by Marc Schmitt
Whilst some continue to snack on whatever is still available, others are now looking for ways to sit down at the table, take their time and invite those they are writing about to join them. The slow movement, typically associated with food, has come to journalism.
Adding insult to inquiry
Breaking news has always been difficult to cover. Confusing and conflicting information can make it tricky to piece a story together. Now however, the challenge has never been bigger. In a digital world of 24-hour news, journalists often have just seconds to react to the latest updates circulating on the net. A lone tweet can quickly generate tens of thousands of shares, giving it a certain level of credibility. As a result, inaccurate sources and false reporting are becoming common. Early coverage of the Boston bombings for example saw CNN wrongly state that a suspect had been arrested, while the New York Post published a photo of possible suspects. They were innocent. In order to reverse current trends, a return to more immersive and investigative journalism is required, and this is exactly what many readers and writers are looking for.
Putting the brake on the accelerator
Although not a new idea, “slow journalism” has started to take on a new form of urgency. Aiming to extend deadlines and turn a blind eye to trending hashtags, some well-known reporters are making a shift to this form of writing. Journalist Andrew Sullivan for example announced in 2015 that he planned to stop his daily news blog that had been in existence for 15 years: “I am saturated in digital life and I want to return to the actual world again,” he told his readers.
In 2011, Rob Orchard and Marcus Webb launched a self-styled “Slow Journalism magazine” called Delayed Gratification. It is arguably one of the most successful projects of this genre. Issued four times a year, the highly-stylized magazine covers stories that have hit the front pages in the months ahead of print. Waiting for the other news crews to leave, the magazine reports on what happened next. They return to the scene to uncover a different and more-detailed side to a headline. For example, a recent story investigated the Soma mine disaster, that resulted in 301 deaths in 2014. Returning to the town in Turkey, journalists reported on a community that feels abandoned by their government following the disaster.
A niche segment?
A key question regarding slow journalism is commercial viability. As these alternative models tend to avoid advertising, they need to find other ways to survive. It seems one answer lies in the supporters and readers of this form of journalism. Subscription and membership are both important sources of income. According to Digiday, half of Delayed Gratification’s revenue comes from its subscription and the rest from events and one-off newsstand sales. The magazine is presented in a high-quality format that people want to keep, with design being a strong selling point.
Research conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2015 showed that funding platform Kickstarter is also a growing source of capital for journalists. From 2009 to 2015, the amount of money raised by crowdfunding increased from $49K to 1.7million K. Interestingly it seems that individually produced projects receive most funding:
In 2013, journalism platform De Correspondent based in Amsterdam raised over a million euros in just eight days through a crowdfunding campaign. They are now funded by 40,000 members. It is important to note here however that many slow journalism projects have failed. Some projects, despite gaining initial support, have subsequently not managed to maintain it.
Conclusion: Slow journalism is a return to reporting that can take days and months, rather than hours and minutes. Many reporters are turning to it as a reaction to current trends. Crowdfunding is affective for launching projects, but only the first step in creating a sustainable project. Whilst presenting the content in high-quality format is important for marketing, other forms of media need to be used alongside it to maintain an online audience and following.