What Is The Future of Journalism

Anyone who has being paying attention has noticed that the news industry is in great flux. The way we read and consume news, whether that be via traditional print sources, online, on our devices or on the myriad of social media sources, the way we access and consume news is fluid. How we consume information also affects how data is archived, stored or harnessed later to be used for research. As a result, the industry itself is dramatically changing.

A simplistic view of how the news is produced and consumed assumes that consumers are turning to social media and abandoning newspapers and newscasts. But the shift is more complex than a simple change of preferred platforms. Consumers are influencing how they want to access their news. News consumption is now being replaced by how people access their information, where they access it and with what devices. According to the Newspaper Fact Sheet “Newspapers are a critical part of the American news landscape, but they have been hit hard as more and more Americans consume news digitally.” (link) And it’s not only newspapers, but all traditional media.

Traditional news formats have been transformed between from analog formats and digital ones. For example, it is not enough to read scripts of events to television audiences. Today they expect supporting multimedia content and context. Radio audiences expect commentary to be delivered wit their news. However, the most important shift has been in that news audiences are navigating away from scheduled newscasts towards “breaking news” delivering immediate updates throughout the day.

News professionals decry the Internet as in interloper destroying their industry. News professionals feel betrayed as their profession is taken over by amateurs who are really citizen journalists reporting the events that affect them directly as they happen.

News has always been about the events in our lives. In the past, we have depended on news outlets and professionals to decide what was important and to decipher, edit and repackage the news and then bring it to our attention in bite size pieces for us to digest. As the expense to deliver the news grew, so did the need to put funding before the news. News delivery is now influenced by money. For example, for the most part, the election campaign of Alexandia Ocasio-Cortez was ignored by most outlets initially because she was considered an improbable candidate. It wasn’t until after she won her primary did the news media start to pay attention to her. Her campaign didn’t have the money to back her candidacy and as a result the news media wasn’t interested in her campaign.

News media adapts technology to deliver the news based on the ability to sell advertising opportunities and not because the consumers demand it. But technology has allowed news consumers to consume news as they like.

The use of technology allows news consumers to become the producers of news and have altered the way news is shared. Recent developments in technology has shortened the time an event occurs to when it is reported and as a result created the demand for immediacy in the delivery of news via the Internet. What has resulted is a deluge of information, tweets, sound bites, videos, photographs, etc., all delivered via the Internet every minute, every hour, every day, 24/7. News consumers now decide when they want to consume news and what news is important to them. Anyone with a cell phone is now a news consumer, from high powered executives to migrants migrating from Honduras because most everyone has a smartphone today. The news hole is now in the hands of masses, delivered instantly through their preferred method of consumption, whether visually, written, verbally or a combination of them.

Consumers now demand democratized news.

Facebook, Twitter have become delivery methods simply because they existed. They fill the news void that consumers demand.

But what is the future of news?

To see what the future of news looks like we need to understand that news is news as it happens. News that is 24 hours or older is not today’s news. It is history being interpreted by different lenses and viewpoints.

As an example, was last week an earthquake hit Anchorage, Alaska. Most news consumers became aware of it from their social media channels, either as it happened or soon after. As the events happened, generally, most consumers wanted to know immediately what had happened and where, that is was an earthquake in Alaska and that there was damage. For some, the most important question was whether their families or friends were hurt.

But as the earthquake ran its course the future of news was on full display. National news channels reported the what and the where, but they used citizen reporters to provide the full picture to the consumers. Except for the footage from the local television stations, the imagery and the description of what was happening was brought to the news consumers via citizen reporters sharing their observations and their experiences via their smartphones and tablets.

Thus, the future of news is the citizens reporting through hybrid models which merge evolving technology through connected smart devices on to the people close to the event that produce the news we consumer. Along with smart devices, consumers have grown to expect immediate news delivered to them in the format they are most comfortable with. Some consumers want in-depth context filled news presented in formatted form while others want quick sound bites delivering the how, what and when quickly and efficiently.

