Personalized, short, and sweet. This is the way we tend to consume news: in the fastest, purest, and most personalized way possible. Almost everyone seems to have demanding day-to-day commitments and next to no free time, and the way in which news is consumed has had to transform in order to keep up. Most people are aware of the “print is dead” phenomenon and the increasing takeover of online-based platforms. The New York Times currently has the most readers in the history of its existence largely due to its base of over more than one million online subscribers. But I’m talking about the next step—taking these already condensed versions of print media and truncating them even further. Companies have accommodated their content to the average user’s shorter attention span, which I think is incredibly useful in many ways. At other times, it’s a disheartening reminder that readers’ tolerance for anything lacking brevity is decreasing, causing many to miss out on longer, quality forms of reporting.
One of the biggest adaptations that a lot of news companies have made is offering no frills, straight-to-the-point news stories for their users. Outlets like “the Skimm” are well established in this sector of consolidated new stories. But other, more established groups have rolled out their own solutions as well such as New York Times Now. Editors constantly add and delete content available to users so that they are continuously being exposed to a few stories that are centric to their preselected interests. This model is all about curating news for the user’s interests and their limited time with daily news compilations. A morning cup of coffee for most is now accompanied by reading the personalized news that was just sent to their iPhone.
I personally use NYT Now fairly often, and I find it a useful, smart, and well-designed app. But while it is wonderful to have my stories sent to me each day, there is a danger in becoming conditioned to receiving the same type of content every morning. Such habituation could limit what readers consider to be good reporting, journalism, and general storytelling at the exclusion of other important and high quality content. I’ve found some of my favorite news stories by accident while just perusing the paper. One might discover something they never knew about while glancing through the Business section of their local paper, which they do not usually even look at. On the flip side of Now, the New York Times has also released Insider, another subscription service which gives access to behind the scenes interviews and extra articles. I believe that the Insider is an excellent angle for the New York Times to offer, as most people in the industry are moving towards the shortened news format. With the release of Insider, which encourages a more involved experience, the New York Times is now offering content related to both sides of this argument. Again, while I find that these condensed news apps are useful in some ways, incorporating a full, traditional news experience into one’s reading repertoire should be equally important.
And perhaps my pessimism can be ameliorated by the example set forth by the New Yorker. The brand’s relaunch a couple years back incorporated a rise in price, the introduction of a paywall, and online bundles with the same flat rates across the board. The company was prepared to face major losses in revenue and readership, but the exact opposite occurred once these changes were put into play. Demand for the New Yorker began to follow a counterintuitive demand curve, where increasing the price of the magazine actually resulted in a spike in subscriptions across all platforms. And the biggest portion of the new readership, surprisingly, has been young, college-aged students. Such data points to a counterargument, that the rich, creative, and investigative writing in the New Yorker is perhaps the critical point in maintaining long, traditional journalistic forms. The magazine, however, does offer a daily highlights-style newsletter. But this letter isn’t a substitute for the magazine—it’s designed as a gateway to reading the entire magazine. This bait is the crucial difference between the New Yorker and an entity like the New York Times: both offer shorter mediums to experience the brand, but the quality, once-a-week writing of the New Yorker encourages readers to delve past what is sent to their phones and experience all of their literary offerings.
I think that when participating in this phenomenon of person-centric, faster media, it is important to remember that it is a tool to enhance one’s consumption of media. Being quickly supplied with pieces that cater to our interests is certainly beneficial in remaining informed and aware of major news events. But at the same time, I recommend actively trying to read the full paper regularly. Experiencing these stories in their original, full formats reminds readers of all the types of news and media one can expose themselves to. Breadth is something that these new mediums still seem to fall short on, as they can tend to habituate users into reading within their familiar interests and nothing further.