Saving the news

Uh-oh. It looks like we’ve finally done it; we’ve given people too much news and information.

In an article for the Columbia Journalism Review, author Bree Nordensen writes about frustrated news consumers who have so much data coming at them every day, that many simply choose to ignore it all. She cites research commissioned by the Associated Press that found people suffering from “news fatigue.” With so much information available from so many sources, these news consumers feel helpless and unable to process it all. In reaction, the study found, they stopped trying to stay informed.

Another study by Northwestern University’s Media Management Center found young people avoiding online news of the 2008 election “because they feel too much information is coming at them all at once and too many different things are competing for their attention.”

The study participants said they wanted news organizations to display less content in order to highlight the essential information. “Young people want the site design to signal to them what’s really important . . . instead of being confronted by a bewildering array of choices,” write the researchers in their final report, From “Too Much” to “Just Right”: Engaging Millennials in Election News on the Web.

So, what’s the solution? Nordensen offers this advice:

The greatest hope for a healthy news media rests as much on their ability to filter and interpret information as it does on their ability to gather and disseminate it. If they make snippets and sound bites the priority, they will fail. 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.

This article is a great read for anyone involved in journalism today. The article goes on to offer strategies and solutions to help newsrooms begin to save themselves, something too often missing from this kind of reporting. Ironically, a downside to the article, as is referenced in several of the comments, is that it’s probably too long for some readers. I guess victims of information overload are everywhere.