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Too Brief To Matter

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It doesn’t take one thousand words to write an excellent story.  We’ve given our top five-star scores to some stories that used only 500 or so words.  One recent example: 

Less acid, brittler hips? Some heartburn drugs may be behind an increase in fractures,” 566-word story by Los Angeles Times. 

But stories in the 100-300 word range are severely challenged. And we’ve seen some recent examples in stories we’ve reviewed on the site.

It may be time to can the cola,” 106-word story in U.S. News & World Report magazine. (1 star)  

Quick depression relief?” 142-word story in the Buffalo News. (1 star) 

Drug may help hypochondriacs,” 244-word story in the Washington Post. (1 star)  

Moderate drinking may help men with high blood pressure,” 273-word story in the Boston Globe. (2 stars) 

You can read the reviews of any of these stories to see what is left out when stories are limited to such a low word count. 

News organizations employ such “news in briefs,” “science notebooks” or “health headlines” to give the appearance of broader coverage of health, medicine and science.  But such coverage, while it may be a mile wide, is often only an inch deep.  It often feels like filler, when readers deserve vital information that is left out.  

Indeed, the Statement of Principles of the Association of Health Care Journalists says:  “While brevity and immediacy are touchstones of news reporting, health and medical reporting must include sufficient context, background and perspective to be understandable and useful to audiences/readers. Stories that fail to explain how new results or other announcements fit within the broader body of evidence do not serve the interests of the public.”

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