After the dust has settled: The Value of Slowness with Rob Orchard
On 3rd October 2011, the verdict of Amanda Knox’s trial was published on the Daily Mail Online: ‘Guilty: Amanda Knox looked stunned as appeal against murder conviction is rejected.’
The piece was rich with detail. It described how Knox sunk into her chair and cried uncontrollably, the way the family of the victim glanced only once at the distraught Knox family, the fact that the prosecutors were happy with the verdict yet sad that two young people would be spending years in jail.
What had actually happened, however, was that the verdict had been overturned. Two alternative stories had been prepared in advance, but the person reporting it had published the wrong version. In reality, Knox had been found not guilty.
This was the moment Rob Orchard realised he was “on track” with Delayed Gratification, a publication spearheading the ‘slow journalism’ movement.
“It’s incredibly easy to make mistakes while an event is happening,” he explains. “The desperation to get the story out first above anyone else leads to these incredibly skewed outcomes”.
“When people are caught up in difficult situations or circumstances, they very often don’t know what they themselves think about it at the time”, Rob argues. “Most reporting is telling you what’s happening right now, as it’s unfolding, without the time for context, expert’s opinion and analysis”.
Journalism is suffering from mass layoffs. Nearly 8000 media jobs were lost in the last year alone, according to a report in the Business Insider. Yet whilst journalists jobs are in decline, the number of people working in PR is increasing. Data collected last year indicates that PR pros now outnumber journalists 6-to-1, meaning that news is becoming clogged up with brand partnerships and adverts.
Rob describes Delayed Gratification as an “antidote” to high-speed, under-researched reporting. “The idea behind Delayed Gratification,” he states, “is to return to big stories after the dust has settled, and to ask the question, what do we do next?” The publication is delivered in beautiful quarterly print edition, which revisits the events of the last three months using in-depth, independent journalism to reflect on what really happened and what we can learn.
Rather than racing to be the first to report on new stories, the publication demonstrates what is gained by being slow. “The only real way we can start thinking about what our future is going to be like, is by looking at what’s happened so far,” Rob adds. “The future is generally in the past.”
Returning to the stories after mainstream media have lost interest, Delayed Gratification is able to view situations from a new perspective, providing context, in depth analysis and multifaceted opinion.
Clickbait and twitter wars
Rob sees a clear parallel between high speed reporting and the polarisation of beliefs voiced on the internet.
“We live in a radically different world to twenty years ago,” Rob posits. “If you’re a senior politician now, anything you do is being recorded by somebody who will have an agenda to use it against you. Anything that is out of place will be stopped immediately.”
This transparency can be invaluable, but it can also be toxic. Rob reflects on a recent Twitter feud in which Rishi Sunak posted a photo of him with Yorkshire tea bags, causing many to swear off Yorkshire tea and vent their rage to company staff.
“They write a message and they send it when they are really angry”, he says, “I bet you 9 times out of 10, if they just sat there for 24 hours, they wouldn’t have sent that.”
Part of the issue is monetisation. “Hyperbole is an essential ingredient for most forms to be able to cut through online,” Rob explains. Adverts pay per article click, so exciting headlines and extreme views are more economical.
An interesting paradox emerges: whilst we have never had more access to current affairs, we are also more susceptible to misinformation, with judgements made before critical facts have been confirmed and situations being rapidly overblown. So given all this, has the internet made us more or less informed?
“If you choose what you read well, you can have the most informed people in places that can tell you what’s going on in the world right now. On the other hand, you have to do a tonne more discrimination.”
Print and telling stories
With instant access to the internet, we are bombarded by platforms competing for our attention. How does Delayed Gratification compete?
“I’m as addicted to my electronic devices as anybody else, but I’m also sick of it,” Rob explains, “Our publication means that you have to take a screen break… We’re not trying to sell them anything, it is just them and fascinating stories”.
Rob emphasises that Delayed Gratification is designed to both inform and inspire. “The format in which we process information requires that there is a storyline – a beginning, a middle and an end – things that take you on a journey somewhere,” he explains, “You need to take individual cases and extrapolate from them to make your point.”
This requires a lot of work, contrasting long form articles with striking infographics. “It’s a massive jigsaw, with many many many parts to it, and it only really comes together in the last week.”
Rob stresses the importance of tone, balancing serious content with light-hearted or inspirational stories. This is particularly true for large, harrowing issues like climate change. “You have to be wary about the narrative of everything being over for us; it being a done deal. It leaves you feeling hopeless and unengaged. So that’s what we’re trying to highlight: stories of hope. But that’d not always easy.”
So if we are provided with the right stories, can journalism really make a difference in fighting climate change? “This is always going to be a niche publication,” Rob explains, “It’s only ever going to be part of the solution; it’s not the solution itself.” He figures that whilst stories are “incredibly powerful, motivating things” they are more useful in impacting the “mosaic” than the “epic”.
In reading Delayed Gratification, Rob hopes that his readers come away feeling informed about the world. “That’s a really powerful thing to do. You send them away with lots of insights, fun stories, things to pass on to people. There’s one things I like the most is when people tell me that their kids enjoy the magazine. That’s the best.”
This is why, despite the challenges, Rob is motivated to pursue Slow Journalism. “It’s been difficult. The first few years were incredibly incredibly difficult. But we decided that this is the journalism we want to do,” he says. “I like the fact that it’s something that people can get something out of. I don’t think there’s anything else that I’d be as happy to do.”