What's the future of news?
March 17, 2011 3:57 AM   Subscribe

I've been asked to give a lecture about the future of news. I've got some ideas, the sales figures, the shift in ad revenue and a bootfull of doom to share. I've also got lots of whizzy applications to get excited about. But what would you share? What's your view of the future of news? What platforms do you get excited about?

The lecture is to a group of first-year journalism undergraduates at a university in England.
posted by MrMerlot to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you have iPAD comparison between New York Times vs. Flipboard or Daily vs. Pulse could be interesting. Curated view of world vs. your feeds fom various sources. User experience also matters a lot - waiting 8 seconds for NYT to update is way too long as is expediting their loss of readers.
posted by zeikka at 4:10 AM on March 17, 2011

If you follow Pew's State of the News Media 2011 from earlier this week, the most disturbing announcement they made is that the future of the news isn't in the hands of journalists anymore.

Social media get more and more important in deciding what is noteworthy, and what is not. Search engines play a huge part. App makers. Engineers.
posted by ijsbrand at 4:33 AM on March 17, 2011

Before the "social media is the new news" gang overtake here, consider;
posted by evil_esto at 4:50 AM on March 17, 2011

evil_esto, what are we considering? Maybe part of the link you pasted is not there?
posted by Houstonian at 5:20 AM on March 17, 2011

Papers will not go away -- people like to hold things while they eat their Cheerios. However, newspapers will become "storypapers." Longer articles. In-depth stories. Pretty soon, all newspapers will look like their weekend magazine editions.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:53 AM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Latest news in photojournalism is using crowdfunding to finance long-term investigative and documentary projects that like would not otherwise find a home in traditional publishing. Many have used kickstarter, and photography-only Emphas.is has been making waves of late.
posted by msbrauer at 5:53 AM on March 17, 2011

A few of my friends in journalism are working pretty seriously on developing mobile apps for carrying local news content, which they feel will be a big part of the future of local news outlets. Local news is one area that's going to grow in the future of news - national cable and web platforms don't care about the important ongoing local stories and information that local papers excel in. But people will be willing to pay for content that helps them live where they live, every day - municipal and state political news, local issues, entertainment and restaurant, local and school sports.

I agree with Cool Papa Bell that newspapers won't die. They are excellent formats for magazine-range, longer-form, analytical journalism. In readability, portability, clippability, and tangibility they're still superior to handheld devices. They'll retain their niche among an intellectual elite readership, as you can see already with the print editions of WSJ and NYT, the vinyl LP of the news industry.
posted by Miko at 6:13 AM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

However, newspapers will become "storypapers." Longer articles. In-depth stories. Pretty soon, all newspapers will look like their weekend magazine editions.

Really? Do we, in this soundbite age, have time for longer articles? And do we care? Most of us now get our news from the Internet, TV and mobile apps and that trend is only going to increase. My intelligent, well-educated 29 year old daughter hasn't looked at a newspaper in years.
posted by TheRaven at 6:48 AM on March 17, 2011

Like Miko, I came in to mention local news. The New Yorker had a Ken Auletta article a few weeks ago about AOL CEO Tim Armstrong has hired about 1000 journalists as part of a strategy to save the company and take over local news. The whole enterprise is designed to appeal to search engines to improve AOL's relevance and ad revenue. Content is tailored to reader interest a la Amazon. Even more journalists are freelancers, readers rate the articles, and the articles themselves are assigned based on an algorithm ("seed" IIRC) that combs Google for ideas: all scary IMHO.
posted by carmicha at 6:51 AM on March 17, 2011

Really? Do we, in this soundbite age, have time for longer articles?

Not sure who "we" are, but yes, I do - and I need them for professional purposes. If people don't like long-form, it's difficult to explain why magazines are doing so well. The New Yorker and The Atlantic are enjoying a resurgence, and The Economist is extremely widely read.

Sound bites only contain so much information, and yet we have a crying need for deeper analysis. Those that can and do perform deeper analysis set the social, political, cultural, and financial agenda. Brokers of knowledge and power know this, and they take very seriously the need to maintain a continuous stream of good information in all formats - not least the detailed historical/analytical piece.

As for age - news readership has never been particularly strong among the young. It does rise with age, as one becomes more involved in and impacted by the community or city in which one resides, and takes on more serious career responsibilities.

