Audience Engagement Digital Publishing
5 mins read

Why it’s time to slow down the news

While for years we’ve talked about FOMO, the fear of missing out, the newest acronym we need to know is JOMO– the joy of missing out. Today we’re looking at the growing number of people who are actively trying to disconnect and why the publishing industry should take note of this trend.

Rising number of ‘news avoiders’

With the ever increasing ways technology has made it easier to access news, it’s also been made even easier to avoid news. The recent Reuters Digital News Report highlighted an important fact: across the globe, more and more people are actively trying to avoid the news. In some countries, this change is even stronger — such as in the UK, where news avoiders grew by 11 percentage points in two years.

We need to make sure we’re keeping this in mind as we’re designing digital news, which is something The Guardian has done well.

The team at The Guardian recently cut their weekly story production by 1/3 and saw that traffic actually went up. The Times of London found something similar when they cut their Home News section by 15% and saw engagement levels rise. This can even work for revenue streams: American digital media company Dotdash took a quarter of ads off their website and made more revenue as a result.

How media companies are slowing down news

For some in the industry, the main goal in publishing is to break news, not necessarily explain it. That’s why it was a bold move back in 2016 when The Times and The Sunday Times decided to no longer chase breaking news, but instead focus on providing the in-depth analysis their readers valued most. It doesn’t mean they aren’t responding to breaking news, but instead making sure they provide the necessary context and background information as well. For example during the Westminster attacks in 2017, the team refrained from sending breaking news updates, as other British dailies did (which were sometimes misreported), and provided the clear, authoritative voice readers were searching for. This approach has worked well for them: in the first year alone, they saw massive growth with users of the paid-for mobile app up 30% and the average number of pageviews up 300%.

Some in the industry are even deciding to launch new projects, with a sole goal of slowing down the news. There’s “Delayed Gratification”, the quarterly magazine that covers stories ‘after the dust has settled‘.

There’s also the Danish digital newspaper Zetland, which on average gives readers just two stories each weekday. The team calls this the “finishable feature”, as in they gives readers a realistic chance to complete all of their daily content.

“Finishability is an important aspect of news products, and this is something readers find worth paying for.” – Lea Korsgaard, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief at Zetland

Then there’s former Times editor and BBC News director James Harding’s new venture Tortoise Media. Their motto is “Slow down, wise up”, which they further explain as they don’t put out news as it happens, but instead when it is ready. Members of this British slow-news outlet receive no more than five articles per day. For £250 a year, members get a daily digital edition via the app and email, participation in editorial conferences called “ThinkIns,” and a quarterly print magazine. Of the over 5,000 members who joined before the launch this past April, the most common reason given for joining was providing a solution for the “news has become noise” problem.

“[Tortoise] is the antidote to the endless news feed. We promise [our readers] something that fits into their lives, something they can finish, that’s quality, thoughtful and that they can be part of.” – Katie Vanneck-Smith, Tortoise Media co-founder and publisher

Supporting the broader goal of Reinventing Digital Editions

“Slow news” is nothing new, ever since the first newspaper was published in 1605, we’ve been producing slow news. It’s only recently that we’ve had the ability to deliver news as soon as it happens. We’ve been so preoccupied with if we could deliver news the minute it happens, we never stopped to think if we should.

“The power of an edition has endured at The Times for more than 230 years. Our challenge is to update this concept for the digital age: to put readers first and cut through the babble.” – John Witherow, Editor of The Times

That’s why a return to edition-based publishing is key. This doesn’t mean a revival of print but instead of all the learning and innovations from this product that was perfected over hundreds of years. Think about the painstaking attention to detail that has gone into laying out the daily edition over the years. This doesn’t have to be lost just because print is no longer the main way people get news  we can replicate this experience in digital, in a valuable way that readers find worth paying for.

At Twipe we’ve long been believers in the importance of edition-based publishing and we’re glad to see more and more industry signals of similar initiatives. Last year Apple announced it would help mobile users better track the time spent on apps, giving a clearer picture of their ‘digital health’. At the time, we posited that this new development would mean we might see more publishers turning to time-constrained editions, such as The Guardian’s LabRdr experiment which gave commuters exactly enough content to read on their way home.

“Let this overall trend be a reminder to publishers that there are real benefits to constrained user experiences. A morning email newsletter eventually ends; a podcast eventually ends; your news site and your social feeds effectively don’t.” – Joshua Benton, Nieman Lab

We’re starting to see more and more publishers realise the value their ePaper has, which is why we launched our new series “ePaper in the Spotlight” (make sure to subscribe to receive all the updates). Earlier this month we ran a short survey to see how many publishers have actually taken the time to analyse the profit their ePaper has brought. Most were pleasantly surprised, to find that a product they haven’t put too much time or resources into is actually growing and retaining their subscriber base. The publishers that already knew the importance of the ePaper have even taken it a step further and created entirely new digital editions to reach different audiences. When Ouest-France wanted to reach a new reader group in the evening or when The Economist wanted to reach their busiest readers or when Le Monde wanted to reach a younger audience, they all decided to create “digital only editions“.

by Mary-Katharine Phillips
Media innovation analyst @ Twipe

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