College football: 700 words
    MLB: 600 words
    NHL/NBA: 600-700 words, depending on the popularity of the team
    NFL: 750-850 words

    You run the risk of reader complaints if you let one writer on a prep football Friday write 700 words and another write 450 for similar-caliber games.
  7. HejiraHenry

    HejiraHenry Well-Known Member

    Yikes. Where do you people work?

    Standard coin of the realm in our shop today is 400 words for most everything.

    That's solved many of our high school football deadline issues. Guys know the number they have to hit and don't waste time writing stuff that won't get in. The desk, in turn, doesn't have to waste time cutting and hacking.

    If it all works right, every story more-or-less hits the hole assigned and off we go.
    When we're juggling 8 or 9 gamers on a Friday night, that 5 minutes diddling with a too-long story can really add up.

    The college guys file a football gamer (500), sidebar/column (450) and a notebook (400). That's enough.
  8. brandonsneed

    brandonsneed Member

    My college journalism professor put it like this:

    "Stories should be as long as a lady's skirt: Long enough to cover what it needs to cover, but short enough to keep things interesting."
  9. FileNotFound

    FileNotFound Well-Known Member

    I've gone back through my clips a few times and found a bunch of 25-inch stories that would have been way better as 14-inch stories.

    As a reader, I'm done with a gamer after about 12-14 inches. I'll hang with a feature as long as it's interesting, whether that's 8 inches or 80.
  10. Alma

    Alma Well-Known Member

    400 words is fine and even preferred if preps quickly gets swept away by college/NFL over the weekend. But I'd rather it'd be good and 550 than simply there and 400. I'm not of the belief that it's easier to write well at 400. You may get it sooner. And people might stop reading it sooner.
  11. Alma

    Alma Well-Known Member

    What would you tell Chico Harlan? Those gamers of his you (and I) like so much were 750 and 1130 in the "great gamer" thread, and routinely 800-1000. For a pretty bad baseball team.

    Either you want storytelling or you don't want it, and if editors are always waiting around for Chico Harlan, well, I hope they work at about 5 different papers. Readers at smaller papers aren't dumber or less worthy.

    As coaches develop the athletes they recruit, so, too, editors must with their writers. New punks, old farts, whatever. There's some merit to the "just get it in on time and with length" philosophy. And there's some absence of merit to it, too.
  12. Alma

    Alma Well-Known Member

    Yes and no. That idea is a the "perfect world" for the guy/gal who thinks Hemingway or Joan Didion knew everything there was to know about writing. That's like saying every filmmaker should be Ozu, who didn't move his camera because he composed the hell out of the frame, and that there's no room for Goodfellas-style tracking shots.

    If the Internet age has taught us much of anything, it's taught us that people *will* go there as readers, they will follow a writer into stylistic flourishes, even if the writer is navel-gazing or simply showing off without a command of the style. So you might as well begin to learn how to harness that and turn it positively. Otherwise, a handful of "great" writers - some of whom aren't that great - create a nice bit of distance between themselves and folks who'd be just as good if they explored that notion with discipline.
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