Bite-sized News

For years now, folks have been bemoaning the death of the attention span. One of the most famous of these pronouncements came all the way back in 2008, published in the Atlantic:

It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense; indeed there are signs that new forms of “reading” are emerging as users “power browse” horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense.

And in the interim, social media and technology have just sped things up:

The study by Lloyds TSB insurance showed that the average attention span had fallen to just 5 minutes, down from 12 minutes 10 years ago.

But the over-50s are able to concentrate for longer periods than young people, suggesting that busy lifestyles and intrusive modern technology rather than old age are to blame for our mental decline.

This shorter attention span has evolved how people digest information, especially news. There have been lots of studies to investigate what news should look like, especially as the mass media struggles to figure out where they live in today’s world. This study from the Guardian seems to confirm that:

People are checking the news more frequently and for shorter amounts of time.
Forget news reading. Today, it’s all about “news snacking,” meaning people are checking the news more often and typically on mobile devices. 75 percent of readers with smartphones and 70 percent with tablets check the news more than once a day.

It’s all about aggregators.
According to the study, 73 percent of those surveyed said they use aggregators intensively, up from 33 percent a year ago. Use of branded news applications (such as leading national dailies), on the other hand, decreased from 60 percent to 40 percent in the same period.

Social media is on the rise for checking news.
The report also indicates that people are increasingly checking sites like Facebook and Twitter for news updates; 43 percent of readers now use Facebook to check news, an increase of seven percent from last year.

Gerald Baron has been an absolute leader in examining this field of “nano news,” as he calls it. He’s defined it a couple of times, “Defining Nano News,” and “NanoNews—understanding the new news environment. “

But my reason for posting these links is to implore our government communication friends to rethink how we talk. Looking at yesterday’s post on using images, made me wonder why images were so important. I think it has something to do with this idea of snackable content, or nano-news. The old saying is that pictures are worth 1,000 words. Are images how people are more quickly digesting information?

Thinking about information that my Department puts out, I wonder, is it truly snackable? Can someone stop by on their phone and digest the information in less than five minutes? Or do our fact sheets require an in-depth reading of inches and inches of text? Are they snackable? Now what about your fact sheets?

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