Conquering calm

“Following one of the most intense years of news coverage in recent memory, mixed with the ongoing tectonic shocks of technology, more news consumers will likely tire of the machine-gun salvo of incremental factoids wrapped in large-font breathlessness.”

At a recent business dinner, one executive did something unexpected: He pulled out a Nokia phone that looked like it belonged in the late 1990s. He explained that he had adopted the “dumb phone” to fight information overload from his now-discarded smartphone, which until recently had barraged him with alerts, headlines, emails, social media, and everything else we see every day. His reasoning: He now had fewer distractions and more time to think.

It’s an understandable move. And it may be a harbinger of what’s ahead for at least some media. As the twin torrents of technology and a changing world order work their way through our lives, information consumption has skyrocketed. Challenges to the global status quo have prompted news media to get on top of its game — producing some of the strongest reporting we’ve seen from some quarters. But it has also lowered the threshold for what’s considered news. Screaming headlines flash on our phones and TV screens blare non-stop headlines, which competing news outlets in turn debunk just as rapidly.

We’ve arrived at a pivot point in our history, and with that come the dueling cravings to be current on events while truly understanding their significance. The first is easier to achieve: One can passively sit back and absorb news by reflexively checking one’s phone screen, for example. The second — obtaining true understanding — is trickier: Where can one turn not for the latest, but for the most meaningful answers?

Following one of the most intense years of news coverage in recent memory, mixed with the ongoing tectonic shocks of technology, more news consumers will likely tire of the machine-gun salvo of incremental factoids wrapped in large-font breathlessness. Readers are more likely to crave calm distillation of meaningful themes and trends. That marks an opportunity for at least a few news organizations: to focus limited resources on thoughtful summary and analysis rather than the increasingly risky push to achieve the elusive goal of being first for all developments at any cost.

Some news outlets are already moving in that direction — by way of personable, thoughtful newsletters with a finite number of items, for example, or by being more selective when issuing news alerts. Undoubtably, more will follow with new and creative attempts to conquer calm in the coming year. While at least a few more people will follow the dumb-phone executive and some may even dump smart phones, many more will turn to news outlets that provide crisp, intelligent, analytic briefings and considerate distillations.

is publisher and executive vice president of the Dow Jones Media Group.

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