An Open Letter To Bleacher Report: On Art and The B/R Journalist

Christopher Leone@ChristopherlionSenior Analyst ISeptember 18, 2008

I feel like such an old-schooler when I visit Bleacher Report these days. It’s not so much because I’ve been with this site for a long time, but because I favor a much different style of journalism than is present on this site.

See, I’ve grown up with print journalism—newspapers and magazines—since I was young. In these mediums, a writer is required to fully develop his or her ideas, add supporting facts and/or details, quotes, and write in a way that keeps the reader informed and entertained. The writer has to subtly inject a little bit of art into every piece, and this is what keeps their work interesting.

This new-fangled Internet journalism is moving in a much different direction. Short, short paragraphs, often one or two sentences, are the norm. I don’t mean in moderation, either, to make something stand out. I mean that a lot of what I see consists of ten paragraphs and twelve sentences.

I don’t like it one bit.

I’m an elitist. I’m the first to admit that. I think that if you can’t do something with competence and have a chance to excel at it, then you shouldn’t do it. There are people on this site that simply cannot write to save their lives, and that’s one of the drawbacks of the internet: for all of the new talent that is unearthed, plenty of people armed with nothing more than confidence start posting news for all to see, often replacing e’s with threes and l’s with sevens. But I digress.

It’s the writing style that’s generally part of this site that I have a problem with. It lacks art. It’s boring.

Sometimes I feel as if I’m the only person on Bleacher Report who appreciates reading long paragraphs. This paragraph will be long in order to make a point. I like long paragraphs. They keep a bunch of relevant information together. They keep similar ideas all in one place. I know I’m being gratuitous here, but I’m attempting to make a point. Look at all of the sentences I’ve put together, all linking aspects of a common idea!

Now, to illustrate the opposite point, I’m going to discuss what I dislike about the one- or two-sentence paragraphs I often see here on Bleacher Report.

A lot of these sentences can easily be combined to create paragraphs that sufficiently convey the given information in a better fashion.

Instead, however, many of the articles I see on this site feature one- or two-sentence paragraphs almost exclusively.

Bleacher Report editors argue that one-sentence paragraphs are necessary for emphasis, and to keep readers interested.

By breaking up paragraphs, as I’m doing now, I am emphasizing all of the sentences instead of the most important ones.

Are all of these sentences worth emphasizing? No.

My point is, this is grossly overdone by a lot of people on this site, and moderation ought to be a virtue. Wasn’t this last bit extremely choppy?

As I return to my normal writing style, let me explain something. By breaking up meaty paragraphs into one-sentence factoids, I would argue that you are contributing to the downfall of intelligent journalism. You are suggesting to your audience that paragraphs full of information, such as this one, are not worth reading. You are accepting the dwindling attention span of the average Internet user, and not attempting to improve it.

Instead, you contribute to the simplification of intelligent journalism.

I know this is a site open to all, but one cannot cover a major topic sufficiently in bullet-point sentences like these.

It simply doesn’t work.

Minute, yet important, details are often neglected.

The work becomes choppy and frustrating to read. One sacrifices flow for punch, finesse for simplicity, art for the very basics of the story.

If everyone starts moving in this direction, this site will become less and less informative as time goes on, and as such, less and less worth visiting.

In his book Writing to Deadline, Pulitzer Prize winner Don Murray says, “Art is a word most journalists fear.” He’s absolutely right. Single-sentence paragraphs are the equivalent to a child learning to color inside the lines. Sure, everything’s there. It’s correct, for the most part. But it’s bland.

One of my favorite sports journalists of all time is Rick Reilly. I’m sure most of you have read his work. Almost every column he puts out is artful. Reilly writes with flow, and finesse. It’s art. It’s informative, it’s worth reading—I think Reilly may be the greatest human interest writer of all time—but most of all, it’s art.

I know it’s a lot to ask of every member of Bleacher Report to be like Rick Reilly. Almost none of us, myself included, will ever approach his level of talent in our lifetimes. But choppy writing, boring writing, writing that doesn’t allow the story itself to direct the piece, is not writing worth reading. The one-sentence paragraphs that run amok on this site are exactly the types of pieces I’m talking about.

They need to stop.

Yeah, I know, that’s one sentence. See what a little well-placed emphasis can do?


    Iconic Sports Illustrated Writer Deford Dies at Age 78

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    Iconic Sports Illustrated Writer Deford Dies at Age 78

    Tyler Conway
    via Bleacher Report