When less journalism is more

Adam Tinworth
4 min readSep 28, 2020

There is a truth to digital age publishing that is so obvious, that I’m almost embarrassed to put finger to keyboard to type it:

In an attention-poor age, we need to be more thoughtful about what we publish. Adding to our readers’ over-saturated content diets without good reason isn’t helping them or us.

I’ve written about this many times down the years this site has existed, but for all that, people still seem vaguely surprised when a publisher or researcher reaffirms the truth of it.

A case in point: Dr Joy Jenkins’s new research into local news models, and this rather excellent quote:

Nice-Matin’s Sophie Casals said that to produce high-quality paid content, journalists need time and managerial support. As she put it, ‘Publish less, but publish better’.

Publish less, publish better

Now, to be fair here, the reason we’ve taken so long to absorb this idea was twofold:

  • More than one early digital media guru promoted the idea that we should switch from asking “why publish this?” To “why not publish this?” back in the mid-2000s. They were wrong then, and are still wrong now.
  • As ad rates fell, publishers needed more page views to deliver the same revenue — and often more content was the only obvious way they could deliver that.

However, both approaches ignore one critical idea. There are two scarce resources that you have to get into balance:

Your time is a scarce resource because it’s the defining factor which decides how much an organisation publishes. Publishing is low cost or free, so the constraining factor is either your staff’s time, or your resources to buy freelancer time.

The reader’s attention is scarce because an abundance of information and entertainment creates a poverty of attention. I wrote about this at length two years ago, and you can see similar concepts explored in this video:

The content trawlers

Photo by Fer Nando on Unsplash

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Adam Tinworth

Blogging since 2001, journalisting (which isn’t a word, but should be) since 1994, and sleep-deprived since 2012. Journalism lecturer, consultant and trainer.