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The Future of Journalism: Supporting an Old Industry in a New Digital World
Two weeks ago USA TODAY laid off 26 employees and its parent company, Gannett,
mandated that all of its employees take one week of unpaid leave in the first quarter of
2010. But this isn‟t news — Gannett is among many news organizations, including The
Washington Post, The New York Times and the Associated Press, that have had to buy
out, lay off or furlough their employees several times in the last three years.
The combination of a bad economy and slowing revenue streams is forcing news
organizations to make drastic cuts, which in turn hinders their abilities to produce the
The lack of a sustainable revenue model for journalism is part of what‟s contributing to
Joel Brinkley, Professor of Journalism at Stanford University explained the flaw in the
current approach recently in a seminar on the future of journalism.
“The nations newspapers … are in serious trouble. How could any industry survive with
a business model like this one? You pay your newspaper company to deliver any
expensively produced product to your door every morning while the same company
provides the same product with numerous enhancements, several hours earlier for free.”
According to Brinkley, “no one has yet found a way to staunch the hemorrhaging profits”
that the journalism industry faces today. “The nations newspapers are hollow shells of
what they once were.”
So, the question is: Can the established media survive in the modern environment? And
if there‟s a future for journalism, what is it?
As many experts, like Jeff Jarvis, professor of journalism at CUNY and author of “What
Would Google Do?” and Jay Rosen, professor of journalism at New York University,
will tell you, the value of journalism still exists and will always exist as long as people
want information they can trust. The challenge now is finding reliable methods and
platforms to distribute the news in the rapidly evolving an accelerating digital ecosystem.
With hoards of Web sites available on the Internet, more people are turning to social
media and aggregate sites like Google News, Google Reader, Digg, Twitter and
Facebook for their news. Instead of navigating to news from one news organization‟s
site, users can browse content from RSS feeds, topic aggregators of their choice, or click
through recommended links of their friends on social networks.
More users favor choosing what sources they want their news from and whose opinions
they trust for recommended stories. Once again, one platform no longer holds a
monopoly over where or how people get their news.
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From the town crier, to the printed word, to the spoken voice, to the live telecast, and
now the Internet — the industry of reporting, editing and distributing the news has a long
history of technological evolution. Technology is once again changing how news is
delivered, but now the fate of the industry rests on whether or not news companies will
rise to meet the challenges they face with new strategies backed by new revenue models.
News organizations have been slow to develop a way to monetize their content online,
but now, more than ever, the future of the industry depends on how these companies
reinvent their roles to fit the demands of the communities of today and tomorrow.
The Minnesota Public Radio summarized the problem at their recent summit “The Future
of News: Creating a new model for regional journalism in America”:
The primary economic challenge for newspapers has been the decoupling of the
symbiotic relationship of content and commerce. In today's environment, classified ads
and sports news no longer can subsidize civic journalism. In the link economy, each story
stands on its own and has to find a way to pay for itself.
Some argue that newspaper organizations missed the boat to set up a sustainable revenue
model online because since the advent of the World Wide Web, newspapers have been,
as Brinkley said, offering all of its print content free of charge, with more content, faster.
Why pay for something they‟re already getting for free?
As access to the Internet continues to grow and move into even more portable platforms
— such as mobile devices — building reliable business models for journalism will
become essential to the future of the industry.
In order to start building scenarios for the future of journalism, key knowns and
unknowns must be identified:
The future of journalism
1. New business models
2. Success of current experiments
3. Pace of technological advancements
1. More digital technology
2. More news to cover and edit
3. Larger audience/more communities
4. Larger store of data/information
5. Faster access to information
In looking ahead at what the future of journalism might look like, it is important to also
look at what some of the driving forces of the industry are.
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What are two of the biggest factors affecting the status of journalism today?
Advertising (the old reliable revenue model) + Technology (new advancements allow for
greater customization, distribution options)
If we plot technological growth vs. advertising growth for the impact that would have on
the journalism industry (specifically how would that affect potential future business
models for journalism) we come up with four different scenarios:
Imagined possible futures from scenario grid:
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These imagined futures only look at business models that could support the industry. Just
as much has changed in how information is reported and consumed since 1995, the ways
news is produced, curated, and shared will continue to evolve over the next 15 years.
2025 will see technological advancements and enhancements that further enable
journalists and consumers to gather and understand the news.
Experts agree that technological growth will continue to enhance journalism, creating
More data and more ways to manipulate, visualize and share that data.
