Mike Cote's Business Editor's Notebook: Tastes great, less filling
After nearly two years and about 100 columns, I bump into people at social events who mention they read "Business Editor's Notebook." Or at least they tell me they do. Maybe they just scan the first few paragraphs and move on to the comics.
"I read your column every week," one friend of a family member said to me at a recent gathering. "It's good, but sometimes you can be wordy."
I tried to accept the backhanded compliment with grace as this gentleman went on to suggest that perhaps I get paid by how much space I fill. But it got me thinking. What's wordy? And did he mean I use too many words to construct each sentence or was he saying that the columns I write are simply too long?
Perhaps I go on and on about something when it would be more effective to go on and be done with it.
It would have been easier to dismiss the critique if my mother hadn't said pretty much the same thing a week later. "I tried to read your column, but it was so long! I'll read it later."
I wanted to believe my mom, but I think "later" meant "never."
So this week, we're serving up Sunday like a bag of Popchips, which have 40 percent fewer calories than the leading brand of regular potato chips. That 1,000-word column too long for you? Here's one with 40 percent fewer words because we realize how busy you are and that those rose bushes need pruning and the kids need help with their homework. Who has time to read?
Presenting six things that could benefit from a 40 percent trim. Just six, OK? Because 10 would be 40 percent too many.
-- The U.S. tax code. The 2013 edition of the Internal Revenue Code is 4,037 pages long, according to Andrew L. Grossman, an attorney with Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation. And that includes hundreds of pages of supplementary material, he said in an April column for Slate.
"So let's say the tax code is about 2,600 pages long. It's like 2½ times the length of Stephen King's "It" - except you replace "scary clown" with "accounting methods," Grossman says.
That's still too long: 1,550 pages sounds so much better. We can start by deleting the section that includes the Alternative Minimum Tax.
-- The Affordable Care Act. Compared with the Obamacare regulations, the U.S. tax code is a Reader's Digest condensed book. "The nearly 11,000 pages of regulations for this one law alone would reach three feet high if you made the mistake of printing it," say Jayne O'Donnell and Fola Akinnibi, writing for USA Today in October.
-- Pharmaceutical commercials. If the side effects listings of a drug is longer than the rest of the commercial, perhaps it's not ready to leave the laboratory. Especially if "death" is one of them.
-- Business meetings. Forty percent fewer meetings and meetings that are 40 percent shorter.
-- A speech. Afraid of public speaking? Take heart. The bar is set lower than the lowest limbo pole at a luau. Said President Franklin D. Roosevelt: "Be sincere; be brief; be seated."
-- Postings on Facebook about puppies. Because I am unable to resist a two-minute video of an Alaskan Malamute having a conversation with an infant.
Mike Cote is business editor at the New Hampshire Union Leader. Contact him at 668-4321 ext. 324 or firstname.lastname@example.org.