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Slow Journalism… the importance of explaining the news, not just breaking it

What's New in Publishing 09 Oct 2019 06:35

Time well spent. Less is more. Slow but steady wins the race. Digital wellness. Slow down, wise up.

Can these catchy taglines also work in the ad-driven world of digital media, where ‘being first’ still remains a top priority for many publishers? Despite the odds, a number of emerging ‘slow journalism’ startups are on a quest to find out.

Their alternative approach to reportage is essentially characterized by two trends. 

The first is the move by publishers to favor more digestible, manageable, and intelligible content. This isn’t unexpected considering that an increasing number of news consumers “are avoiding or feel worn out by the amount of news these days”, something highlighted in a small yet significant section about ‘broken news’ in the 2019 Reuters Institute Digital News Report

The second trend is that an increasing number of publishers are finding ways to tackle the issue of the perceived shortcomings of the mainstream media – an industry that is exceptionally good at breaking news, but disappoints when it comes to explaining its development.

Almost a decade ago, it was a widely held belief that longform and digital were (or at least should be treated as) two separate entities. Then, the received wisdom was that readers – when reading anything digital – suffered with short attention spans, and the talk of journo town was that nobody wanted to read anything online that was longer than 250 words. 

News is now delivered so fast, that the race is for the headline, with insufficient attention given to the mission to balance out the noise. For a publisher this is fraught. For the reader it’s a cacophony.

“You can build a brilliant subscription or membership business with slow journalism at the heart of it,” said Vanneck-Smith, while citing British weekly publications like The Economist and The Week.

The speed with which this next publishing digital newspaper delivers news is even slower than that of the Tortoise. On average, Copenhagen-based Zetland sends only two stories to their members’ inboxes per day, which gives their readers a realistic chance to complete all of its daily content. Also dubbed ‘the finishable feature,’ this approach curbs the urge to constantly check back to the Zetland website for new content. As is similarly the case with Tortoise, roughly 35 percent of Zetland’s subscribers state that the “manageable number of articles” is either the primary or one of the primary reasons for becoming a member.

Whether or not slow journalism can overcome people’s persistent unwillingness to pay for any online news is still open for debate. Things like inaccuracy, bias, ‘fake news,’ and ‘alternative facts’ have led people to lose faith in the media altogether. For publishers to nurture a truly loyal and engaged audience, further contributing column inches to the breaking newsfeed isn’t the answer. Remember the adage? If nothing changes, nothing changes. It’s time – for some publishers at least – to try a different approach.

Perhaps the single most important question is how many of the millions who feel worn out by the amount of news can be convinced by slow news publications to start paying for this, alternative, version of it.

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ZetlandSebastian EsslerReutersKatie Vanneck-SmithTortoise Media