Keller to Staff: Nix the Yak

We depart from our usually tight focus to bring this dispatch from Tom Scocca, our media guy, who got his hands on a memo that probably wasn’t sent to him:

This afternoon, New York Times executive editor Bill Keller announced that any story over 1,800 words must be approved by one of a trio of high-ranking editors before it’s allowed into the paper.

Mr. Keller described the move in an internal memo as part of a campaign against endemic “bloat” or “flab”–stories that “sometimes feel slack or padded.” Though he conceded in the note that budget concerns played some role, he wrote that “this is not primarily about saving space.”

Mr. Keller wrote: “I’m talking, for the most part, about 1,200-word stories that could be told–better told–in 900 words….I’m talking about features that meander through an unnecessary and uncompelling anecdotal lede and get to the point in the fourth or fifth graph.”

The 1,100-word memo is a little saggy around the middle itself — “Complexity, nuance, competing viewpoints, important context, analytical connections, killer quotes, telling anecdotes…these are things that set us apart from TV, and from most other print publications.” Only three paragraphs from the end does the editor deliver the news: Rick Berke, Craig Whitney and Marty Gottleib–Mr. Keller’s designated length police–will have to sign off on any story that exceeds the 1,800-word limit.

Even showcase projects aren’t immune from the length squeeze. There, the review process begins at the top of the masthead: “If a story seems likely to consume a full page or more of the paper, Jill [Abramson] or I should be consulted BEFORE the story is written,” Mr. Keller wrote.

To prepare the Times for the new regime, here’s Microsoft Word’s AutoSummarized version of Sunday’s 3,450-word page-one piece, “Two Women Bound by Sports, War and Injuries”:

Specialist Green said, and the nurse nodded.

Specialist Green’s left hand had been torn off.

The grenade exploded next to Lieutenant Halfaker’s right shoulder. Receiving Star Treatment

In mid-July, Lieutenant Halfaker and Specialist Green met in the occupational therapy clinic.

Specialist Green introduced herself. Sometimes Specialist Green complained and Lieutenant Halfaker would say: ”Well, you have it better than me. Lieutenant Halfaker shied away from interviews, while Green rarely said no.”

Finally, Specialist Danielle Green was medically retired on Dec. 7. Not at Walter Reed.