Slate founding editor Michael Kinsley--now a columnist for Time--writes about the Tribune Co.'s "brilliant new scheme for measuring the productivity of journalists": by the number of column-inches they produce. Kinsley does his damnedest to rise to the new standard:
For many, many years, the Los Angeles Times was known for its verbosity, or tendency to use more words than other newspapers to say roughly the same thing. More recently, this habit of writing many, many words when far fewer could make the point as well or nearly so (which is the essence of verbosity) was discouraged at the Los Angeles Times. It is no longer like the old days, when stories used to jump from one page to another, and then to yet another, and then another still, snaking endlessly around ads—this was back when newspapers had ads—and rarely reached a conclusion except for an announcement that Part XIII would appear the next day. But apparently this new discipline was a terrible, terrible mistake. Or, to put it a different way, it was a bad idea. At any rate, it is yesterday's idea. Today's idea is that a writer should produce as many words as possible, because that means you need fewer writers to produce the same number of words.
The last time I remember paying serious attention to column-inches was when I was a cub reporter at my college newspaper, The Daily Californian. We were paid by the column-inch; 15 cents was the going rate, I think. I do remember that it was a great day when I netted $3 for my inflated account of the infighting at a Berkeley City Council meeting. Conversely, when I graduated to the paper's copy desk--a coldbed of disgruntlement if ever there was one, proving beyond all doubt the accuracy of "because the stakes are so low"--I took evil pleasure in cutting reporters' copy (according to the best practices established by Associated Press and Strunk & White, of course), knowing full well I was taking pizza money out of their grubby, sophomoric paws.
Where there's a stupid system, there are smart gamers of said system. As Bertrand Russell once said, "I am paid by the word, so I always write the shortest words possible."
(Via Matthew Stibbe, who offers some of his own suggestions for planning and measuring writing output.)