The New York Times pinned an article on wind energy to its front page for an entire day. Not a report on Trump tweets, not analysis on the latest Trump administration scandal, not any of the other news that’s fit to print. For one day, readers had exposure to how wind turbine technology is evolving.
The story can be summarized in a few sentences: Denmark, a leader in wind turbine technology, has been developing larger turbines to generate more electricity at a lower cost. Energy companies previously relied on government subsidies, but are transferring to private sources of investment. The improved technology and change in capital is happening at a rapid clip. The US has been slower to adopt wind technology but that may not last much longer.
A feature on wind turbines, so what?
We see the accelerative rate of news cycle turnover every week in 2018. How often can people recall what the major headline of the previous week was? How about of the previous day? There is always something new erupting and major news networks respond by blasting it on their front page for the few hours until the next event. This information overload has a degenerative effect on the public’s ability to track news.
When a news organization chooses to stick with one story for a day, it breaks from the reactionary cycle that news media is trapped in. We see this on occasion with feature stories. A news organization (like NYT or The Wall Street Journal or Washington Post) will invest in a reporter’s trek abroad where the journalist will conduct lengthy research and interviews on a scale that requires more time than the pressing deadlines of daily news. To recoup this investment, the news sites will post the feature for an extended bit of time. This allows the feature to gain more attention, more clicks, and make it seem like the investment is worth the cost. Whether these ventures are worth the cost is a hotly debated topic in media. The costs are clear but the benefits are often not immediate and/or do not align with revenue.
So, what happens when a top tier paper like The New York Times pushes a story?
– Increased attention on a particular issue: Media can shape narratives and pushing a story is one way to spark more talk about an issue. Let a story hang on a front page and more shares/tweets/likes results. This article is about wind turbines in Denmark, but the larger point is more people will talk about renewable energy and how it is becoming part of our every day life.
– Television news picks up on it: This is not always immediate. Television news is ingrained in their Trump narratives to the point where covering energy news is nearly “off-brand” for some of the cable news stations.
– Follow up stories emerge: Not only has the NYT institutional knowledge of wind increased as a result of this, but following up with similar stories can build interest for future stories on wind energy.
– New reporting methods are tested: Notice how video-heavy the link is. Nothing fancy in regards to effects or editing. Just a good amount of drone footage where there would normally be photography. This makes the story more visually stimulating and provides a lower-cost option than more standard video features requiring more editing. Maybe we will see more of it.
What can you do?
Energy and media are two rapidly developing fields. Normally The Decoder would ask that you call your policymakers. But in this case, we suggest encouraging media to report on the topic more (energy) and include more features. Reward this step by the New York Times by giving the article some attention.
Share the story on Facebook/Twitter. Or comment on the story on social media. Generate conversation around the topic, whether you have problems with wind technology, have observed turbines in your state, are supportive of its foray into the US energy mix, or oppose the newer, more quiet blades that are being utilized.