3 reasons why media should put readers first

The customer comes first. What seems obvious for most industries seems still hard to find in the news industry. Maybe because we are still conflicted about who’s our customer – advertiser or reader/viewer.  So, for those who still need some convincing, here are 3 good reasons, from prominent thinkers, to put readers first.

  1. The reader doesn’t give a flying fuck who breaks the news, writes Felix Salmon in this excellent post. Still, news organizations decide on what to publish, based on what their reporters have seen elsewhere. Which is not helping make the world better informed. “The argument for caring about such things is that news dissemination has become increasingly fragmented and social: if you have the news first, then your story gets a headstart on Twitter and Facebook, which is how more and more people are getting their news. But frankly while a headstart is nice, it should never make the difference between publishing and not publishing. Readers come first, and all decent publications have their own readership: they shouldn’t be so meek as to assume that their readers will have invariably found the same news elsewhere, just because someone else’s version arrived a little earlier.
  2. Law of supply and demand applies to journalism, underlines Bill Keller in this Politico interview. “The law of supply and demand applies to journalism, and there is a demand for it. It’s really hard sometimes finding the connection between the supplier and the customer, and that’s what’s been so utterly disrupted in the last 10 or 20 years.” It’s kind of ironic for an industry named to be the middle.
  3.  We work in tech. A friendly reminder from Cindy Royal at Nieman Lab. Which means we have to stop thinking of the Web as a shelf to deposit content. “The ways we communicate both personally and professionally have been profoundly altered“. Social networks rule the Web, distribution trumps production, and sharing is done… by people.

When it’s time for the media to… shut up

In the aftermath of the Boston marathon bombings and the manhunt that followed, a lot of thought and critique is going to the way the news functioned during the events. I love the way James Gleick described this to Maureen Dowd, in the New York Times. Also, a series of mistakes clearly made the case for a “slow news” approach in these kind of situations – see Dan Gillmor’s take on this.

But maybe, it’s time for the media to push this even further. Going from putting the brakes on the news to complete… silence! It’s the radical yet sensible suggestion made by Mike Ananny, in a very interesting piece published by Nieman Lab. “What would it mean to create breaking news environments that thoughtfully represented the absence of reporting?“, he asks. In the age of real-time information, pushed by many different stakeholders, there may be an opportunity to look into the value of silence during breaking news events and the trust it could translate into.

Here are some excerpts of his note (further reading highly recommended) :

“The ideal press should be […] about demonstrating robust answers to two inseparable questions: Why do you need to know something now? And why do you need to say something now?”

“When news can break at any moment, when should it break?”

“We are in a unique historical moment when the press is ripe for radical redesign — when it’s possible for those creating the conditions under which the networked press operates to help us understand the meaning and value of online silence during breaking news events.”

Full text: go to Nieman Lab

Peter Laufer calls for “slow news revolution”

“It’s ok to read yesterday’s news tomorrow”, writes journalist and author Peter Laufer in a column published by the Oregonian. In it, the James Wallace chair in journalism at the University of Oregon details how our relationship to food and news are close:

We must eat in order to survive. Accurate information can be another requirement for our survival. Yet our quest for instant information has made it more difficult to find the truth and see the larger picture behind breaking events.

A realization that dawned on him with the recent mass shooting in Newtown :

When news is an important element of our societal curriculum, as in the case of the Newtown story, we should shun fragments and wait for detailed reports and thoughtful analysis once critical facts are ascertained.

Now is the time to “question the value of the perpetual fast-food-like empty-calories news that is processed to keep us addicted to it”, because some good might come out of “ruminating” more. I so agree.

This way, please, to his full column.

More on Peter Laufer.