The above graph was created by former Wall Street Journal writer, Dean Starkman, currently of the Columbia Journalism Review. His graph shows a steep decline starting in 2007 of long-form journalism, articles of 2,500 or more words, found in WSJ’s print publication. Despite it leaving out statistics from the website, it is safe to say that things probably look pretty similar on there too.
It is interesting to note that 2007 is also when Rupert Murdoch took over the WSJ, so undoubtedly he had a heavy hand in the switch to shorter and more digestible news articles.
This is a quote from the WSJ shortly after this graph was released:
The number of words in an article has never been the barometer by which the quality of a publication or its value to readers should be measured. Every article is reported with unique facts and anecdotes that are needed to best tell the story. We consider those factors, while respecting our readers’ busy lives, when determining the length of an article. Our very strong circulation numbers suggest that readers think we’re doing a good job.
It’s hard to say how much of an impact the site’s paywall model has on the decline of longer articles. Perhaps they are finding increased subscription rates by catering to the business side of news by offering articles that can be read quickly back to back with only the most important facts and details being analyzed.
Another reason might be that long-form journalism requires much more time to produce. By limiting the amount of time that must be spent reporting a story, the writers of the WSJ are able to create more stories in quicker succession. This in turn also drives up the shareability of articles on social media sites, since more people are willing to read and share articles that don’t take a long time to digest.