Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Old media is still relevant–but whom does does it represent?

<ay and age, when social media is an increasingly important source of news and information, the cycle of published content churns swiftly and constantly. News stories can gain public awareness within seconds of posting.

That is, viral stories do. You know the kind. The shocking headline, the hackle-raising remark, the occasional video of roly-poly pandas amidst the fray. The ones that make us panic, rage, cry, and then maybe laugh before panic-rage-crying some more.

In our hyper-connected world of instantaneity, media with slow production processes like newspapers or novels seem quaint, nostalgic, even counterproductive if they cannot warn of disaster when it strikes, or deliver a soothing wave of dopamine the moment that panic takes hold.

However, I think that society needs its slow media as much as it craves fast content. By the nature of its revenue structure in an instantaneous market, news and other catered content on social media must follow a poke-the-bear philosophy.

These platforms derive their profits mostly from ad revenue, so they depend on keeping the audience’s attention while encouraging content sharing to generate more clicks for more ads. Social media news could accomplish end this by providing a steady stream of feel-good content.

But news has another purpose: to inform the public about the state of the world, and the state of the world is seldom rosy to say the least. So news outlets on social media must draw attention to new stories by relying on other strong emotional responses like anger, shock, disgust, and terror.

Users often choose either to flee to more reassuring content or to fight against the cause of these emotions by sparking discussion in comment threads. I must, of course, note that surprise tactics are in no way a unique creation of twenty-first century news, especially considering the yellow journalism of the 1800s.

Meanwhile, the conversations that arise around key issues are important because they inspire demands for needed societal change. The problem is that an immediate news cycle does not allow the time or space for nuanced and focused discussion to happen before the next story hits Facebook.

In the midst of Kylie Jenner’s pregnancy or the changes in Nutella’s recipe, important, long-term issues get lost in the fray, like the genocide of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar or the physical and psychological devastation of Puerto Rico post-Maria.

This is where slow media comes in. The lengthy production process required to prepare long-form news reviews, novels, or talk radio separates them to a certain extent from the moment-to-moment churn of the social media news cycle. These formats offer an opportunity to reflect on the barrage of content we consume each day and recognize issues that require more careful attention.

In some ways, this retrospective focus of older media formats has already claimed a place in the twenty-first century.

Consider the podcast. With their half-hour or hour-long run-times focused on topics ranging from current events to comedy, these downloadable audio series bear striking similarities to talk radio.

This is, of course, no coincidence, as many public radio stations now produce their own popular podcasts.

Many newspapers have also changed to adapt to the paperless spread of information, curating review articles on their websites in addition to breaking stories. E-books have brought a similar readership revolution for novels.

Granted, this new slow media has its own limitations, namely in its demographics. According to Edison Research’s January 2017 Podcast Consumer study, monthly podcast consumers are generally younger and more affluent than the rest of the US population, with a higher average level of education. A 2015 analysis from the Pew Research Center suggested that the same holds for readers of books. As for the producers of this retrospective content, minority authors, publishers, and journalists are underrepresented in edition houses and newsrooms, with little change since the 1970s.

Slow media’s value comes in part from its ability to facilitate broader discussion about overlooked issues. However, these conversations cannot occur effectively when the structure of retrospective media itself overlooks or oversimplifies significant portions of the population.

If retrospective media is to stay relevant in its new context, it must accommodate more audiences and more voices than those which already dominate the conversation. In order for slow media to influence how we reflect on issues in current society, slow media must in turn change to reflect current society.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *