Slow media: Why unhurried forms of communication are worth the wait

A ‘slow media’ movement is, so to speak, gathering pace.


 

Once up on a time, you could stay on top of current events without being distracted by clickbait headlines, listicles and notifications. You could keep up with the news, full stop. There wasn’t a 24-hour firehose of tweets and trolls, posts and pundits. Anything described as viral was to be avoided because… eww.

Much like the empty calories of fast food, a steady diet of ‘churnalism’ (not to mention, the poison of fake news) is leaving a lot of us feeling queazy.
“The way that news is presented and the way that we access news has changed significantly over the last 15 to 20 years,” says Graham Davey of Sussex University. “These changes have often been detrimental to general mental health.” It’s no surprise then that more than half of Americans say the news makes them feel stressed; or that, ironically, the more young people use social media, the more they report feeling socially isolated.

Dear reader, it doesn’t have to be that way. A ‘slow media’ movement is, so to speak, gathering pace. It started a while back—a reaction to the digitisation of life (e-books, iTunes, email) which made some of us crave the smell of a book, the sound of a vinyl record and the surprise of a handwritten letter in the post.

Fittingly, it took Jennifer Rauch, author of the recently published Slow Media: Why Slow is Satisfying, Sustainable and Smart, nearly a decade to get her book out. In it, she argues that the principles of the Slow Food movement—humanism, localism, simplicity, self-reliance and fairness—can be applied to the production and use of media too.

Much like the empty calories of fast food, a steady diet of ‘churnalism’ (not to mention, the poison of fake news) is leaving a lot of us feeling queazy. But a crop of media projects is sprouting up to satisfy the growing appetite for quality over quantity in the content we consume. Like other forms of ‘slow’ living, they take the time to do things properly and deliberately, offering substance and encouraging reflection.

 

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Print magazine Delayed Gratification operates under the slogan “Last to Breaking News.” Published at the end of the quarter, each issue revisits the events of the previous quarter—that is, the December issue covers July to September. By taking their time to understand the most important stories, they can explain why things happened and what happened after the press lost interest and moved on.

January sees the launch in beta of Tortoise, founded by veterans of the BBC and Wall Street Journal. On weekdays, they’ll deliver a digital edition with no more than five stories covering technology, natural resources, identity, finance and longevity (the fact we’re living so much longer). Quarterly, they’ll publish a “small book of long reads.” But what’s really noteworthy is their plan to open the newsroom to the public for live conversations and “civilised disagreement.”

Both publications steer clear of advertisers, relying instead on reader subscriptions. They’ve made a bet that if they show respect for the audience—earning their interest and not just their eyeballs—audiences will return the favour in the form of payment. And that if they show respect for their writers—giving them the time and space to do their best work—they’ll attract the best talent with the most interesting things to say.

Off the printed page, other outlets are offering islands of calm in the sea of never-ending demands for our attention. Slow TV “runs not at the warp speed of narrative drama but at the rate of actual experience,” as Nathan Heller puts it in The New Yorker.

 

slow media

 

Norway does it best. In 2009, its public-service broadcaster NRK aired Bergensbanen: minutt for minutt, a seven-hour recording of the view out the window of a train from Bergen to Oslo. After only two and a half minutes, the screen goes entirely black for four full minutes as the train makes its way through a tunnel. This happens a lot. And yet, somehow, it’s mesmerising. “Instead of drowning out its viewers’ inner lives, it seems to want to be a backdrop that can give rise to their own reflections,” explains Heller. Soon, Norwegians were tuning into twelve-hour programmes about knitting and firewood.

The Japanese show Terrace House is an antidote to the wild reality-TV drama of The Bachelor and Love Island. Six beautiful singles move into a big house to find love, but what happens next is pretty mundane. The contestants go about their normal lives, leaving the house for work, going to the grocery store, cooking dinner. The polite conversation and muted tones are a counterpoint to the shouting and neon swimsuits of other dating shows. Things happen when they happen—it took the show’s fan-favourite couple 15 episodes to come anywhere close to kissing.

 

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Recently, BBC Radio 3 launched a ‘slow radio‘ programme which controller Alan Davey calls, “a chance for quiet mindfulness.” Programming includes the sounds of Irish cattle being blessed by a priest, sunrise in the Kalahari desert and a zoo at dusk. To mark the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, the station played contemporary sounds from historic battlefields all over the world, every hour on the hour apart from the minute of silence at 11am. On Christmas Eve, listeners can tune into a three-hour walk through the Black Forest.

Speaking of holidays and special occasions, here’s a great gift list—an inventory of the many subscription-based publications Donald Trump insulted on Twitter during his presidential campaign. Give someone a subscription—maybe get a little something for yourself too—and support the kind of journalism that helps us better understand the world around us and the times we live in.

Thoughtful itself, of course, aspires to the values and craft associated with slow media. Twice a year, a group of generous contributors comes together to create and curate thought-provoking stories based on a theme, like SLOW (here are previous issues’ themes and stories). Once a month, we send a long-form letter by email with ideas for living a more considered and considerate life (you can sign up for Thoughtful Notes here).

And, if you get in touch to tell me what you like (or what could be better) about Thoughtful, I’ll reply with a handwritten postcard featuring original artwork from one of our issues’ covers. Don’t forget to include your postal address! It won’t give you the instant gratification of a DM or email notification, but it’ll be worth the wait.

 

Follow Daianna on Twitter at @daiannatweets

Image credit: Colette Sadlier