the latest news

the latest news

In 2007 The Associated Press hired Context, a research company, to conduct an in-depth study of young-adult news consumption around the world.

Jim Kennedy thought it would make for a "fun and entertaining" presentation at the annual meeting.

Chief among the findings was that many young consumers craved more in-depth news.

"Participants in this study showed signs of news fatigue; that is, they appeared debilitated by information overload and unsatisfying news experiences . . . . Ultimately news fatigue brought many of the participants to a learned helplessness response. The more overwhelmed or unsatisfied they were, the less effort they were willing to put in." - Context

"The information age's effect on news production and consumption has been profound. The Internet has upended the business model of advertising-supported journalism. This, in turn, has led news outlets to a ferocious focus on profitability. Over the past decade, they have cut staff, closed bureaus, and shrunk the newshole. Yet despite these reductions, the average citizen is unlikely to complain of a lack of news. Anyone with access to the Internet has thousands of free news sources at his fingertips. In a matter of seconds, we can browse The New York Times and The Guardian, Newsweek and The Economist, CNN and the BBC." - Bree Nordenson

In our supersaturated media environment news comes at us in a flood of unrelated snippets. Serendipitous exposure to political-affairs content is far less common than it used to be. Passive news consumers are less informed and less likely to become informed than ever before.

"The irony in news fatigue is that these consumers felt helpless to change their news consumption at a time when they have more control and choice than ever before. When the news wore them down, participants in the study showed a tendency to passively receive versus actively seek news."- Associated Press

Despite an enormous increase in available news and information, the American public is no better informed now than it has been during less information-rich times. This phenomenon can be partially explained by the tendency to become passive in the face of too much information. It can also be attributed to the fact that the sheer number of specialized publications, the preponderance of television channels, the wide array of entertainment options, and the personalization and customization encouraged by digital technologies have made it far easier to avoid public-affairs content.

"As choice goes up, people who are motivated to be politically informed take advantage of these choices, but people who are not move away from politics. In the 1960s, if you wanted to watch television you were going to watch news. And today you can avoid news. So choice can be a mixed blessing." - Michael X. Delli Carpini, Dean of the Annenberg School for Communication

Attention - our most precious resource - is in increasingly short supply. To win the war for our attention, news organizations must make themselves indispensable by producing journalism that helps make sense of the flood of information that inundates us all.

"If we do not focus our attention on something, we will not remember it." - Torkel Klingberg

Michael Posner explains attention as a system of three networks - alerting, orienting, and executive. Alerting refers to the state of wakefulness necessary to attend to information, while orienting is the process by which we respond to stimuli, such as movement, sound, or noise. Executive attention is the highest-order network, the one that we have conscious control over. If we are trying to study for a test or read a novel, we use it to direct and maintain our focus, as well as to suppress our reaction to competing stimuli like the din of a nearby conversation or television.

Edward Hallowell believes many of us suffer from what he calls an attention-deficit trait, a culturally induced form of attention-deficit disorder. Competing inputs (distraction) prevent us from assimilating information.

"We've been able to overload manual labor. But never before have we so routinely been able to overload brain labor. What your brain is best equipped to do is to think, to analyze, to dissect, and create. If you're simply responding to bits of stimulation, you won't ever go deep." - Edward Hallowell

"It often seems as though the sheer glut of data itself has supplanted the kind of focused, reflective attention that might make this information useful in the first place. The dysfunction of our information environment is an outgrowth of its extraordinary fecundity. Digital communications technology has demonstrated a striking capacity to subdivide our attention into smaller and smaller increments; increasingly, it seems as if the day's work has become a matter of interrupting the interruptions." - John Lorinc

In a recent report, Information Overload: We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us, the research firm Basex concluded that interruptions take up nearly 30 percent of a knowledge worker's day and end up costing American businesses $650 billion annually.

Other studies show that interruptions cause significant impairments in performance on IQ tests.

Research by Pablo Boczkowski notes that web pages specifically exploit our biological orienting responses, which evolved to respond quickly to novel stimuli (threats). The sheer number of articles, headlines, and video and audio feeds on news Web sites makes focused attention difficult. Having to decide where to direct our attention and then maintain it makes reading and retaining news online a formidable task. (I trained myself for years not to look at the advertisements in magazines and newspapers because it caused me to lose my train of thought while reading. With National Geographic I look at the images and read the captions first and do not look at the images while reading the main article. I did not realize I did this until I was editing this information!)

