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Of Slow Food and Newspapers

I am more convinced now that large general-interest publications are suffering in part because they primarily serve as intricate menus, unintentionally replicating what the Web already does and therefore not distinguishing themselves. So even though we know it is The New York Times or CNN, the prestige and integrity of the publication is severely diminished when what we are looking at is in effect a multitude of possibilities.

Rather than tell us explicitly what the publication’s staff thinks is going on in the world, pointing out the key events and insights we should know about in a timely way (as does a traditional newspaper front page or the old-fashioned evening television broadcast), we are given many choices without a sufficient prioritizing and blending. We are not treated as readers in a community where most read similar articles, but individual consumers free to browse as we please.

There is no end to an online New York Times with all its lists of stories, potential links, sections, etc. There is nothing that says: Read this, and you will be sufficiently informed. The rest, while interesting, is commentary - and you are free to peruse it as well. Abe Rosenthal, who was executive editor of The New York Times when I worked there, confessed to a secret glee while reading the Saturday edition. Without all of the additional special-interest sections (Living, Magazine, Science, Book Review, etc.) that a reader would have to plow through during the week and on Sunday (many of them created to attract advertisers), the newspaper could be read in a relatively modest amount of time. The reader then could go away satisfied, feeling like a good citizen, not overwhelmed and guilty if he or she had skipped huge swaths of material.

The difference between a current online mainstream newspaper and a good print publication is increasingly the difference between a fast food restaurant and one that is family-run. In the former there may be dozens or even hundreds of choices of items to eat, but few are particularly inviting and nothing stands out. A quality print newspaper or evening broadcast, like a family-owned restaurant, will let the customer know what is fresh, what is special, and what goes together. Somehow the slow-food movement and the desire to preserve old-style staff-driven content-oriented newspapers (whether online or in print) have much in common.

6 Comments

  1. Traff wrote:

    Completely agree. Newspapers have completely missed the point (again) and it is the consumer who suffers. Even Huffington is now a difficult-to-read, unedited mess that overwhelms rather than informs. Great post!

    Friday, April 24, 2009 at 4:38 pm | Permalink
  2. Giovanni DB wrote:

    I guess that’s why Blogs have success. Because they do the job of choosing what is interesting and what is not on a particular subject. Internet news editing.

    Monday, April 27, 2009 at 4:53 am | Permalink
  3. Giovanni DB wrote:

    I personally like how the Guardian uses the net. Like their interactive view of the spreading of the Swine Flu :
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/interactive/2009/apr/26/swine-flu-outbreak-mexico-pandemic

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 4:24 am | Permalink
  4. fredritchin wrote:

    Strikes me that a “slow food” restaurant has a great deal of confidence in their food, their ambience, and their ability to keep customers happy for long periods of time. Fast food restaurants have uncomfortable seats, bad lighting, and mediocre food, confident only in their ability to get customers in and out quickly. Is the latter what we want from our web-based newspapers?

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 8:45 pm | Permalink
  5. Giovanni DB wrote:

    I think the question is : Did newspapers and magazines ever gave us what WE wanted? It is not that the cause of their crisis? that with internet we realized that they showed us what THEY (or advertisers) wanted?

    Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 5:15 am | Permalink
  6. fredritchin wrote:

    Or maybe we trusted them to know more about the world than we do, to tell us what they think we needed to know. And then we discovered their biases, their self-interest, their superficiality and need to please advertisers, and we no longer trusted them. Can they, and we, rebuild that trust? Can they be replaced? Neither question has a simple answer.

    Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 8:45 am | Permalink

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