Dumbing Down in Media Land by Ron Steinman

Dumbing Down in Media Land by Ron Steinman

In a recent post on the Web — of course — a well-known editor and writer who runs a business Web site, suggested that it was time to kill what he called “the 800 word article.” He said, “Shorter stuff that is focused, creative and social with a really good headline,” is what people now read online and should replace the longer, more traditional news story. It would be impossible to respond to his suggestions in anything near the fewer words he wants. Sorry, but fewer words means less substance. That doesn’t mean more words or more turgid writing. Style and brevity count but not at the expense of leading to an understanding of issues.

He further said we should abolish the concept of the “beat,” for the uninitiated that is the part of the world a working journalist covers every day. He would be happy to replace it with what he calls “obsessions.” I could go deeper into what the writer wrote, but a deeper dive will not do justice to silliness that verges on pandering. By pandering, I mean giving in to the ignorance of a lazy audience. The audience today is impatient. It wants its fix immediately. No standing in line. Instant gratification. A belief that one line of a story tells you everything you need to know. Scary. The reader today takes a sentence or two from the opening of the piece, and, thinking he or she has all the information needed. He or she then makes a comment and starts a thread usually steeped in ignorance. The person then moves on to the next story often passing on his or her ignorant musings to the next in line without any analytical thinking.

Is there any guarantee that the audience which usually reads only the opening line of a story will read more of the story if it knows there is less on the page, meaning it is shorter than usual? Relegating every story to a precise number of words in shorter articles indulges a culture too often in a hurry and dedicated to the idea that less is more. If you believe this is possible, dream on.

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