Slowly does it
In the first in our series of interviews on the benefits of slowing down we speak to our editorial director Rob Orchard about the way we consume news
This is the first in a series of Q&As about the benefits of slowing down.
Was mindfulness part of the reason you started Delayed Gratification, the Slow Journalism magazine?
Rob Orchard: I’m not sure anyone was using the word ‘mindfulness’ 12 years ago, but the idea of maintaining focus and taking a screen break was certainly on our minds.
Our main focus was an editorial one, slowing down the news cycle so we could promote editorial values we believed were being undermined by the online media landscape such as depth, detail and accuracy. We also loved the concept of returning to big stories and picking up the pieces after the dust had settled so we could tell our readers about the medium- and long-term impact of news events. But all of this was underpinned by a feeling that the increasingly fast news cycle was making everyone feel exhausted. We wanted to live and work in a slightly less manic world.
You began work on Delayed Gratification in 2010. That felt like a far less frantic time than 2023…
It was way less frantic! But we already felt that trying to keep up with the accelerating news cycle was leaving us frazzled. Perhaps it’s because we grew up at a time when you would typically get the news twice a day – in the morning from a newspaper and in the evening on TV – and that’s what we were used to. That now sounds very quaint.
By 2010 Twitter and Facebook were beginning to transform the way news stories were being reported, consumed and debated. We could see the quality of news deteriorating in the competition for clicks and we started seeing more disinformation and fake news. Social media wasn’t anywhere near as vicious as it is today but the echo chambers were beginning to form. We were quite new to smartphones and they buzzed day and night with news alerts. It was tiring trying to keep up with it all, and because more often than not the news is bleak and depressing, it was all a bit dismal.
Is Slow Journalism a viable alternative to the 21st-century fast news cycle?
We’re not delusional – we don’t expect anybody to get all of their news from magazines that come out four times a year. If a pandemic begins or a prime minister falls you need to know about it pretty swiftly. The internet and social media aren’t going anywhere, there’s no turning back the clock. And we’re news junkies ourselves, everyone on our team checks in with the news a few times a day. But I think it’s really beneficial to be thoughtful about how and how often we consume news, and we believe that Delayed Gratification and other Slow Journalism publications can contribute to a healthy and balanced news diet.
Aside from reading DG, how can people be more thoughtful news consumers?
I’ve found it helpful to switch off breaking news notifications on my phone and I try to limit the time I spend on social media. We’ve been conditioned to think that we need to know about something happening as soon as possible, but in most cases it won’t hurt us to miss the breaking news alert. We can catch up later. All the major news sites now run live news blogs, which are there to keep us on their websites, clicking and refreshing away, but few of us really need to know what’s happening in real time. Simply in terms of staying focused and productive it’s sensible to limit our news consumption to a few times a day; it’s also just unhealthy to constantly be reminded about all the horrible things going on in the world.
In forthcoming interviews in this series we’ll speak to people about the importance of living in the present, doing one thing at a time and avoiding unnecessary distractions. Is that also important to you?
It really is. It’s not just about managing how and when we consume our news, it’s about how we increase the quality of that news consumption. We live in a world that’s full of distractions – websites, apps, advertisers, social media sites etc, all competing for our attention – and the tendency is for our eyeballs to scan the headlines and then move on to the next thing. By putting aside set periods each day to dedicate to news, it’s easier to fully engage with what we’re reading, and so many of these news stories deserve our full attention.
In Delayed Gratification we publish articles that might take 30 or 45 minutes to read. We can’t force our readers to put their smartphones to one side, but we certainly believe that being fully present and reading these long form pieces without distraction is the best way to enjoy them. And the screen break that the print version of Delayed Gratification gives is delightful – you get to curl up with a beautifully-designed, advertising-free, independent publication that’s not trying to sell you anything, just to leave you feeling inspired, informed and thoroughly entertained. That’s worth something in today’s overwhelming world.
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