by

The news needs “previously on…” intros.

David Atkins, writing at Washington Monthly about how journalists expect readers and viewers to keep track of really complicated stories without much help:

Well, TV showrunners don’t expect it. They offer guideposts in the form of short 2-minute “Previously On” recaps that remind the viewer of the relevant events. Each new season provides a recap of the previous one, reminding us of the central events. Our most elite storytellers depend on these tools to keep their audiences abreast of the necessary information.

There is no such thing in journalism. In modern media, each outlet strives to the very first by minutes or even seconds to report some small new piece of information. Lots of people analyze and provide opinion on the new information that comes to light. Journalists will provide a few paragraphs of immediate background on the news item just for immediate clarity’s sake, but a reader who hasn’t been following all the twists and turns will still likely be lost. Explainer journalism is helpful, but it tends to take deep dives on a particular subject, less to recap the sum of what is known about a story and reframe it in a narrative arc.

It may well be that what we need most in journalism today is precisely this sort of truthful storytelling by way of recapping old but still relevant news. News junkies may find it superfluous in same way that avid fans of a TV show may hate the “previously on” segments as unnecessary given their level of knowledge. But it’s not the junkies but the average citizen that the general news media most needs to serve, just as revisiting relevant old episodes of Game of Thrones is necessary to keep most casual viewers from unnecessary confusion.

That’s a great point, although one should also keep in mind that brain-dead shows like NCIS and American Idol get far more viewers than the serialized dramas that Atkins is talking about.