Customized news based on users wants, needs, location, history
Open development and APIs make it easier for sharing content
Better analytics (who's reading/listening/watching which content at what times):
Increased access to information and communication anywhere, anytime
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Technology may be the single most important driver in redefining and reshaping the
journalism industry as we know it today. In the next 15 years, the combination of new
business models and new digital strategies could make journalism profitable once again.
Wikipedia defines journalism as the craft of conveying news, descriptive material and
opinion via a widening spectrum of media. In addition to being redefined as an industry,
journalism, as a craft, is also expected to evolve with changes in technology and demand
over the next 15 years.
Based on current predictions and the inevitability of technological growth, the following
established categories of journalism will likely evolve and a few new ones may emerge.
*You may also navigate to these categories from the left navigation menu.
As Thomas Friedman explains in his best-selling book on globalization of the same title,
the world is flat — and it's getting flatter. Friedman uses "the world is flat" as a metaphor
for viewing the world as a level playing field in terms of commerce. In the book, he
stresses that historical and geographical divisions are becoming increasingly irrelevant in
the global economy and this same idea also applies to communications. Unlike ten years
ago, the Internet has made access to foreign news more accessible and coverage of
international events is deeper than ever before. Communicating across great distances is
as efficient and cheap as communicating across the street. The future will likely include
more access to news from every corner of the Earth, faster and more open than before.
Technology will enable anyone to read, watch, listen and see what‟s happening around
the world and then share and discuss these events publicly in new and interesting forms.
Want to know what‟s happening in the Congo? In the next 15 years, you‟ll be able to
find out way more about what‟s happening all over the world — even in remote areas.
National news, like world news, will continue to evolve. No one region in the U.S. will
reign as the authority on news in 2025 — information produced from around the nation
will populate „living stories‟ about issues affecting our nation. Dozens of blogs and
startup news sites are already aggregating and curating national news and investigative
reports on national interests and these initiatives will continue. Projects like the New
York Times‟ recent “Toxic Waters” application, which pulls in data on water
contamination from around the U.S., allows people to see these reports as they affect
them. This type of data, made accessible and relevant on a national scale will continue
and will evolve to include new ways to personalize, visualize and break down the
Watchdog journalism will be enhanced by technology in the next 15 years. Open
government initiatives will make public data and records more easily accessible and APIs
and data visualizations will make these records easier to comprehend. Investigative
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journalism will continue to probe the highest levels of authority and report on the truth in
government. Non-profit news organizations that specialize in investigative journalism,
like ProPublica, will exist to dive deeper into stories that require in-depth research and
reporting. These organizations that produce quality news will be syndicated by bigger
news organizations and social networks. Political reporting and investigative journalism
will be enhanced by the large stores of data that will be available online, as well as new
data manipulation and visualization tools to make sense of the data.
Hyper-local news is just one of the many experiments news companies are trying right
now. Earlier this year MSNBC bought EveryBlock — a news aggregation application
that pulls in news about your neighborhood. People spend an average of 49 weeks in the
city they live and work in. What does this mean? It means they care about their
neighborhood and what‟s going on around them. Blogs like DCist and WeLoveDC have
become widely used as a way to find out about events and news happening in D.C.
Readers of DCist argue that The Washington Post has become more of a national paper
and doesn‟t meet the needs of its residents who are looking for fast and simple ways to
find out about happenings in D.C. In the next 15 years, all major metropolitan areas will
spawn dozens of hyperlocal and niche news sites and blogs targeting locals with different
interests. In 15 years, sites like The Bold Italic will be the authority on local news and
events. These local sites will be augmented by data and tags and will also exist on
mobile platforms to allow people on the go to find information about where they are.
Advancements in technology, as it does with everything else, will indeed enhance the
reporting on technology. New products and technologies are being invented and shared
with the world at an increasing pace — this will not slow. Consumers will continue to
demand news on the latest technology as people are always looking for things that will
improve their lives and make things easier. Factual information about products and
reliable reviews will make technology journalism relevant and necessary in the digital
age. Deeper explanations for how things work, why they work and what these
technologies do and don‟t do will come about in the next 15 years. People will be able to
search for any new technology to find out what it does, how it works, ad get reliable
reviews from journalists as well as recommendations from friends and others on what to
use and how to use it.
