News Nuggets? Nope

What, exactly, is a news nugget, and what’s in it?

Dave Winer suggests a nugget-of-news is 185 characters, on average. I was skeptical: He came to this number by taking the average New York Times Headline + Summary Description. That’s not a news nugget: That’s a news pointer.

In programming, a pointer is a reference that tells you where to look for the data, and what kind of data to expect. Kind of like the shortcuts you have on your desktop: They’re not the actual documents, web pages or applications you use, but they tell you what you’re going to get and take you to it.

Headlines and descriptions aren’t the news: They tell you what the news will be, but the news itself is the facts, quotations and new information that make up the article. And while you’ll see a lot of headline pointers being passed around on Twitter, any “social media expert” who salivates over statistics will tell you that including these facts, rather than just the headline, will boost interest. In newspaper writing, it is pretty well drilled into you that each news paragraph should be a single idea, and each paragraph no more than one or two sentences. Each graph is a real news nugget, in other words: Just one idea, fact or quotation that stands by itself but is what people are really interested in and how they judge whether the writer or editor earned that outrageous headline at the top.

So I ran the numbers on a bunch of random Associated Press articles I pulled together into a Google Doc, and was disappointed to see that even with his crazy notions about nuggets filled with fluff headlines and fatty descriptions (I think he’s been chowing down his nuggets at McDonalds), the average AP article’s paragraphs run almost exactly the same length as Winer’s nugget: 183 characters, not including any meta data. How long is that? Here:

Etiam aliquam elit justo, non dapibus sapien. Pellentesque ornare, dui eget tristique mollis, augue nulla dapibus, vel sollicitudin enim. Fusce ac ipsum vel velit malesuada congue vel in neque. Nunc eget erat lorem.

Either way, these nuggets are longer than Twitter’s 140 character limit, imposed by cell phone text limitations. Hmm. Maybe Dave is on to something after all.