- Mindless “time spent” optimization isn’t just a technology problem. Journalism has a problem, too.
- Some journalism companies fill audiences’ screens and feeds with cynical partisanship, outrage porn, de-contextualized reporting, cheap punditry, and even fake news.
- Our challenge – and opportunity – at Insider Inc. is to do better.
Dear readers: I just sent this note to our editorial team, and I thought you might want to see it too.
Team! Last week, I went to the big tech and gadget convention in Las Vegas called CES. I got an excellent tour of the show from Business Insider deputy executive editor Cadie Thompson. The most fascinating thing Cadie showed me were the self-driving cars – their interiors, actually. They looked like little living rooms – places to sit and stare at your phone or watch a show on a huge screen built into the dashboard. It made me realise we’re only going to get even more screen time. If not because of self-driving cars, then because of the rise of 5G and increased connectivity. If not because of 5G, then because of the increasingly thinner, bigger, more flexible TV screens built into walls and glass everywhere you look.Nielsen says US adults already spend 11 hours a day consuming media. Is giving even more of our time to “content” a good thing? For a few years, an ex-Googler named Tristan Harris has been leading a cause against technology companies that optimise their products toward driving user “time spent,” rather than “time well spent.” He’s pointed out that some technology companies have actually studied the problem of addiction, and reverse-engineered it to make people chase a feeling they will forget as soon as they put down their phones. But mindless “time spent” optimization isn’t just a technology problem. Journalism has a problem, too. Thanks to the screens in front of our faces 11 hours every day, the demand for true storytelling and journalism is up. But, perhaps due to challenging economics, the supply of journalism to fill those hours is weak – diluted or even dangerous. Some journalism companies fill audiences’ screens and feeds with cynical partisanship, outrage porn, de-contextualized reporting, cheap punditry, and even fake news. This is bad for readers and viewers, but it’s also bad for journalists. Stuck making this stuff, they end up viewing themselves as just #content creators and not the informing, inspiring storytellers they ought to be. Our challenge – and opportunity – is to do better. We often talk about how the mission for this company is sustainable journalism at scale in the 21st century. But sustaining is a means to an end. We must be here to do something. So, what are we here for? At Insider Inc., we’re here to tell great stories that make people feel that time spent with us is time well spent. This is core to who we are, even if we aren’t always perfect on this score. It drives the depth of our reporting and the fairness of our analysis. Time well spent goes up when time is treated with respect, and we respect our audience’s time. Our audience can see that in our time-saving bullet points at the top of every story, and in our our emphasis on easy-to-consume visual storytelling. Our audience knows we are willing to go long – but only when the story calls for it. They can see it in our story selection: We tell them what they want to know and what they need to know. Yet even as proud as I am of these habits, we can do better. In 2019, my goals – and leadership’s goals – reflect this. We are tasked with elevating Insider Inc.’s storytelling and journalism. That means more breakout stories – investigations, features, and documentaries in video, text, photo, and audio. That means creating video series that people come back to again and again, because they feel we respect the time they gave us. That means making our sites and our social accounts the go-to places for people who want to follow the ongoing stories that matter to them or delight them most. Let’s do all this while continuing to avoid the dangerous and dilutive tactics on the rise elsewhere. Let’s do it by staying true to the acronym we use to define our voice and style – SCHAFFFF: smart, conversational, helpful, accurate, fast, fair, fearless, and fun. Let’s tell great stories. Let’s leave people with something when they put down their phones.
Global Editor-in-Chief, Insider Inc.
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