Media companies should encourage editors & reporters to block out time each day for focused reading

My 2015 panel with Nicholas Carr, author of “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains,” (second from left), Brad Jenkins from Funny or Die, and Nicco Mele, Director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

I’ve thought this for a while, but reading this latest piece about how we don’t read or think deeply anymore reinforced that drastic and unorthodox measures are needed to help us redirect some things that are going the wrong direction in our public life.

I work in journalism. I often think about how our industry can improve, regain trust, adapt to the moment. I think one thing that media owners and executives should do is to start creating a culture that encourages and incentivizes a way of thinking and viewing the world that is generally slower and more thoughtful. It has to come from the top, from the people who pay the salaries, and who hire and fire.

But part of the problem with our news media is that too much of it is too reactive, too spun up, too short-sighted, etc. There’s not enough depth of thought given to context, to history, to what really matters versus what is simply ephemera.

And if it’s simply a business — harvesting clicks and eyeballs in return for cash and fame — then I guess ephemera is great. But if journalism is a public service, if in fact it’s a vital component of a functioning free democracy, ephemera is generally not what we should be serving up.

It’s quality that people want and need, not quantity. And even news organizations that do the best work out there and invest heroically in quality journalism feel compelled to try to keep up with the race to be most current and to have the most “content” possible about the latest developments.

So if people running massive companies like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are setting time aside to read books every week, so should most people in media and news. We need well-rounded people with perspective and focus reporting and curating the news, not people whose heads are on a swivel.

Every news organization can and should experiment with what works, but the industry should be encouraging employees to spend at least an hour each day unplugged — with a physical book or long article, away from their phones and computers — that helps them think deeply, exercise the mental muscles they need to concentrate and resist distraction, and slows down their thought and reaction processes. It could be that the book is for research on a long-term project. It could be a combination of reading and planning. Some places might find that reading unrelated to work might increase creativity and productivity when employees return to their desks.

But media orgs should push their company culture toward these metrics, and they should reward and praise employees who take them up on it. They might even want to require employees do this kind of thing.

And if you have to watch a video right now, here’s my conversation with Nick Carr, author of “The Shallows” from 2015 in Iowa.

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