From the leak of The New York Times innovation report to the craze over Serial, a lot has happened this year. Here are 10 of the most important things.
1- The New York Times innovation report is leaked. The publication of the 96-page internal report in May showed to the outside world the struggles the Times has been going through to adapt to digital and mobile.
The report detailed the problems in the Times' social media strategy, how the traditional newsroom culture clashes with digital staffers, and how the Times is threatened by leaner, more digitally savvy competitors like BuzzFeed, Circa and Vox.
The team that prepared the report recommended to de-emphasize print, create a newsroom strategy unit and make a bigger effort in attracting top digital talent.
Adding to the shaky ground, the report was published by BuzzFeed two days after the Times announced the firing of Executive Editor Jill Abramson, though her departure wasn't directly related to the paper’s digital setbacks.
2- The Washington Post goes full Bezos. More than a year after Amazon's founder Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post, things seem to be looking up for the news organization. The Post hired more than 100 staffers this past year, won two Pulitzer Prizes and had its biggest traffic month in its history last July. And Bezos seems to be thinking of new revenue sources: it was recently reported that the Post plans to license its content management system (CMS) to local and regional newspapers.
3- News distribution and the opacity of algorithms. In August, while the Ferguson demonstrations were blowing up people’s Twitter feeds, some noted that they saw a very different reality on Facebook, one filled with Ice Bucket Challenge videos, baby pictures and wedding announcements.
That brought up questions about how algorithms curate the content we see, therefore the reality we experience.
The question many started posing was: If social media platforms like Facebook dominate news distribution now, shouldn’t people know how its algorithm works, and why it chooses to surface certain things instead of others?
This showed how the relationship between journalism and tech companies is still somewhat strained, and tensions arise as tech companies take on more roles that used to be exclusive of the press. Two good reads on this topic: What’s the right relationship between technology companies and journalism?, by Emily Bell, and Dave Winer's response, How to Rebuild Journalism.
4- Being a woman in tech/media still sucks. Jill Abramson’s firing from the Times brought up the issue of sexism and gender equality in media while #gamergate showed how women in tech and online media are harassed on a daily basis.
One good thing happened in 2014 though: Twitter finally implemented changes in an attempt to curb online harassment.
5- Serial goes viral. The podcast produced by This American Life that carefully dissected the case against Adnan Syed, convicted of killing his exgirlfriend in Baltimore in 1999, proved that audio can go viral, giving public radio a new hope for distribution and fundraising. Podcasts found a second wind. While Serial’s ending left us debating who killed Hae for days on end (have you read Jay’s interview?), the producers announced that the podcast will have a new season next year.
6- Newsletters go viral. Though everybody seems to complain about email overload, 2014 has seen the rise of the email newsletter. In a way to cut through the noise and get back that lost feeling of personalization, at one point it seemed like everyone with a pulse and an Internet connection had a newsletter.
7- Mobile and social can't stop, won’t stop. For many news orgs, mobile traffic surpassed desktop traffic, and thinking mobile-first became the new mandate. The World Cup became the most shared event on social media, showing how we experience mass events as a collective nowadays.
8- Measuring impact: steering away from clicks to time spent on site and engagement. Media companies are still trying to figure out the best way to measure impact, but one thing seems to be certain: they are steering away from clicks and pageviews and favoring other engagement metrics, like time spent on site. Upworthy, YouTube, Medium and Chartbeat are just a few seeking to measure user engagement.
9- Journalists experiment with wearables. Though it’s still an emergent technology, reporters are increasingly experimenting with wearables.
Tim Pool, who became known for covering live events with a smart watch and Google Glass for Vice Media, was recently hired to lead a breaking news unit at Fusion, a TV network focusing on millennials that launched late last year, while professor Robert Hernandez started the first Glass journalism course at USC Annenberg.
10- Media entrepreneurs test the waters. Not everything was super depressing about journalism this year: a number of new media ventures were launched, while other media companies managed to expand and raise millions of dollars.
The Marshall Project, Ebola Deeply, Vox.com and FiveThirtyEight are only a few of the new players that sprung up this year. At the same time, Vice Media and BuzzFeed expanded and raised more money, while Fusion hired an all-star digital team. First Look Media, which made news for mismanagement and the early departures of some of its most prominent hires, launched The Intercept, founded by Glenn Greenwald, and Reported.ly, a social-based reporting project led by Andy Carvin.
Main image: CC-Licensed, thanks to dordik on Flickr.
Secondary image: Instagram photo by Maite Fernandez of The Washington Post front page, Aug. 4, 2013.