Ethan Zuckerman reflects on recent research from the AP on the patterns of news consumption - or at least the news as consumed by several people who are the subject of an ethnographic study done on behalf of the AP. Ethan:
News consumers in the US get lots of facts, quickly updated anddelivered through a variety of media. But they get very little backstory to help contextualize the facts delivered, and rarely get follow-up stories, or speculations about the future. All that seems true to me, but it’s hard for me to extrapolate that from the 18 interviews the researchers performed. The AP report makes it clear that this is the magic of ethnography - the invisible roots below the visible tree of interviews. To me, it sounds like a couple of smart anthropologists cogitating about the state of global journalism and offering a (potentially correct) diagnosis.
The concern is this - if there’s a deep desire for depth going unmet by contemporary journalism, a need to have stories followed through their resolution and explored as to their future implications, that’s a highly solveable problem. There are lots of journalists - most of them, I’d posit - who’d like to explain stories in more depth to readers. I’m having a hard time resolving the study’s evidence of people 'snacking' on news with a profound desire for depth.
I don't know if journalists will ever get paid to deliver the news in the kind of depth they would like.
But as mentioned by the study and by Ethan, if the stated aim of the AP study is to find out how disaggregated news is consumed by young people today, it could do a lot worse than looking to the Onion or - gasp! - cable television. Snacks don't have to be less filling. Perhaps that's why Jon Stewart is regarded, alongside the major news anchors, as one of the most trusted news men in America.