Take Your Time

I’m always fascinated by statistics regarding how much people read and how much people rely on social media.

Growing up, I was never a big reader, and even today, I could read a little more – sometimes it is difficult to find time because I am always on the go.

My editors have a way of recognizing when I am not reading enough because it comes through in my writing.

When the editors point out that I need to read more, I feel a sense of isolation, as if I am the only one who cannot find time to read more because of my sometimes short attention span – I am not alone.

One of the philosophies we have in the newsrooms is that

people tend to like stories that are either 400 or 1,200 words in length – anything in between, the reader stops before they get to the end.

Our attention spans are getting shorter, and my executive editor, Joseph Shaw, is a big proponent of putting out stories that are going to grab a reader’s attention, even if only for 400 words.

But having two buckets for stories can be tricky when covering meetings and trying to get as many details into the story as possible.

One thing we try to stray away from is putting “fluff” in the story just to fill it out.

If the story is not a 1,200 word story, we should not be forced to make it that long because people will get bored. Instead, we need to choose our words wisely and make it a 400 word story.

Today, social media is a driving force of news and a big competitor to publications like the Southampton Press.

Nicole Martin wrote a story for Forbes.com titled, “How Social Media Has Changed How We Consume News,” and in it, she relays statistics from a survey done by the Pew Research Center.

According to the survey, there are 2.4 billion internet users and 64.5 percent of those users get their breaking news from social media platforms (Martin, 2018). Broken out, 43 percent of Internet users get their breaking news from Facebook, 21 percent from YouTube, 12 percent from Twitter, and 8 percent from LinkedIn, to name the top four.

Even though people get breaking news from social media and click on the articles or links to read more, Martin said there is a decrease in how much of the article people actually read (Martin, 2018).

Most people will just scroll through their newsfeed and stumble upon relevant news content but just read the headlines or a short video clip of the piece,” she said (Martin, 2018). “An average visitor will only read an article for 15 seconds or less and the average video watch time online is 10 seconds.

Most people are not reading all of the details, and are only getting what is on the surface.

What makes this worse is that social media platforms are controlling what people see on their newsfeed (Martin, 2018), and our friends on social media are becoming the managing editors who decide what we see.

Once an article gets multiple likes and is shared numerous times, the article will begin showing up on more and more people’s feeds (Martin, 2018).

Whether or not an article is real or fake is being overlooked, especially because people are not reading the entire article.

“News happens fast now,” Martin said. “Today’s story will be tomorrow’s forgotten story. It is easy to miss things now because of how quick stories can get turned around and shared. While having some much information at our fingertips is great, it is worth always checking sources and not taking headlines as truth” (Martin, 2018).

60 years ago, Harold Innis headed warning about becoming stuck in the present.

In his book, “The Bias of Communication,” which was published in 1951, Innis wrote about how information can hurt society (Thompson, 2017).

Tablets were used by people high up in society to keep religious edicts. The tablets were heavy and were difficult to move around, therefore , the information was not readily available for the people in society (Thompson, 2017).

Paper changed the game, especially Johanne Gutenburg’s printing press. When the printing press came out, information could be disbursed to the masses, though the print could fade and be ripped.

Newspapers changed the game even more, and according to Clive Thompson, who wrote about Innis, became “cradles of modern democracy and human rights” (Thompson, 2017).

“Innis worried that newspapers had structural bias; they focused culture relentlessly on the present,” Thompson wrote. “Modern media was changing our relationship to time. It gave us an obsession with the immediate…it made us creatures of present mindedness” (Thompson, 2017).

The similarities between the effects of newspapers that Innis wrote about in the 1950s and social media today, are striking, but the latter is more worrisome.

Today is the age when people are constantly looking at their illuminated screens, our society is changing at a rapid pace.

James Fallows wrote an article for the Atlantic in 2013 called “The Art of Staying Focused,” and in it, he speaks with Linda Stone, who coined the term continuous partial attention.

Continuous partial attention is “the modern predicament of being constantly attuned to everything without fully concentrating on anything” (Fallows, 2013).

Children, Stone said, are fascinated with whatever their mom or dad are into, so when a parent is looking at a tablet instead of watching television with their child, the child would rather have a tablet (Fallows, 2013).

Stone spoke to a number of children between the ages of 7 and 12, and they said things like, “my mom should make contact with me when she talks to me, “and “I used to watch TV with my dad, but now he has his iPad and I watch by myself” (Fallows, 2013).

“Kids learn empathy in part through eye contact and gaze,” Stone said (Fallows, 2013). “If kids are learning empathy through eye contact, and our eye contact is with devices, they will miss out on empathy.”

As children continue to experience this ignorance from their parents, Stone said it is possible that when they become parents they may change their behaviors and instead focus on the child, eliminating the dire need to be on a phone at all times (Fallows, 2013).

Maybe then, people will gain their attention spans back and newspapers will thrive again…maybe?


Fallows, J. (2013) The Art of Staying Focused in a Distracting World – The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/06/the-art-of-paying-attention/309312/

Martin, N. (2018) How Social Media Has Changed How We Consume News. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/nicolemartin1/2018/11/30/how-social-media-has-changed-how-we-consume-news/#2d101e33c3ca

Thompson, C. (2017) This Magazine → Social media is keeping us stuck in the moment. Retrieved from https://this.org/2017/11/15/social-media-is-keeping-us-stuck-in-the-moment/

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