Why journalists must control a digital flood to get better

September 6, 2018
Category: Newsletters

Making journalists smarter; the story behind 'Anonymous'; the feminist blogger facing prison time

You don’t need to be available 24/7. You could alternate work among team members to respond to late-night emails, and you could set social expectations on social media.

By doing that, journalists and others will have time to deepen and clarify thinking, digital experts told a conference Wednesday. The Atlantic’s “Humanity + Tech" conference at MIT came as members of Congress grilled tech executives in Washington to get a handle on the digital disruption of American voters, politics and journalism.

“Time is regenerative,” said Maggie Jackson, a former AP reporter and author of “Distracted: Reclaiming Our Focus in a World of Lost Attention.” 

And you don't have to change your entire lifestyle to make it happen, Jackson said in an interview. “One of the things we’ve learned is that small, incremental steps matter,” she said. One idea to add balance is reporters or editors working in teams, alternating duty after-hours to allow coverage of the job but get people more time away from work.

With efforts like that, Jackson said, journalists and others can unlock “the digressive, slow, uncertain parts of ourselves that are key to our creativity.”

That approach helps people only if they set their expectations with friends or other social networks that they won’t respond at certain times, said Glen Murphy, Google’s director of UX. Part of his job is working on ways that people can be more efficient in Google use.

It’s not easy, Murphy conceded, noting one investigation of a jump in audience usage in which his team asked who built that tool distracting users. “Oh, it’s us,” was the answer.

Kevin Holesh, who created the Moment app to mark how much time a person spends on a smartphone, said there is a “happiness cliff” — the moment beyond which readers or viewers of an app or site become unhappy.

With that in mind, companies are moving from “time spent” as a key metric to optimum time, said Deb Roy, chairman of Cortico and an associate professor at MIT’s Media Lab. They are asking, “Is usage of the platform healthy?” said Roy, whose company has been working with Twitter on studying usage and identifying improvements amid the Congressional scrutiny of the platform.

“The internet detaches us from our local and human roots … and that’s coming back to bite us,” Roy said.

Nir Eyal, author of the upcoming book “Indistractable,” said he’s taken Facebook off his phone and limits his usage of that social network to a few minutes each evening. “These devices provide us an escape from our lives," said Eyal, explaining the psychological addiction. “Distraction starts from within.”

Four ways to lessen these distractions, according to Eyal: 1) Manage the triggers that get you on your phone; 2) Plan your time; 3) Disable notification settings; 4) Make pacts with yourselves.

Moment's Holesh had two easy steps that are proven to cut smartphone usage significantly: Don't take the phone to bed, or to the bathroom.

One goal from all of these moves, said Google’s Murphy: To move from FOMO to JOMO (Joy of Missing Out).

Readers, let me know if there are ways in which your workplace is limiting digital time or email response expectations — and if so, if it is helping productivity, as studies have shown. Email me at dbeard@poynter.org (I’ll be reading them only during certain hours).

Quick hits

RARE: The extraordinary "Anonymous" New York Times op-ed, by a senior Trump official, who says he and others are working to thwart the worst impulses of the president. Their goal: protect the nation. Here's my separate story on the essay, the firestorm and the calls for Trump White House officials to go public with their efforts to protect America from an inept leader.

THE TEXAS TRIBUNE AT 10: “I’ve been overwhelmed by the fact that they are liberated to make news judgment the only judgment,” said Siva Vaidhyanathan in an overview of the site by CJR. … In a remarkable move, the Trib released a strategic plan for 2025, acknowledging the need to hire more Spanish-speaking employees, to build newsletters and to rethink membership. Here’s why we released it, by Evan Smith.

HUH?: Russia charged a feminist blogger for … wait for it … inciting hatred toward men. Lyubov Kalugina faces five years in prison if convicted, The Moscow Times reports. (h/t Miriam Elder)

A PSEUDONYM: An editor and columnist for the conservative Daily Caller wrote under a fake name for a publication associated with white supremacist Richard Spencer, The Atlantic’s Rosie Gray reports. The articles expressed racist anti-black views and anti-Semitism.

CRASH: Man arrested after repeatedly crashing his vehicle into Dallas TV station and complaining about a 6-year-old police shooting, the Dallas Morning News reported. No one was injured Wednesday.

MOVES: White House reporter Jacqueline Alemany joins The Washington Post to write its new “Power Up” morning newsletter. She spent the last six years at CBS News. … Bond Huberman is heading to Snopes as social media editor. Huberman comes from Seattle public radio affiliate KUOW.

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Got a tip, a link, an account of life in the Trump White House? We’re trying to make this roundup better every day. Please email me at dbeard@poynter.org or reach me @dabeard.

Have a great Thursday.