David Bouchier: Yesterday's News

Apr 9, 2018

When I was a very junior journalist the news cycle was literally a cycle – my form of transportation from one local story to another. The news was delivered as fast as it took me to finish my reporting rounds, pedal back to the office, and type it. This took time, but we had the time, and there never was much news anyway.

Nowadays the news cycle is more like a spinning tornado. Everyone seems overwhelmed and exhausted by the quantity and velocity of breaking news – most of it bad and some of it fake. Stories that, not long ago, would have filled the headlines for a week come and go in a day, to be overwhelmed by half a dozen more. Nobody can keep up with it all. My daily paper has twenty large pages, with yet more information coming from the television, the radio, and the whole hysterical world of social media. It’s too much, far too much.

The response to news overload has been to make the news much shorter – tweets, instant messages, abbreviated web page summaries, thirty-second television spots, and so on. Public Radio news is an honorable exception, of course. Even political announcements with global consequences are reduced to 140 characters, less than the length of a rude joke. This torrent of trivial and not-so-trivial news hammers at our attention all day and all night. It is impossible to actually think about any of it, any more than we can think about the individual raindrops in a thunderstorm.

How much better it would be to make the delivery of news not shorter and faster, but slower and more thoughtful. It can happen. I recently learned about a new magazine called “Delayed Gratification,” which is dedicated to the idea of slow journalism.  Their motto is: “Always the last with the news.” I’m glad somebody thought of it. Important news needs time – time for journalists to think about it and for readers to absorb it. f it.

In a more leisurely past age the news always came late, especially for travelers. Ships on long voyages might find newspapers from home at foreign ports, but the newspapers, along with any personal letters, would be months out of date. Whatever had happened had happened, so there was no point in getting excited about it. This philosophical attitude was destroyed by the invention of the electric telegraph in the 1840s. Patience vanished.  Once people could know right now they had to know right now, and now we can know everything from everywhere right now, and it hasn’t done us a bit of good. With most news, apart from things like hurricane warnings, time doesn’t matter much, or at all. I love getting the news, but I’m never in any hurry for it. I read the morning papers in the evening, or sometimes next day.

News is always new if you haven’t read or heard it before, no matter how long after the event. I have taught students who were quite amazed to learn about the American Revolution. It was as good as breaking news to them.

So I applaud the appearance of this slow news magazine, ”Delayed Gratification,” and I wish the publishers well. I haven’t actually seen it yet, because my first copy hasn’t arrived yet. But I suppose that is only to be expected.

Copyright: David Bouchier