October 28, 2019

The Need for Slow Journalism in an Age of Fast (Media) Consumption

What’s New in Publishing looks at the rising importance of slow journalism in an age of decreased attention spans, information overload and news avoidance. We weigh in on the value and importance of slowing down.

The Movement

The slow journalism movement is one aspect of the greater “Slow movement” that includes sub-movements including everything from food, cities and travel to cinema and fashion. It’s a direct response to the decreasing quality of journalism that eschews original reporting in favor of clickbait or the repackaging of other source material (known as churnalism, the irony of which we are keenly aware).

One of the most prominent drivers in the slow journalism movement is UK-based quarterly magazine Delayed Gratification, which launched in 2011, which prides itself on being “the last newsroom to break the news.” Since its founding, there have been multiple slow journalism projects that have popped up in Europe and North America.

The Issues for Audiences

  • Information Overload: The amount of general noise from multiple sources in terms of both news and non-news media.
  • Decreased Attention Spans: The new normal.
  • News Fatigue: a Pew survey found seven in 10 Americans felt overwhelmed and “worn out” by the news.
  • News Avoidance: The Reuters Institute 2019 Digital News Report found that news avoidance shot up 11 percentage points from its report two years ago and that 58% of British respondents that avoided the news did so because of the negative impact on their mood.

The Issues with Current News

  • “Being First:” Media is adept at breaking developments (what just happened) but falls short of explaining their significance and context.
  • Text Avoidance: The 500-word count problem for the 280-character Twitter age and another by-product of the decreased attention spans as news outlets trim article lengths so readers do less reading.
  • Content-to-Length Balance: News content is emphasizing shorter digestible pieces with significantly less space to include detail, color — and facts.

Is Acceptance of Slow Journalism Simply a Creative Problem?

For Slow Journalism to gain wider acceptance, there will need to be a few major factors accounted for:

  • Long-form Repackaged: We’d say that there may be little hope for attention spans reversing course and agree that hope for long-form journalism lies in digital (as opposed to the still-worshipped print). That said, to make long-form palatable for text-avoidant audiences, it needs a lot of supporting media like illustrations, animations and strong layouts.
  • Monetization: Paying for all the illustrations, web development, writing and editing to help make that longform content more palatable, not to mention the journalism that sources and vets that very information, requires money. This money in-turn comes from investors or advertisers as well as audiences willing to either pay directly or accept ads in their viewing experience.
  • Content Over Form: The preference for consumption on mobile devices and the need to reach audiences through those platforms withstanding, the focus on good ideas, stories and people will always take precedent over the exact form it takes. Quality curated content will always be valued over quantity, even if the latter is made accessible via paid access.
  • Cultural Shift: Greater awareness of a problem was enough to make us use consume with fewer plastic straws and cups, but unfortunately, building awareness for the need to reduce overconsumption of fast media will take significantly more effort — simply because very few mainstream media platforms would encourage more moderate use of their platform.

MAEKAN’s Take

We are not a news organization, but we do recognize the importance of media literacy in a world that’s both digitally and globally connected to the point it will eventually implicate us — if not us as creative workers then us as regular albeit curious people.

That said, it’s important that we’re seeing the bigger picture and comprehending the full story instead of just being the first to know and react. Doing this takes the patience to resist our the human urge to know things, which savvy media and news outlets capitalize on when they inundate us with day-to-day updates on hot topics, for instance.

By switching to slower news, you could call it the “whole foods” approach to media dieting. Snacks are small, sweet and easily digestible, but we’ll be hungry again soon if we eat a few or feel sick when we get full on them. Regardless of what media types you prefer to consume, be it text, sound or images, we encourage you to snack less and seek out and support higher quality information sources — even if that means making more time for only a few comprehensive stories. Once you’re done that long-form news story or two, get out and get on with your day.

Because the only thing worse than adopting a news-avoidant life out of disillusionment with a constant information churn is veering towards a completely news-free one.

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