One thing I worry about in the changeover to very, very light treatment of news in the media is that our abandonment of in-depth news will result in an even more sharply divided populace - the truly informed and the relatively uninformed - and the relatively uninformed will increasingly live in a world not of their own making, featuring political and social phenomena they are utterly bewildered by, ultimately accepting their relative powerlessness and irrelevance as inevitable, while the truly informed will continue to deploy their mastery of information ever more powerfully to their own financial and social ends. To some degree this has always been true, but a populist rejection of the idea that we have a need for in-depth news as opposed to brief, superficial bites exacerbates this existing tendency in ways that have serious implications for a pluralistic, democratic society.
posted by Miko at 6:56 AM on March 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

I would definitely use the two Japan threads from the blue as examples - real-time distillation of what's going on, sifted by very knowledgeable people. Those threads have consistently been hours, sometimes days, ahead of conventional media.
posted by jbickers at 6:58 AM on March 17, 2011

Are we talking about news in general or newspapers here? Since there is plenty of doom to be found, I'll speak hopefully here.

News in general is being transformed by the long term trend of disintermediation. I don't necessarily agree that social media is the new news, but I see social media shifting the role of news professionals. Just like for doctors and (in my case) pastoral ministers, they have to shift from being the ones who bring the information from on high to being the ones who provide context and guidance to what passes for news nowadays. Instead of telling the people the news -- they've been knocked off the top of that hill already -- they can help people think critically about the news. They can summon a perspective that exceeds the public's attention span, give them the tools to sort the nuggets from the chaff. They can be the trusted guides.

Part of that, I believe will come from leveraging data mining, data visualization, and text analytics. Those are, at least in part a major part of the "new news."

Witness the rise in popularity (for better or worse) of infographics. People hunger for someone who can sum large amounts of related information into something that is easy to navigate and digest. They need context from someone they can trust.

On one level (where I think newspapers are especially still relevant) news is hyper-local. Where news is a mishmash of tweets, blog posts, press releases, and niche publications, professional news has great potential to step up as the facilitator of the local story.

Also an area to explore -- what kinds of advantages does a paper, physical medium have over electronic news? What makes any given column inch clippable and useful? There's a potential future for the newspaper that social media cannot touch.
posted by cross_impact at 7:07 AM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Readers and viewers will be unable to tell opinion from fact.

They will watch someone like Bill O'Reilly (or read a blogger) and assume that the information presented is both fact-checked and factual. But instead are hearing an authoritative voice on a 'news' channel give them opinion. Well, of course, Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11. It was on Fox. To compete, the other news outlets will conform to this. This is a major reason why CNN is almost unwatchable, as well.

Younger viewers who don't know the difference, maybe never will and will assume this is the way news always has been. Jon Stewart is more like Edward R. Murrow than any of the news anchors today. Watch David Strathairn in Good Night, and Good Luck. and you tell me if his style is more Brian Williams or more Jon Stewart, and that's sad for all of us.

When a politician shovels bullshit, they should be called on it. Like here on the blue, Clinton was espousing the freedom that the internet can build while trying to hunt down Assange. She should be called on that by Couric or Williams...

Sometimes I wonder if the future of news is Al Jazeera. Arab governments hate Al Jazeera, the American government hates Al Jazeera... Sounds like they're doing something right.
posted by CarlRossi at 7:37 AM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Perhaps you can toss out a bit of dystopian future: Paolo Bacigalupi's short story "The Gambler" (take-away concept: the only thing that sticks is "pop news," especially celebrities and schadenfreude; and news is a highly competitive game, tracked through all media by the second).
posted by filthy light thief at 11:24 AM on March 17, 2011

Response by poster: Many thanks for all your help. There is some splendid advice here. I'll let you know how it goes ... Sean
posted by MrMerlot at 4:10 AM on March 18, 2011

That news has been called on to become a business was the last real straw. Sure, a few places still do some decent reporting - but even they are expected to make money and show profitability. Most aren't paying significantly / enough for news.

To the up-and-coming journalists: challenge them to balance finding the truth with being sustainable. Being flexible will help far more than knowing how to edit the English language.
posted by chrisinseoul at 10:58 AM on March 18, 2011

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