When News Was More Than a Sentence or Two

Neveroffline“I’ve spent the past few weeks with a town crier attached to my wrist,” writes Joshua Benton in Nieman Reports, describing his recent experience wearing an Apple watch.

He tells of the constant “thumps and buzzes” that seek to grab his attention throughout the day, and wonders where this will all lead.

“The arrival of any new class of devices leads the journalism-inclined to ask: What does it mean for news? And today, at least, the answer is: not much,” Benton writes.

“Only a small share of news consumers will have a smartwatch in the immediate future. The first class of news apps, from all the usual big players, are annoying to launch, clumsy to navigate, and shallow in content… Reading anything more than a glance on your wrist is surprisingly tiresome; a headline and a sentence are probably all you’ll stand for before just whipping out your phone.”

What they are good at, he notices, is getting your attention. And this means that news organizations—if they mean to play along—must get a whole lot better at understanding their users’ habits and preferences. You know, the kind of information that Facebook and other social feeds seems to have a good lock on.

“So what’s standing between today and this sort of smartwatch future? There are boring technical answers: faster processors, better networks. But the real hurdle is intelligence,” Benton insists.

“Personalization. Data. Making those judgments — what you’re interested in and in what context — will require huge amounts of user data. These devices will be personalized in every other important way — your messages, your fitness, your heartbeat — and it’s unlikely smartwatch users will stand for a one-size-fits-all package of news,” he continues.

And while news organizations struggle to become masters of headline-based story-telling designed around specific consumer preferences, we wonder where this leaves the future of long-form journalism. Surely we can’t expect to feel truly informed by the digital master on our wrist and its endless stream of yips. At some point we must feel the need to go deeper, connect with more focus, and understand both sides of an inside.

For that, maybe my watch will tell me it’s time to pick up a magazine.