News that Matters – Embracing the Slow Journalism Movement

The age of the 24-hour news cycle has turned journalism into a speed race. Scoops and breaking news are filled with scant facts, lots of supposition, and often wild speculation. And by the time the full story has come out (if indeed it ever does), the viewing audience has largely lost interest and is on to the next “shocker.”

As a result, we get a cursory understanding of “what happened” but hardly any insights into why, how or what it all means. It’s a broken news system, fed by news stream social platforms that rely on fast, not deep. 

Yet the idea of in-depth reporting hasn’t vanished from the industry, as Piet van Niekerk reports in FIPP. Many journalists and news organizations are working to regain reader trust in the news, reversing the crisis of mistrust formed in part by the fast news echo chamber.

He cites last October’s New York exposé on Harvey Weinstein, which took 10 months to complete and went on to win a Pulitzer Prize.

“Recalling the almost year-long investigation, [journalist Ronan] Farrow told CBS’s Gayle King during an interview in front of a live audience at this year’s American Magazine Media Conference in New York of the respect he developed during the time for New Yorker editor David Remnick who not only encouraged and supported him during his research but also granted him the freedom to conduct such a long and comprehensive investigation,” van Niekerk writes. “He explained, among other things, why – along with Remnick – they decided that to publish this story first was not the most important consideration, but rather to publish it right.”

Even when it was learned that the New York Times was about to scoop them, they held firm to their editorial standards and journalistic values. 

“The playbook the New Yorker used in breaking this story is the model (to combat fake news),” said Farrow. “You don’t skimp on fact checking. You don’t skimp on the legal review. You have a process run by brave journalists… and you insulate the reporting from any kind of corporate interference.”

Can slowing down work for the bottom line?

But, what happens when a news organization decides to step off the fast-breaking news cycle? Can a media brand compete if they get off the treadmill approach? According to van Niekerk, they can.

“Just over two years ago [UK newspaper The Times] abandoned the online breaking news cycle and reverted to three digital deadline-driven editions a day,” he writes. “At the time, industry insiders frowned on the move but now the paper is claiming wholesale success. The ‘editions approach’ to digital publishing is working, says the paper. Within the first year of slowing down their digital news delivery pace, pageviews on their mobile app were up 300 per cent, subscribers to the mobile app and website rose by 20 per cent, users of the app grew by 30 per cent, articles read per website visit jumped by 110 per cent, and even the paper’s print edition circulation saw increased sales of 9.5 per cent.”

They aren’t alone. Wired magazine took a break from the daily Facebook news frenzy, choosing to focus instead on a months-long investigative report, interviewing dozens of current and former FB employees.

“The result,” van Niekerk explains, “was a special cover report in Wired’s February edition this year entitled ‘Facebook’s two years of hell: inside Mark Zuckerberg’s struggle to fix it all’. The special report is a promising example of how slow journalism can be executed by a title that is better known for its daily online updates of news about platforms.”

There are even some niche magazine taking slow journalism to the extreme, like Delayed Gratification and Ernest, that are dedicated to the long, slow read.  

“Slow journalism as a movement is finding traction both within academic and industry spheres,” van Niekerk continues. “The world’s first ever slow journalism conference was held during the last week of June this year at the University of Oregon, organised by Peter Laufer, the James Wallace Chair in Journalism at the university’s Oregon School of Journalism. Laufer is the author of the 2014 book Slow News: A Manifesto for the Critical News Consumer,  which examines the nature of news in the context of the increasingly frenetic pace of modern life in the twenty-first century. The conference was attended by academics and publishers from around the globe.”

As consumers of news, we have a choice to make. We can stay glued to the sound bites and the flash-mob style of news, or we can support a more informed, in-depth printed style of reporting that focuses on credibility over speed, accuracy over deadlines, and information over attention-grabbing. 

It’s one more reason why journalism can be grateful for the current war on news media. When an industry is held to closer scrutiny, it forces all involved to raise their standards if they want to remain viable and regain reader trust.