Sam, you made the pants too long

October 15, 2012|By John E. McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

Reporters love online publishing because it allows them to write at whatever length they choose and frees them from the constraint of print. They can uncap the well of their inky prose and let the reader frolic in the gusher, without fear that some hack on the copy desk will mutilate their burnished sentences.*

They may be misguided.

I do not fear prose. I've read what the children call chapter books, thick ones, for decades. I do not quail at long articles in, say, The New Yorker or The New York Review of Books. (I actually read and enjoyed that series on cereal grains published in the waning years of the Shawn era, the ones that were widely disparaged by people who had not read them.)

But when I am reading online, a text that extends beyond two screens had better be compelling if I proceed further. It is not, I think, just that I am an older party. On a recent guest appearance at Professor Stacy Spaulding's class at Towson University, I asked the students whether they like to read long texts online, and the young people appeared to think as I do.

My working assumption as an editor is that slack writing repels on any platform, that concision is difficult to achieve but widely prized. And while I long thought that concision is as important online as in print, I have come to suspect that it may be more so there.

I would be interested in your responses. 

*Oh, cry me a river. This is the very sort of thing that deserves to be severely pruned.

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