Slow News

July 31st, 2011

Last weekend everywhere I went people wanted to talk about the tragedy in Norway. I didn’t know much about it, just the bones of the story, but I found, as I always do, our fascination with it, perverse, and a bit grotesque.

I liked to think that in the best possible world, broadcasting the blow by blow coverage of distant tragedy connects us all with our shared humanity. But mostly it just seems ghoulish, and to borrow an old slogan, it’s like voting — it just encourages the bastards.

What I really want is someone doing in-depth, well researched and written coverage of news events 1-4 weeks after the event. When all the details are known, and sifted, and analyzed.

Not all stories lend themselves to this. That our government is derelict in its duty and will be defaulting this week isn’t a story that can wait weeks. But even a few days to pull together a decent body of reporting/facts/graphs/analysis rather than rehashed he-said-she-said-chest-beating-editorial would be nice.

Thinking a Kickstarter-esque funding model would work really well — pledge your interest in an ongoing story in real time giving the news organization a heads up that they should be paying attention and starting to research, if enough folks show interest, the story gets written. Won’t cover all types of reporting, but it certainly would be a hell of lot better then 90% of what we’ve got. (and give me a page where I can advertise my interests as a dodge to having to talk about the ridiculous pop news hype cycle, “Yeah, I’ve pledged to read about that in another 2 weeks, check out my Slow News page, let’s discuss it in depth, then, shall we?”)

Also Greg Knauss wants something similar, while Jessamyn is interested in “same time last year” coverage.

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11 responses to “Slow News”

  1. Luis says:

    +1. I’ve been pondering for the past little while putting together a wiki for political anti-news: sort of backgrounders that would actively avoid horse races and fake balance in favor of more substantive, in-depth, long-term perspective discussion of issues. Lots of other news areas could use this, of course, but political news coverage is particularly bad in this area.

  2. Rafe says:

    This is the sort of thing the New Yorker does really well.

  3. rabble says:

    I’ve found that the in terms of disasters / terrorism / big news events, that wikipedia does a decent job of giving a summary of what happened. They don’t try and fit it in to a news paper story style format, and instead just do an overview piece.

    Did you know there are only 4000 editors of wikipedia that have more than a couple edits a year? For all the discussion about everybody editing, and it being crowdsourced, it’s really just a small cadre of insiders.

  4. Kellan says:

    Rafe you’re with the a large crew who said essentially the same thing, “The New Yorker does this for me”.

    Now I need to figure out why the New Yorker doesn’t work me.

  5. Paul Mison says:

    Until I unsubscribed when I moved, The Economist did a reasonable job of this. It doesn’t always have the distance you’re asking for, but it does make a certain effort to report background as well as developments. It might be worth a try (but beware of its implicit politics).

    You could also have a look at things like the Guardian Weekly, although I think that’s just repurposed daily news, more slowly.

    I’m pretty sure Phil Gyford has requested something similar, but now I can’t find exactly this suggestion in his archives; the closest is this post.

  6. Rod says:

    Yeah, for me this is The Economist, with the added bonus that for some reason, their iPad app still thinks I’m a subscriber, so I get it for free.

  7. Steve says:

    Funny, my circle has been talking about how news on the web is not working out well, and I’ve been thinking the same thin — a click just rewards them. A friend suggested and I’ve been experimenting with the Economist. Weekly seems to be the right interval. The Economist may be center right, especially on financial matters, but the clean British reporting is a pleasure to read and you have to take into account the bias with any periodical. There’s a nice “leaders” section to give to the highlights of the week, then you can decide what articles you want to read. It has a very good ipad version, which you get for free if you sign up for print.

  8. Phil Gyford says:

    “I’m pretty sure Phil Gyford has requested something similar…”

    Me too, but I don’t know if I requested it anywhere that’s in writing. Anyway, yes, it would be useful.

    I think at the moment, though this kind of thing does exist, it’s simply that it’s not in a single place.

    Aside from the previous mentions of the New Yorker and the Economist, I’d suggest the few current affairs articles in the London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books. Both do a good job of covering a particular topic in reasonable depth, are well written, and usually manage to explain things clearly without insulting the audience. Because they’re fortnightly they don’t try to be too up-to-the-minute and are more reflective. They also tend to lean more toward the left than the Economist does. On the other hand, you wouldn’t want them to be your only source of news, as their coverage is far from even (usually biased towards the economy, national politics and the Middle East).

    Maybe it’s simply that you need a blog/whatever that picks out the really good post-event analysis articles, rather than something that starts writing them from scratch?

  9. It’s all about the business model. If your business depends on fixing people’s eyeballs to the screen, sensationalism happens. Also, TV is a high cost medium that is great at hypnotizing people (at worst) or increasing empathy (at best), but always lousy at disseminating information.

    So I think you are right to start with a funding model. Maybe it should be Kickstarter-esque or Flattr-esuqe where you have to make a conscious choice to request more depth. Would anyone consciously ask for more interviews with grieving mothers? But I bet a lot of people would ask for more background on the debt ceiling thing. Maybe they’d even be more invested in ultimately reading what gets produced.

    It might only be the college-educated elites who actually participate in such a system, but so what? At least it would get done.

  10. Kellan says:

    You’re all lovely, btw there is another group of lovely folks having a similar conversation over here if you’re interested:

  11. Geoff says:

    I was trying to formulate an idea in this vein. I particularly like your twist on crowdsourcing the funding to help discover the important stories and generate some revenue.