Slow journalism could be a solution to journalistic crises

 

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Alberto Puliafito

Hardcopy, quarterly publication, Delayed Gratification claims to be “the world’s first Slow Journalism magazine” and focuses on in-depth journalism. “Instead of desperately trying to beat social media to breaking news stories,” they say, “we focus on the values we all expect from quality journalism – accuracy, depth, context, analysis, and expert opinion.”

In theory, all journalists would aspire to this approach.

But is it truly possible to run a slow journalism newspaper in a world where anyone can produce and distribute content? In a world where even machine learning models can create text and images for zero marginal cost? And what does slow journalism exactly mean?

Slow journalism was born as a reaction against the fast-media concept and lack of quality, just like the slow food movement has been a response to the growth of fast food. But with several start-ups born and grown around the world (Zetland in Denmark, De Correspondent in The Netherlands, Slow News in Italy, and so on), the slow journalism movement also became a proposal to act against the several crises journalism is facing worldwide.

Let’s summarise these crises:

  • The whole business model is broken: digital advertising is monopolised by platforms; classified ads markets have been disrupted by websites like Craigslist; digital readers’ revenue is a puzzle difficult to solve and quite different from the old distribution model; in the age of the attention economy, any piece of content virtually competes with journalistic content for a very scarce resource: time!
  • There is a lack of trust in journalism by the audiences;
  • In several countries, the digital transition is yet to come, and it isn’t easy even to redefine the role and the skills of journalists;
  • Journalists are often used as content factories;
  • Misinformation and disinformation haunt the legacy media, too.

During several years of research in the field and before founding a slow magazine myself, I shooted hours of interviews with slow journalists: they are collected in a documentary movie called Slow News. Here’s what I’ve learnt.

Less is more

Digital newspapers are full of content that is all the same. It is a cultural heritage. When a country is running elections, newspapers must have programs analysis, lists of candidates, instructions on how to vote, and so on. If there is breaking news, it seems mandatory to write about it even if we have nothing to add.

As a result, many journalists are busy doing something almost pointless: writing for their newspaper what is already everywhere out there.

Yet, in 2007, professor Jeff Jarvis theorised a concept that would help save time and resources, and help every publication stand out. Cover what you do best, link the rest. This way, each newsroom could dedicate itself to producing unique and valuable content for its audience.

Often, the overproduction of content is linked to the need to make traffic on the websites. In a business model where revenues are diversified, abandoning quantitative metrics based on clicks can be a cure-all for journalism in a world of overproduction: terrible analytics has been pointed out as a problem for journalism in 2016 by Tom Rosenstiel.

Moreover, pieces of content are assets for the newsroom. Sometimes, it’s more valuable for the audience and the journalists to update and enrich old content instead of producing a new one.

Doing less in terms of quantity of content means doing more in value.

Taking the time is caring

Being the first is a false value in contemporary journalism.

If journalists can work without pressure, taking the time the work deserves, they can focus on the essence of journalism: verification.

But unfortunately, this is not always the case.

Screenshot of Corrire della Sera Twitter post

On August 31, in Italy, some prominent newspapers published news stories about the death of a former politician, Rosa Russo Iervolino. The information was fake. Anastasia Latini, an Italian journalist, explained on Twitter how this has been possible: “Speed is essential to ensure that your article is opened (not necessarily read) by as many people as possible […] Since time is money, and the newsrooms are in a perennial lack of money, if a newspaper with a certain level of reliability publishes the news, the others will follow. […] [The case of Rosa Russo Iervolino] won’t be the last time”.

Whenever a newspaper makes such a mistake, a bit of public trust goes away.

Here’s why a slow approach can be a parachute for journalism. Verification takes time. But journalism essence is a discipline of verification, as Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel wrote in their The Elements of Journalism. Verification is the only thing that distinguishes journalism from entertainment, activism, influencers’ stories, or any other form of content production.

Taking the time means caring for the audiences, providing them with accurate facts in proper contexts, and helping them to browse the contemporary world. But it also means caring for the whole journalistic ecosystem.

Nurture the relationship with the audience

If a reporter is not busy rewriting things we already know, they can also dedicate themselves to cultivating the relationship with the public.

Conversation, answering questions, clarifying the most complex points, updating, and correcting mistakes require some specific skills, similar to journalistic ones. Moreover, when journalists devote themselves and their experience to a beat, they become part of an interested community as experts.

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Imagen de Michelle Raponi en Pixabay

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