Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What will journalism look like 10 years from now?

Over at NiemanLab, there has a been a litany of predictions for journalism for 2011; my own should be in the works over there.

But at Quora, where I'm a member, somebody asked, "What will journalism look like 10 years from now?" This is a good question, because year-to-year changes don't always reflect the long-term trends. Here's the answer I posted:

There are those who say that only trained professionals can practice journalism, but as a practical matter, journalism will continue to be practiced by a range of people with professionals at one end and amateurs at the other, publishing via a range of channels with large commercial and non-profit news organizations at one end and individual bloggers at the other.

Some of these will have paid access, some will be free; some will be on paper, some on websites, some on apps, some on other channels, and many on some combination of these distribution methods. Journalism will be fully platform-independent. But although platforms and cost are not directly relevant to how journalism will be practiced, they do affect how journalists may earn a living. So lets look at ways the work of journalists across the spectrum may change over the next ten years:

More freelancers: Individual journalists will have enhanced ability to earn a living by selling directly to news consumers, which will better enable them to operate outside of traditional news organizations and sell their content in multiple ways including syndication, curated channels, individually branded channels.

Deeper, smarter analysis: The teams unleashed on the Wikileaks troves are just one example of the ways journalists could be extracting more information out of piles of data, much of which is publicly and legally available but not subjected to journalistic scrutiny. To do this, journalists will need to acquire better skills and resources in data mining and statistical analysis.

More sophisticated coverage of niche topics: Journalists have traditionally been generalists with training and experience covering broad topics like politics and business, but with relatively few journalists specialized on narrower topics in science, medicine, engineering, education, philosophy, etc. But coverage of special interest niches offers some of the more lucrative revenue opportunities going forward, so there will be more journalist/scientists, journalist/doctors, journalist/engineers, etc. who offer expert coverage in many narrow topical areas.

More accountability through social communities: Nearly all journalism will be practiced in conjunction with robust social networking functionality. To some extent this is already the case as there is commenting on stories, distribution of story links via Twitter and Facebook, etc. But social functionality will evolve into the formation of many more online communities around topical content, so that nearly all journalistic output will be subjected to more rigorous, more real-time scrutiny and discussion. As well, these content-focused communities will become resources to journalists in researching and reporting news.

More local competition: Barriers to entry are nil at the local level. While newspapers and broadcasters have had some degree of monopolistic control over local news markets, their remaining dominance will disappear, creating many opportunities for locally-focused news enterprises supported by advertising networks connecting local businesses with consumers across multiple platforms.

More diversity (in the US): As the country becomes more diverse — ethnically, politically, religiously, socially — there will be many more opportunities for minority journalists in many fields of coverage.

More multimedia: This should go without saying, because even today a journalist should be proficient not only with written language but with audio, video and graphics of all kinds.

The death of the "story:" Just as "editions" are obsolete in a 24/7 continuous news cycle, so will "stories" as units of output. News output will become wikified — that is, most developing news stories will start out as a quickly-broadcasted headline; it will grow into a news alert of a paragraph or two; that will evolve into a story; the story will gather social input and commentary, becoming a wiki; the wiki will evolve just like a Wikipedia entry through further input from the community and from journalists; it will split into multimedia formats and gain multimedia illustrative components; and finally it will gain analytical depth and statistical data components as appropriate. Rather than the currently typical story about a news development in which there are a few new facts and a great deal of rehash of background, those new facts simply become attached to the existing, ongoing, long-lived topical wikis, or to several of them. "Breaking news" effectively will consist of the changelogs of the wikis.

1 comment:

DB said...

"...enhanced ability to earn a living..."

I guess that's one way to look at it.

But most journalists do not have the marketing skills necessary to become successful freelancers. Most freelancers now struggle to earn a living, enhanced though it may be.

A few will do just fine, but it will only be a relative few.

I don't see this as a good trend for journalism.