Slow journalism as an answer to news inflation

May 22, 2023
Marco Boscolo
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Reversing the trend of press-release journalism, or “churnalism”, is necessary to do quality work, but it requires new models of financial sustainability and support from the readers. And it is an interesting approach especially for reporting on science topics

Being right is more important than being first. As journalists, we are constantly hunting for news, trying to reach them first and publish as soon as possible. But in the current media landscape, journalists are not only competing with other journalists. They’re not even the channel through which news pass. Not anymore, as many communications are spread using Twitter and other social media. And to keep up with the speed of information, journalists must renounce some of the principles on which they build their professionality, and that makes their work unique: verifying accurately the sources, seeking the truth, interviewing people and experts, enriching articles with facts and anecdotes. These are the foundations of slow journalism, a form of journalism that goes back to the origins, and privileges quality over quantity, and more importantly accuracy over speed. Slow journalism tries to fight the loss of quality of news articles, avoiding the now customary copy-pasting from press releases (the so-called churnalism), and focuses on emphasizing the added value of journalism over media and other communication systems in which news is widely accessible and uncontrolled. A situation that, for example, has been more visible than ever before during the Covid-19 pandemic, when there has been a deluge of mediocre science communication and information via different channels.

Slow journalism mission

In one of his speeches, Rob Orchard, a British journalist, and funder of The Slow Journalism Company said that, according to common sense, journalists should be professionals able to provide us with accurate, impartial, contextualized, and deep information. All aspects that are currently under threat.

The mission of slow journalists is to provide readers with more context, analysis, and background information. This requires in-depth reporting, investigation, and a longer-term perspective on news events. Slow journalism is the opposite of the fast-paced, 24-hour news cycle that dominates much of the mainstream media.

For this reason, one of the main difficulties of slow journalism is its financial sustainability. And strictly related to this aspect, its claim to remain independent of politics and economic trends. And this is even more so in countries where information is controlled and financed by politicians, and independent journalism is a niche. In these countries, the struggle for the survival of slow journalism is interconnected with that of investigative journalism and regards funding and revenue models, access to information, disinformation, fake news, and also threats to personal safety and legal battles. Moreover, because of the way it is conceived, slow journalism needs more resources to be carried out. 

Ways to survive

But since its birth, it has found a few ways to survive in the actual media landscape. In the last few years, some media organizations have adopted a slow journalism approach as part of their overall editorial strategy, and some journalists and writers have started their own slow journalism websites or newsletters. One way to survive is through subscription-based models. Another way is through crowdfunding or grants, where readers can contribute to specific reporting projects or support a slow journalism outlet more broadly. Ultimately, the key to sustaining slow journalism is to prioritize quality over quantity and build a dedicated audience that values in-depth reporting and analysis. By providing content that is unique, valuable, and well-researched, slow journalism can attract subscribers, sponsors, and supporters.

Audience engagement as a key strategy

These communities have become fundamental for the survival of many independent online journals which promote a slow journalism approach and investigative journalism. One example is the latest Hungarian media outlet During the pandemic, it faced a strong crisis because the advertising market favored only the media willing to align with the government line. With only the support of the readers, the editor-in-chief of the journal was able to move away from an advertising-based business model to a hybrid model where financial contributions from the readers play an increasingly important role thanks to donations, crowdfunding campaigns, and simple membership schemes. This approach is also applied to the science journalism website created by the same team, Engagement is a key strategy regardless of the topic, leading to a more easily sustainable revenue model.

But to merit donations, one must engage readers personally. The media created a strong community of readers and supporters because it allowed them to interact directly with journalists and participate in dedicated events. Or, as decided by the independent online media Slow News, another slow journalism-focused outlet that emerged in the last years in Italy, involves the readers in editorial processes, asking for the topics they would like to be covered and letting them propose investigations via detailed surveys. 

Featured image by Song Kaiyue, Pexels

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