There are two speeds that matter in content circa 2014: the considered, curated and carefully cultivated film, video, TV show or article, to be published on a date certain dictated by external forces—print runs, advertisers needs and big events, and then there’s ‘Feeding The Beast’, the quick hit, the news cycle driven content of the moment.
The Beast is as hungry as the implicit promise made to the consumer of the content based on the brand. If you are Headline News, you have 24 hours of content a day to fill, some of it timely. That’s the beast—maybe 8 hours of must-go-on-air-today content.
• Buzzfeed needs 10 or so 25-cats-who-look-like-Hitler-if-Hitler-looked-like-a-cat stolen from reddit listicles every day, because Pepsi is paying for that stuff and they, along with the consumer, need CONSTANT refreshment.
• Huff Post needs to aggregate write 100s of pieces of content a day. Those SEO terms aren’t going to win themselves!
• CNN requires a new segment all day every day. Being a 24 hour news network is eponymous!
• CNBC and Bloomberg have new information about the arcana of business every 10 seconds, which means MUST REPORT NOW NOW NOW.
I spent some time in journalism at Huff Post Live, which I launched on the West Coast. When I was there, I spouted hoary journalistic clichés and tropes that seemed, as we geared up to go live, like signposts along a journey to creating compelling and important content. But then the rubber hit the road, and it was time to put out 12 20 minute segments a day, five days a week. And thus I came face-to-face with what I came to call
My producers would tell me about a segment, and when I’d say, “Let’s think harder about how to make this really interesting”, they’d have one response: “I need to get something on the air in 20 minutes, I don’t have time to think about interesting.” The tail that wagged the dog was the constant need for output. The relentless nature of the beast—the hungry maw—it must be fed! And when people are hungry, their baser instincts come to the fore. Our lizard brain is much more prevalent, and the frontal lobes take a back seat. Consequently, quality can drop precipitously.
Yesterday, the superb reporter David Sirota pointed out that he didn’t have to opine on the goings-on in Ferguson immediately, and that he wanted some time to thoughtfully reflect before he did so. But Twitter inherently is a Tyranny of Now publishing platform. The news cycle is ever-compressed until it approaches some kind of singularity, in 140 characters or less.
There are plenty of new publishing tools out there—Medium (perhaps un-ironically co-founded by Ev Williams of Twitter fame) being one—that seem focused on quality over quantity. And there are freaks of nature, like Glenn Greenwald who are capable of constant updates AND erudite long-form seemingly simultaneously. But in general there is a tension that The Tyranny of Now creates, which I’m not sure is a good thing for content dissemination — a topic I’ll explore further in my next missive.