by Wiebke Hallerberg, MSc student Corporate Communication
Slow Food, Slow Travel and now Slow Journalism…?
Carlo Petrini, the founder of the Slow Food Movement, defines the movement with 3 attributes: Good, clean and fair. The Slow Food Movement is about co-production, which includes an active reflection role of the consumer in the production process. But, can we find parallels between responsible consumption and investigative journalism, and thus develop the concept of Slow Journalism?
Like in the food industry, the quality of news journalism is also suffering due to the high demand and expectation of speed in the news. The “thirst to be first” is still the major self-understanding of journalism nowadays. Drok and Hermans (2016) describe speed as part of journalism culture by being a “social early warning system” for relevant changes in the world. Interactive mobile devices create a 24/7 news cycle process, which leads to oversimplification and stereotyping in news journalism.
In the online news context people haven’t stopped reading the news, but have stopped paying for it. This is also the first link and major problem of Investigative Journalism. There are not enough resources and time to investigate socially important and complex stories. Rob Orchard is naming this problem in his TEDX Talk in Madrid in October 2014 a “recipe of disaster” for journalism. Fast journalism can lead to news overload, cognitive dissonance and disorientation in the daily news battle.
Where does the future of journalism lie?
Megan Le Masurier (2016) is giving an interesting introduction to a new research design in the context of Slow Journalism. In this case Slow Journalism is dedicated to explore other perspectives, to listen and to embrace an ethic of care. Along the same lines, Matthew Ricketson (2015) is talking about journalism as a “corpus” instead of a set of isolated immediate stories. For example, let’s take the disappearance of Malaysian Airline flight MH370 on the 8th of March 2014. In this case, fast news journalism as we know it gave us 3 to 4 days of blanket coverage in real time and no facts about the crash. After this time period, the news agenda moved on to different topics and the story was largely forgotten. The same happened to the coalmine explosion on the 13th of May in 2014, where more than 300 men died. This event is still not fully investigated. “Being first has been much more important than being right” (Rob Orchard, TEDX Talk Madrid, 2014).
These are the moments, where Slow Journalism can show a different approach to reporting. A good example is “de Correspondent”, a Dutch news website founded in 2013 by Rob Wijnberg, ejecting the daily news cycle and focusing on in-depth coverage. Slow Journalism at the heart of their concept (also explained in their mission statement). A second example is “Delayed Gratification”, the first magazine only dedicated to Slow Journalism printed quarterly and revisiting events happening the previous three months. These projects try to counteract a “schizophrenia among journalists” regarding the pressure of conducting investigations on the one hand and writing quick stories on the other hand. It can be seen as a liberation of the so-called “McJournalism”.
But do we have the audience for this kind of journalism, which requires an active and financial supporting reader? Drok et al. (2016) offer a beginning with their research of young Dutch news consumers. Their results show that one out of three younger users are interested in Slow Journalism, namely in-depth stories with context, greater variety of sources and perspectives, and opportunities for more public collaboration. However young users still also seek quick, mobile and free news. In this case the research shows a first starting point but does not say much about the important question of possible financial support for Slow Journalism.
A call for action
Slow journalism might be particularly relevant for a sub-genre of journalism, namely investigative journalism. Investigative journalism is defined by de Burgh (2000) as a “profession to discover the truth and to identify lapses from it in whatever media may be available”, it is about “critical and in-depth journalism” (http://www.vvoj.nl/about-vvoj/). One can see that the academic approach of the term “Slow Journalism” builds on exactly this idea, but goes one step further in understanding their audience as an active part in the production and consumption process.
What is more investigative or slow journalism assumes that news consumers simply want more. Maxwell and Miller (2012) introduced the term “green media citizen”, which encourages the media consumer to follow an ethical and critical consumption of not just text but also media organizations and technology. Following this idea, new forms of Investigative Journalism could try to include its audience in an interactive way in order to gain popularity. Journalist and editor of Delayed Gratification Magazine Rob Orchard highlights this audience in the context of Slow Journalism:
“Some people will have an appetite for a different sort of journalism. A journalism, which values journalists. Which puts them at the heart of stories. Which gives them the time to do what they do best. Which follows up on stories after everyone has moved on. Which brings you stories that you didn’t know you wanted to read, but nonetheless changed your worldview. And a journalism, which most important of all, isn’t trying to be Twitter, because it knows that being right, is much more important than being first. We call it Slow Journalism” (Rob Orchard, TEDX Talk Madrid, 2014).
When looking at the words of Rob Orchard and watching his talk it becomes more obvious that Investigative Journalism is perhaps only a part of Slow Journalism. In this case Slow Journalism is a movement that can motivate, address and appeal to a broader audience by presenting ideals and directions, which are easy to understand and to support in daily life and news consumption by offering alternatives to fast journalism like Delayed Gratification.
In sum, I would suggest to include the broader idea and characteristics of Slow Journalism into our understanding of Investigative Journalism and to define investigative reporting as finding, reporting and presenting news in a slow and ethical manner by giving the journalists the time and resources they need to follow a complex story and interact with public collaboration to present the truth to a critical and co-productive audience when the news agenda has already moved on.
Using this new definition might help to foster and promote the understanding of the importance of Investigative Journalism for society.
Drok, N., & Hermans, L. (2016). Is there a future for slow journalism? Journalism Practice, 10(4), 539-554.
Le Masurier, M. (2016). Slow Journalism. Journalism Practice, 10(4), 439-447.
Maxwell, R., & Miller, Toby. (2012). Greening the media /. New York: Oxford University Press.
Ricketson, M. (2016). When slow news is good news. Journalism Practice, 10(4), 507-520.
Rob Orchard’s TEDX Talk about Slow Journalism: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UGtFXtnWME4