At first glance, the slogan “Last to the breaking news” seems like a disastrous mission statement for a news magazine. But for the team behind Delayed Gratification, it is the tardy declaration of intent on which their entire publishing model is based.
In a digitally-driven world which seems to compel news outlets to publish first and ask questions later (if at all), Delayed Gratification makes a virtue out of being late to every story. And not only does the magazine cultivate a distinctly jet-lagged brand of journalism, it is also perverse enough to favour print over pixels. It may not be a news source you can zoom, pinch or swipe, but at least you can spill a cup of tea on it without invalidating the manufacturer’s warranty.
For obvious reasons, the eternal struggle between print and digital is a topic that has exercised the minds behind Bido Lito! rather a lot lately. When moment-by-moment news updates can be fired around the world via apps and social media, are there advantages to choosing a less up-to-the-minute, more reflective publishing path? Clearly, we think so, but our magazine still sticks to a monthly schedule. By contrast, Delayed Gratification is a quarterly publication that covers three months’ worth of news, but each issue is published three months after the period covered in the magazine. It is one of the most well-known proponents of what has come to be known as ‘slow journalism’, and we wanted to find out why a current affairs magazine would opt to be so wilfully behind the times.
According to Rob Orchard, co-creator of Delayed Gratification, the magazine’s founders originally worked together on Time Out Dubai in the early noughties. They enjoyed learning their trade within a print environment, but weren’t quite prepared for what the digital revolution had in store for their industry.
“It was a time when there was still money and buoyancy in print magazines,” says Orchard. “It felt like there might be careers, futures and opportunities for us. But when we all ended up back in London in 2010, we looked around at the landscape and it was as bleak as fuck. Everybody was talking about the death of print. Digital was going to be everything.
“All the big print titles were haemorrhaging cash, readers and advertisers. Social media was kicking off, and suddenly there were these gigantic new spaces to fill with content; but at the same time, there were fewer and fewer journalists with fewer and fewer resources to fill them.”
Intelligent journalism, it seemed, was destined to go the same way as the mechanical typewriter and the Fleet Street liquid lunch. But Orchard and his colleagues were in no mood to surrender the delivery of news to Facebook, Twitter and the purveyors of shameless clickbait.
“We decided we wanted to launch a magazine that was an antidote to that. We wanted to invest every penny into long-form journalism, investigative journalism, beautiful photo features, intelligent data analysis – all the stuff you want from journalists and editors. We wanted to make a magazine that was made for readers, so it wouldn’t have any advertising. It wouldn’t be made to hit a particular demographic, it would just be the magazine that we really wanted to read ourselves.”
Although journalists have long enjoyed the thrill of chasing a story and the adrenaline rush of being first to break it across the front page, today’s ‘always on’ technology has resulted in an accelerated news cycle that, in Delayed Gratification’s words, values “being first above being right”. For the Delayed Gratification team, the answer was to take a lead from grassroots movements such as ‘slow food’ and ‘slow travel’, and invest more time in searching out each story’s nuances, in print, rather than attempting to earn clicks at all costs.
“The parallel between slow travel, slow food and slow journalism is that they are all about taking time to do things of quality, and all of them are a reaction against doing things too quickly,” says Orchard.
“When we launched in January 2011, the idea of slowness being a virtue when it came to news reporting was an incredibly niche concern. We were still very much in love with our smartphones and excited about how fast everything was being updated. But in the last six years, we’ve seen people getting sick of that.”
Delayed Gratification’s cure for that creeping nausea is a handsome print-only publication reliant on subscribers to cover its costs. It has succeeded in building up a loyal readership that pays for its pleasures – no mean feat in a digital world that demands most of its content for free.
“We were incredibly gung-ho about the whole thing,” admits Orchard. “We just thought if we can sell enough subscriptions in advance, we can fund the print for issue one. We really hadn’t thought how we were going to survive from issue two onwards.”
But six years later, Delayed Gratification is still here, giving subscribers a combination of in-depth articles and fascinating infographics that benefit from something that most news publications can never have: hindsight. It is also beautifully designed, almost begging to be plucked from the shelf.
“I think 60 or 70 per cent of the success we’ve had has come from it being a beautiful piece of work,” says Orchard, “and we always put a huge amount of time and energy into things like the infographics. That’s been one of our real unique selling points.
“We said early on that we wanted to have a serious news publication, to address serious issues, and we wanted to report from places where there are interesting things going on. But looking around at the majority of news publications, they have quite an earnest, drab aesthetic. And there’s no need for that to be the case. You can actually make them beautiful.”
Not that beauty is the most important aspect of what Delayed Gratification does. Being committed to truth telling is also pretty crucial. “I feel like this fake news phenomenon is almost the best possible advertisement for slow journalism,” says Orchard. “You’ve got people with a purely commercial agenda high-jacking the news reporting of massively important and influential events, and just spewing out bile and hatred. And because our former gatekeepers – journalists and editors and so on – are so reduced in status, and because we’ve got these networks that can spread stuff immediately and which prioritise the more aggressive and outlandish stories, we’ve got a perfect storm.”
There is no obvious solution to this problem, and Orchard admits to being “desperately worried”. “We’re a fun little publication and we can keep going. We’ve got a group of subscribers who will support us and hopefully we can grow that, but the big mainstream publications need so much more in terms of resources to keep doing what they do, and I’m not sure where that’s going to come from.”
Orchard’s outlook may be bleak, but at least his team is doing its best to provide a unique alternative – a magazine devoted to considered, intelligent insight wrapped up in superlative graphic design.
And so what if it’s permanently late to the party? In news reporting, as in so much of life, we all know the best things come to those who wait.