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 AJR  The Beat

From AJR,   October/November 2003  issue

Brevity Pays   

Managing editor offers an unusual incentive for shorter stories at California's Contra Costa Times

By Jill Rosen
Jill Rosen is AJR's assistant managing editor     

When Chris Lopez took over as the Contra Costa Times' managing editor earlier this year, he probably wouldn't have guessed his most attention-getting move would be, in essence, a bet.

Lopez, 42, who moved up the paper's ranks in May from assistant managing editor for metro, got some notoriety in August for offering $50 to anyone on his staff who lands an 8-inch (or shorter) story on A1. Grade the News, a group at Stanford University that critiques journalism in the San Francisco area, quickly derided the move as an attempt to abandon in-depth news coverage in favor of quickies.

Lopez says that couldn't be further from the truth. First of all, the $50 he was offering wasn't coming from the corporate coffers--it was out of his own pocket. "I don't think everything needs to be 20 inches," he says. "I'm a real believer in varying the lengths and knowing when to go long, when to keep it tight and bright, when to dig in for in-depth investigative."

Reporter Matt Krupnick won the $50 for a story on the county upgrading its voting system. But despite the money, he says he'd never compromise a story for it. "I think I would most definitely take news value over financial value," he says.

Besides Krupnick, one other reporter made Lopez put his money where his mouth is. One hundred dollars poorer, Lopez fears his wife's wrath should he award any more cash, but he's glad he sparked some staff discussion and got people thinking.