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How to manage news burnout

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 01, 2017

Melody Kramer is one of the smartest, most thoughtful people I know in journalism. She has a new post up at Poynter talking about ways to design the news that take into account that news can be overwhelming.

People take breaks, go on vacations, have stretches where they can’t keep up, work weird hours, have different levels of interest and background knowledge, and so forth — but they still want to be informed, connected, and engaged.

How can we deal with that? Here’s one good idea:

We should allow people to check out or pause and return. I envision a website where someone can say how long they’d like to be away from the news and what kinds of news they’d like when they return. This could most easily be accomplished through newsletters. For example, a landing page might allow a user to say: “I am taking [XX] [days / weeks / months] off. When I come back, I’d like to be updated on [topics] on [this frequency.]”

Years ago, some of us called this “my time” or “TiVo time”: a personalized, time-shifted attention economy. (Actually, I don’t think anybody called it “TiVo time” but me. And maybe a few guys who worked for TiVo.)

And for a little while, say around 2000-2010, media consumption in the form of DVRs, IM chats, blogging (and commenting), RSS feeds, Netflix DVDs (by mail!), was sort of unconsciously driven by this principle. It was available in close-to-real-time, but you could dip in and out of the stream much more easily.

Then a lot of factors — including short-form social media, livestream video, Netflix bingeing, a resurgence of TV events, and maybe especially always-available mobile devices — pushed us back to a much more immediate and real-time immersion in media. This hasn’t always been to everyone’s benefit. Not all consumers’, and not all producers’ either.

Choosing between plunging in or checking out has become a much more all-or-nothing proposition. It doesn’t have to be that way. We know this. We already built a lot of the tech that lets us manage this. Now we just have to figure out the best ways to deploy it.