December 12, 2005

EXTRA! EXTRA!

The Stories: Short Wire Copy versus Original Reporting

New tabloid breed is more than screaming headlines but could they be blueprint to the future?

If one were to take 20 minutes to read the tabloid front-to-back on a commuter ride, what would one get, compared with trying to read the section-front stories of the local broadsheet? (It would take longer than 20 minutes to read the section-front stories in their entirety but seemed the most apt comparison–see footnote 4.)

The differences start with size: The tabloids are eight or nine inches shorter. (5) The commuter tabloids average 20 to 30 pages each day, and into them are squeezed an average of 33 stories of at least two paragraphs, plus at least that many shorter items. That is nearly a third more stories than the average of 23 that make up the section fronts of the broadsheets. In words, though, the section-front stories in their entirety average three-times more than those of all the stories in the commuter tabloids (roughly 21,000 versus 7,000).

Story Length According to Newspaper Format

Words
Youth-Tabloids
The Examiner
Broadsheets
Total
<100
15%
15%
3%
11%
101-250
53
22
3
29
251-500
31
38
6
25
501-1000
1
23
57
24
1001+
0
1
32
10

 

The Examiner tabloid sits somewhere in the middle, averaging between 45 and 55 pages, and twice as many stories, around 70, and 25,307 words per issue.

The biggest difference, however, is that the stories in the commuter tabloids are shorter. Nearly seven out of ten (68%) are 250 words or less, about three or four paragraphs—and that is not counting the items less than two paragraphs. Nothing gets much long treatment: only 1% (14 stories in all across nearly 1,000 studied in the three papers) were more than 500 words.

In the broadsheets, almost all the section front stories, 89%, are more than 500 words. The Examiner stories fell in between—longer on average than the tabloids but shorter than the broadsheets.

In effect, the youth-oriented commuter tabloids offer something not seen anywhere in the broadsheets. These three or four paragraphs are not the “reefers” to longer stories seen in USA Today, or briefs of the sort seen on minor stories in the broadsheets. They instead offer all the basics of the news in summary, a kind of “mini-story.”

Just as defining, the youth oriented tabloids rely primarily on wire service copy—72% of stories in all. Just 17% (8% news stories and 9% columns) were original or staff written reports (10% were syndicated or advice columns). Those owned by the local paper in town rarely made use of sibling’s copy either.

In traditional broadsheets, by contrast, at least on the section fronts, nearly all the reporting (93%) was original staff written copy.

The Examiner again fell in between, with nearly a quarter of its stories staff written and another 13% original work from freelancers.

Footnotes

(5) The average size of the tabloids we studied were about 11” x 13”, while the typical broadsheet in the United States is closer to 12” x 21”. The Dallas Quick and DC Express are roughly 10” x 12” while the Boston Metro is slightly larger, 11” x 15” and the Examiner a little different shape, 10.5” x 13”.