Slow journalism, which consists in offering only a few stories to the reader so he can understand the news and move on with his day, is coming back again to the front stage. Startups like the British Tortoise Media or new features by The New York Times are proving that readers want fewer notifications and a better grasp of the news. The question is whether their high quality, low quantity model is economically feasible. So far, it seems to work.
Information overload has long been a concern. A 2018 survey by Gallup found that 58% of Americans find it harder to be well informed given the amount of information available. Readers need to spend more time deciding what is important, what is true, what is worth reading and what is worth knowing. Twitter and Facebook publish new information every second, news sites change their homepage constantly. Whereas print editions already told the consumer what they had to read, the amount of information on the web distracts the reader. One role is lost: the curator.
Slow journalism initiatives curate information, giving the reader only the number of news pieces he can consume. Tortoise Media, which was launched in January, offers five stories a day to its members. Its premise is that we have too much information and we need someone to help us see through it. Less breaking news, more understanding what’s behind them. Right now, they have more than 6,700 members. Another example of slow journalism is Zetland, a Danish newspaper, which only sends out two stories to its readers. They want their customers to make sense of the news. Although their market is smaller, in 2017 they already had more than 8,500 subscribers. In another fashion, the most important Swedish paper Dagens Nyheter (DN) has also turned away from the click, social media and fast news towards analysis and in-depth content. And it has succeeded.
Despite the initial interest in slow journalism, the question about its profitability remains. Generally, these startups rely on four main sources of revenue: crowdfunding, subscriptions, events and, sometimes, products. More establish news outlets doing slow journalism rely on the three last ones. Tortoise Media and Zetland work with subscription models. According to the Nieman Lab, users pay $196.15 a year for Zetland and $314.82 for Tortoise. More importantly, Tortoise hosts ThinkIns, which are TEDx-like conferences to talk about topics like migration and climate change. The upside (for Tortoise) is they cost $33 for non-members. DN has taken another route. It recently started selling products to its readers. For example, DN offered train journeys through Europe, successfully.
Members trust the brand, as it helps them go about their day. Sometimes, these media outlets also ask them for advice (as with the ThinkIns,) opinions and feedback. Slow journalism brands are capitalizing the relationship with their members and turning it into profit. They want to be part of their daily lives, a friend, a community.
For that reason, slow journalism business models might succeed: its success depends on the relationship they have with their subscribers/members who pay their bills. They want to create a community around the product. If they manage to do that, it won’t be hard to monetize it. As for now, these slow journalism initiatives are cutting through the clutter of information overload and helping readers understand what they read. That, for now, is more than enough. And let’s hope they become financially viable.