Slow Journalism

Slow journalism comes to me so naturally that I've taken about five years to write about it. On Wednesday morning, the Today programme (I cannot wake up without Radio 4's good-natured grumble-fest; that delicate blend of warm-crumpet humour and stern, stentorian urgency is the perfect mental espresso) was so interesting that I was moved to switch off the Babyliss. Following Al Jazeera English's rolling coverage of the Egyptian protests, Marcus Webb, director of the Slow Journalism Company, and former director of BBC Global News Richard Sambrook, were discussing the missing 'sense of perspective' in our always-on reporting culture.

Webb was touting his new luxury print quarterly Delayed Gratification, which:

distils three months of the UK's political, cultural, scientific and sporting life into a witty magazine of record. A combination of almanac, essays and reportage, Delayed Gratification operates on the principles of Slow Journalism, offers an antidote to throwaway media and makes a virtue of being the last to breaking news. Its publications are beautiful, collectible and designed to be treasured.

Gosh. I delayed my gratification for all of an hour, and subscribed as soon as I got to work.

Slow journalism has, in fact, been pretty quick off the mark. Almost as soon as social media's new breed of realtime, livestreaming citizen journalism (of which I am a reluctant although grateful variant) emerged, the backlash began. Back in February 2007, Susan Greenberg coined the phrase in Prospect, opining that cheap net-driven 'entertainment' was threatening "a growing market for essays, reportage and other non-fiction writing that takes its time to find things out, notices stories that others miss, and communicates it all to the highest standards: 'slow journalism.'"

David Leigh followed this with a defence of the traditional news reporter in the Guardian and since then a scattering of escargoic hacks, from the American Journalism Review to Ellen Goodman, have espoused the idea.

I like all this. I get it. It feels solid and noble. It summons images of rumple-haired, speccy, velvet-clad journos sitting in basement dives for weeks, drinking, smoking and thinking: nurturing their thought-seeds in the dark, like the cress I once grew in the cupboard under the stairs for school.

And I've written before about how, in the midst of all my fervent digital consumption, I love to hear a reassuringly sturdy Granta (so reflective that meaning becomes timeless) or Vogue (so future-oriented that time becomes meaningless) thunk through my real-world letter box. As Webb and Sambrook put it on R4, this is not an either/or situation; consuming both sorts of reporting mutually enhances their value. But many fewer people are exposed to the likes of Delayed Gratification, and I wish there was a less expensive solution. The luxury of perspective should be a necessity - how else do people learn?

It being Friday afternoon, I'm off to do some slow thinking. While you should turn off your tweets, stick in your headphones, come to terms with the thought of spending an hour and a half sitting still doing just one thing, and watch this.