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Sports journalism will always exist wherever sports fans exist. Instant access to sports
scores and commentary will continue to keep sports fans and followers engaged in the
subject and informed of their favorite teams. Scores, results, stories and analysis provide
fans with an in-depth look at games and teams. Documentaries like HBO‟s Hard Knocks,
which covers a different pro football team each summer during training season, and
highschoolsports.net‟s “The Ride,” which follows high school football players during
recruiting season, are examples of niche sports journalism that give viewers a deep look
into their world and their stories. Video and multimedia will continue to enhance sports
content in the next 15 years, providing users with more stories, stats and comments in
As technology continues to foster breakthroughs in science, science news will continue to
grow and expand as more research is published and science continues to shed light on the
Earth‟s past and present. Reporting on the Earth, the environment, space and the
universe, will truly be history in the making. The future of science reporting will involve
unlocking vast stores of research and data from the past and the present and delivering it
in forms readers can both understand and mash up themselves. Interestingly, some sites
today are enabling scientists from around the globe to share DNA bar-coding data to
determine species. Science journalism could aid in unlocking and providing databases
scientists could use to help their research — making it more widely accessible to the
Similar to science journalism, a demand for reporting on health and medicine will also
exist in the future — especially as breakthroughs in medicine and health occur and people
demand more information on how to stay healthy and fit. Research on health, disease,
medicine, fitness and news on breakthroughs and outbreaks will populate the health news
of the future. Databases on drugs, treatments, hospitals and research will enable users to
find information about any health topic they‟re looking for. “Living stories” on topics
like the Swine flu will help readers follow the evolution of the story and medical
progress. USA TODAY‟s hospital death rate interactive is one example of how data on
health-related issues could be made transparent. Interactives, charts and graphs will likely
continue to shed light on health issues in the next 15 years.
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Opinion has always been at the core of journalistic expression. News analysis, op-ed
sections and letters have created spaces for people o discuss concerns and share opinions
about the issues affecting them. Controversial and complex stories continue to leave lots
of room for debate and will still exist in 2025. People will continue to demand spaces
and forums for public debate on the issues that affect them, but where they go to find
analysis and comments on their issues may change. As more sites, forums, discussions
on conferences emerge on hot topics, for example, the 2009 United Nations Climate
Change Conference in Copenhagen has many venues for discussion, these streams of
opinions will become deeper and won‟t just exist on an „Opinions‟ page. Topic sites
dedicated to these controversial issues will be used to keep the conversations going and
breathe new life into „living stories‟ on on-going issues.
Coverage of subcategories like Art & Design, Books, Dance, Movies, Music, Television
and Theater fall under the genre of “Arts.” As long as there is an interest in these, there
will be a demand for news about them. And in the next 15 years, news about the arts will
be enhanced by more data, more reviews and more art content to cover. As the arts have
evolved in the past, the arts will continue to grow — new classifications of art, stories,
dance and other types of entertainment will emerge and create followers who want to
know more. Technology will enable user-submitted information to populate events and
reviews about the arts. People will want news about the arts to be curated and styled so
that the news is hierarchal, reports on the most newsworthy and interesting arts events
and uses a variety of media to inform the user (multimedia reporting will continue to
enhance arts journalism). One imagined scenario: That play at the Kennedy Center in
June 2025? It has an overall rating of 72% by Washington Post subscribers, but your
friends liked it even more, giving it a 91% rating. The photo gallery of the first Act was
stunning and the audio interviews with the actors provide an in-depth, behind-the-scenes
look at the production of the play. What is the story about? The Washington Post
journalists sum it up for you, adding a personalized indicator based on your preferences,
that you would probably enjoy the play. Live chats with the director in cast throughout
the duration of the play‟s run in D.C. keep theatergoers even more engaged and involved
in the arts.
The style genre presently includes topics like Fashion & Style, Dining & Wine, Home &
Garden and Weddings/Celebrations. These categories have both local and global interests
in trends, events, products, deals, and people. Questions about what to wear, where to
eat, what flowers to plant this season, and who‟s engaged will most likely still be relevant
in 15 years. As some newspapers are already doing, style reporting will likely aggregate
content from a variety of sources. Some news companies may choose to edit or custom
curate content for different locations, and personalized interests. People who read the
“Style” section of the Times today may have to sift through several pages to get to a story
that interests them. In 15 years, your Times will know you well enough to put your local
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restaurant opening announcements right at the top of the page and/or in an alert sent to
your mobile. You love the fashion reviews and want to check out the spring line of Marc
Jacobs in person? Hover over the dress you like and find out if there‟s a store near you
and whether that dress is in stock in your size.
The Internet allows users to do more than just read about places to go. Interactive photo
galleries, 360 panoramas, video and audio allow users to experience more of the travel
than ever before. Technology has made it easier to find ways to travel, travel tips and
recommendations, as well as customize preferences for stories. As sites become more
customized and populated with data, users will have the opportunity to find travel articles
on the places they're interested in, or might be interested in based on their other likes and
dislikes. Travel deals, recommendations, reviews and experiences will all be enhanced in
the next 15 years.