Here’s the Thing about Time

Here's the Thing - Commentary by Jaci Clement, Fair Media Council

To Capture the Public’s Attention, Newsrooms Need to Focus on Storytelling Skills

“Is this story worth my time?”

Or, to put it into even greater focus — given the Information Age has devolved into an era of blaring white noise — “Is this story worthy of my time?”

Time is what is always on people’s minds.

The time you’re willing to spend with the news of your choice is in many ways determining your future

The topic of time comes up in various ways in every Folio judging session, which is the program where we ask business and community leaders to stop what they’re doing and perform an increasingly important public service and judge the news.

Essentially, Folio is a litmus test for what we, the public, need and want filling our news feeds and sends a strong message back to newsrooms everywhere.

Now, if we take a moment to go back in time to, say, around 15 years ago, it was actually hard to recruit judges. The overall reaction from our prospects boiled down to this, either “I’m not qualified,” or more pointedly, “I don’t know anything about news.”

Our response? “You’re exactly what we’re looking for.” The answer shocked some, dismayed others but overall, luckily, intrigued most.

Folio isn’t simply about judging the news, it’s about teaching the public how to actively critique the news they inhale every day. The same news that forms their opinions, and colors their outlooks — and as such, deserves the type of intense scrutiny most people reserve only for major decisions. And that is actually part of the lesson: The news people allow into their lives should be evaluated and scrutinized. Strongly.

Whether it’s a newspaper you pick up at the deli or the television news program you allow into your living room, you share a level of intimacy with news that is usually reserved only for close family and friends. And that’s the thing that makes news so powerful.

The time you’re willing to spend with the news of your choice is in many ways determining your future. Doesn’t that make it something worthy of an investment of time to research, to ultimately determine what’s worthy of more of your time?

Inside a judging session, the topic of time pops up again, usually in polar opposition, with no middle ground: “This story was too short,” or, “This story was too long.” Delving further into these reactions leads to the same discovery, each and every time. The actual measure of time has very little to do with these judgments.

What creates the perception that time is being used appropriately is actually the level of storytelling skills.

And that’s a vital lesson, directly from the public to the news media everywhere: Tell me a great story, and I’ll make time for it in my life.

— Jaci Clement, jaci@fairmediacouncil.org

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