One of the goals of print journalism is concision. Student journalists are often told to imagine a businessman reading a newspaper on the way to work. As his train nears the station, our commuter will just have time to read another 30 words before being swept away into office life. Will he leave the train having read nothing more than an ambiguous headline and a paragraph of vague preamble? Or will your razor-sharp writing tell him everything he needs to know before the train doors open at Clapham Junction?
Unsurprisingly, therefore, journalists despise the wasted word. Every sub-editor’s heart beats to the rhythm of “Shorter, Shorter, Shorter”.
A quick example of how easily words can be wasted: “Both Alec and Kenny agreed that old-age pensioners would soon find the brand new tea-making machine had become an absolutely vital part of their lives.” Perhaps, at first glance, that sentence does not seem so painfully verbose. But what if we remove the underlined words? “Both Alec and Kenny agreed that old-age pensioners would soon find the brand new tea-making machine to have become an absolutely vital part of their lives.” The sentence that remains: “Alec and Kenny agreed pensioners would soon find the new tea-making machine vital,” makes sense and contains all the points of the previous version.
The principles of good writing are always worth applying and become particularly important when dealing with the media. With a little effort, the first draft of any news story (or other piece of text) can be edited to achieve a shorter, better version. The goal of concision is not just to make grumpy sub-editors happy. The goal is to ensure even the busiest commuters know the news.