The dynamics of attention economy involve making the best use of the short period of time when a victim's attention has been captured to adequately convey the message. Competition for attention has created a complicated and hypercompetitive arena for news production and consumption. As the advertising landscape becomes more saturated, advertisers must work harder to get their messages to the consumer.

"Every effort to break through the clutter is just more clutter. Ultimately, if you don't have clean, plain borders and backdrops for your ads, if you don't have that blank space, that commons, that virgin territory, you have a very hard time making yourself heard. The most obvious metaphor is a room full of people, all screaming to be heard. What this really means, finally, is that advertising is asphyxiating itself." - Mark Crispin Miller

Media outlets are increasingly concerned with the "stickiness" of their content.

Douglas Rushkoff suggests advertisers basically want to "stick the eyeballs onto our content and ultimately deliver the eyeballs to our sponsors," which is a radically different mandate than making real information available. The rise of sound bites, headlines, snippets, infotainment, and celebrity gossip are all outgrowths of this attempt to grab audience attention - and advertising dollars.

"Living and working in the midst of information resources like the Internet and the World Wide Web can resemble watching a firefighter attempt to extinguish a fire with napalm," write Paul Duguid and John Seely Brown, information scientists, in The Social Life of Information.

"If your Web page is hard to understand, link to another. If a ‘help' system gets overburdened, add a ‘help on using help.' If your answer isn't here, then click on through another 1,000 pages. Problems with information? Add more."

In psychology, passivity resulting from a lack of control is referred to as "learned helplessness." Though logic would suggest that an increase in available news would give consumers more control, this is not actually the case.

"Freedom of choice eventually becomes a tyranny of choice." - Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less

"We are all now expected to complete more tasks in a smaller amount of time and while the new technologies do make it remarkably efficient and easy to search for information and to collect masses of potentially relevant sources on a huge variety of topics, they can't, in and of themselves, clear the space and time needed to absorb and to reflect on what has been collected." - David Levy

"The rhythm of the news cycle has changed so dramatically that what's really been excluded is the time that it takes to think." - Barry Schwartz

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"In a world with vastly more information than we can process, journalists are the most important processors we have." - David Shenk

"Real journalism is a kind of physician-patient relationship where you don't pander to readers. You give them some of what they want and some of what you as the doctor-journalist think they ought to have." - Bob Garfield

Chris Anderson's concept of the Long Tail means that shared public knowledge is receding, increasing the likelihood that we come in contact with beliefs that contradict our own.

"The journalist's job isn't to pay attention simply to one particular field. The job is to say, ‘Well, what are all the different fields that bear on this particular story?' They give us the breadth that none of us can have because we're all specialists in our own particular area." - Paul Duguid

"The best journalism does not merely report and deliver information, it places it in its full and proper context.

"There is an over-allocation of resources on breaking and developing news production and constant updates." - Pablo Boczkowski

The researchers who conducted the study for the AP concluded that the news fatigue they observed among young adults resulted from "an overload of basic staples in the news diet - the facts and statistical updates that tend to dominate the digital news environment.

" In other words, the news they were encountering was underprocessed. Along with supplying depth and context, another function of the modern news organization is to act as an information filter. No news outlet better embodies this aim than The Week, a magazine dedicated to determining the top news stories of the week and then synthesizing them. As the traditional newsweeklies are struggling to remain relevant and financially viable, The Week has experienced steady circulation growth over the past several years.

"The purpose of The Week is not to tell people the news but to make sense of the news for people. In this intensive information age, it's in some ways harder than ever to know what's important and what's not. And so I often say to people, ‘With The Week, you're hiring this group of really smart, well-versed people that read for you fifty hours a week and then sit down and basically give you a report on what they learned that week.' " - William Falk

"People work ten, eleven hours a day. They're very busy. There are tremendous demands on their time. There are other things competing for your leisure time—you can go online, you can watch television or a dvd. So what we do is deliver to you, in a one-hour package or less, is a smart distillation of what happened last week that you need to pay attention to." - William Falk

"We're expecting people who are not librarians, who are not knowledge engineers to do the work of knowledge engineers and librarians." - Jonathan Spira

The future of news depends on the willingness of journalistic organizations to adjust to the new attention economy of information in the digital age.

"I think in some ways, we need a better metaphor. The gatekeeping metaphor worked pretty well in the twentieth century, but maybe what news organizations should be now is not gatekeepers so much as guides. You don't want gatekeepers that can say you can get this and you can't get that. You want people who can guide you through all this stuff." -Delli Carpini

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