News reporters will not go away, but news reporting will change. We need to think of news media training as a practice which will evolve. There will be communications training, but the skills will change as the consumers continue to assert themselves and technology continues to evolve.

News reporters are changing towards niche experts delivering in-depth analysis on complex news events to niche consumers. There are many who will argue that the time for the professional news reporters is far from gone. However, anyone paying attention to national news, whether through CNN, MSNBC or Fox News will note that news reporters no longer report just the facts of the news. All the networks offer anchors who provide monologues to the events of the day before delivering the news. Local news stations offer a 4 p.m., 4:30 p.m. and a 6 p.m. news program and it is usually the same broadcast. This is because the consumers aren’t waiting for the 6 p.m. news slot to consume the news of the day. Thus, local stations are offering the same news cast in different slots to accommodate the consumers. But that model ignores that what the consumers want is immediate news on their terms.

Another important reason the local news stations do this type of reporting of the same news of the day is because by the time the consumers sit to watch the news, they already know the basics of what transpired. They have already read about it on Facebook or Twitter, etc. Even the reporters on the ground and at the events offer more than facts as they deliver the news. Today’s news reporters generally provide context to what is going on, even amid chaos. During the Alaska earthquake the news channels filtered the news through to the consumers from feeds from citizen journalists to reporters on the ground who added color. The news anchors then prodded experts to add to the information stream delivering to consumers context to the event.

Further proof that the future is changing and may not need as many news reporters lies in the ongoing battles between the news agencies and the Trump Administration. The Trump White House has stopped providing regular news briefs from the White House. Yet, the news from the White House is still delivered via their online platform on a regular basis. News briefs, or press releases are released regularly by most federal, state and local agencies.

However, some will rightly point to the fact that without the long-term cultivation of sources within the government that news reporters nurture over time, the news would lack details that news consumers would not know about. For example, the government may deliver a perfectly crafted press release about a controversial issue that masks the true facts. A reporter with access to inside sources would receive additional information or context that the government entity would rather not let out.

Cultivating sources able to provide additional details are necessary. But with cultivated sources comes the need to have experts on specific topics, i.e. governance, international trade, the economy or the legal system.

Reality shows us that the news reporters of the future will need to evolve into niche experts who collate and organize complex issues to deliver to the consumers in digest form. One example is the current Chapo Guzman trial which is expected to last for three to four months. There are a few reporters at the Chapo trial who are attending the day-to-day events. Reports from the few reporters are reporting nuggets of details in between breaks through Twitter and full reports of the previous day’s trial activities the following day. Very few news outlets have the resources to allow their reporters to attend the full trial. Furthermore, to truly report the complexity of the trial’s events, the reporters must have at least a fundamental understanding of the complexities of the international drug trade as well as American jurisprudence. The reporters of the future must be niche experts on the topics they are covering to satisfy their news niche consumers.

As a result of the evolving news delivery mechanisms and the Internet, news outlets have begun pooling reporters at locations to share resources across different agencies and platforms. Today’s reporters are also expected to deliver the traditional news column or video package as well as to update the agency’s social media channels. Television news stations are doing away with photogs and requiring reporters to produce their own video and photography, which technology now allows.

Future professional news reporters will have to be a combination expert on a niche and able to package the news in different formats as well as sell it to outlets who deliver it to consumers. As professional reporters change, will the news anchors experience the same fate?

The anchors of the future will have to curate content from various sources who compile the news that their audiences care for and package them in packages ready for the consumers to consume. News niches will be anything their audiences demand. For example, political junkies want to know about politics while most families want to know about their immediate surroundings and how local events affect their families. Economy junkies want to know about trade deficits and Wall Street swings while new parents or people dealing with sickness want to focus on health-related events.

The anchors will become curators of news. They will package news from various sources that their consumers want.

The future news formats will evolve from printed paper to video newscasts to on-demand digital writeups, podcasts, videos or interactive presentations offering full context.

In tomorrow’s post will look at what the future of news platforms may look like.

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