news & the attention economy

the scarce resource in the information age isn’t information it’s attention.

such is the operating principle of attention economics, an emerging field of study that may provide some of the scaffolding needed for creating journalism online in the digital age.

most news web sites are dumping grounds for “extra” pics or audio or facts that would never have made it on the radio or into the paper (where the scarcity of space demands focus from editors and reporters) but which the web folks thought someone might be interested in rummaging through.

that’s great for those who have the time and interest to piece the extras into the whole. and then there’s the long tail implications: post something online and google will ensure that people find it for years to come. but for the rest of us, the majority of us, who go to news sites to help us make sense of the world all that extra stuff makes it harder to discern signal from noise.

once we attempt to truly understand and appreciate the limits of our audience’s attention, only then will we serve up journalism online that helps people focus and make sense instead of feel scattered and spread thin.

see some of the seminal attention economics texts and sources here, here and here.

The Economics of Attention

The Economics of Attention

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One thought on “news & the attention economy

  1. pdavidtigan says:

    Economic thought is being put into action in so many places outside of traditional markets in really fascinating ways. In “The Baseball Economist,”J.C. Bradbury challenges the development of baseball statistical development by sabermetrics guru Bill James by extending the “how many” and “how much” statistical analysis into “why?” He calls it sabernomics and it’s pretty fascinating.

    In the intro of his book, he restates two basic underpinnings of behavioral economics work. All choices have trade-offs and people respond to incentives. It is hard to boil it down farther than that.

    “Attention” is a measurement of how much time/concentration we are willing to invest in something in the hopes that it gives us something in return. “I will spend five minutes on this article.” “I will spend three seconds on this picture.” “I will spend two minutes on this podcast while reading junk email.” “I will spend fourteen hours on this book.”

    Each one of these statements has only one side of the equation. We input attention, measured in time, and the thing we invest our time in returns something in exchange.

    But is “attention” the only thing the journalism consumer has to input? It would certainly bring a new and dark meaning to my teacher’s admonitions.

    “Pay attention!”

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