New trends in technology often leave newsrooms scrambling to figure out what to do next.
Digital strategist Amy Webb helps journalists and newsrooms get ahead of the curve. Her annual presentation on tech trends for journalists is always one of the most popular sessions at the Online News Association conference. This year’s 10 Tech Trends for Journalists at last week's conference in Atlanta was no different. Within a few minutes after it started, the session was standing-room only.
IJNet attended and got a chance to soak up Webb’s take on upcoming trends:
Trend #1: Anticipatory computing. Search is evolving to include contextual information to predict people’s thought processes. An iPad app like MindMeld, which predicts the information users will need in the next 10 seconds by analyzing the last 10 minutes of their conversation, will be rolled out to the public soon. Journalists could use the app while interviewing sources, Webb said.
Trend #2: Smart Virtual Personal Assistants. The market for Smart Virtual Personal Assistants (SVPA) has grown rapidly in the past 12 months, Webb said. A few examples of SVPA apps she showcased are Donna, Osito and Tempo.
Newsrooms should take a cue from these apps and deliver not only news and content to users, but personalized info such as background from social media on the people with whom they have business meetings and the latest headlines related to the companies where they work.
Trend #3: Personalized video. Online video was already a trend in 2012. What’s different now? 2014 is when video competition will become brutal. “Just having good video is not enough anymore,” Webb said.
Personalized video will be a good way to go. An example of this trend is Gui.de, which shows information from your preferred sources and will pull all that content into a single dashboard with visuals. Treehouse, from Interlude, makes video interactive, allowing the viewer to choose the direction of the video.
Webb said that newsrooms should differentiate, and not every newsroom should become a TV studio. For some outlets, the option might be to deliver content that is closer to infotainment rather than documentary.
Trend #4: MOOCs. Massive Open Online Courses (or MOOCs) have gained a lot of traction in the past few years. “Millennials are addicted to fast learning,” Webb said. Newsrooms can ride this trend by producing stories like The Washington Post’s "9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask," which went viral and is a good example of a short, snackable learning experience, she said.
Trend #5: Comments. Or, more accurately, the need to fix them. When Webb published a story on Slate on why she and her husband had decided not to post content about their baby daughter online, she enraged a slew of trolls. “Your child will kill herself one day because of you,” was one of the tokens of online love she said she received.
Newsrooms are trying to figure out how to fix comments. Quartz introduced annotations, Gawker’s Kinja gives commenters more power while Popular Science decided to kill its comments section altogether.
A comments section should be like a cocktail party, Webb said, where you talk to people you already know and people who you would find fascinating. To that end, The Guardian has introduced a commenting system that shows you comments by people you know and follow from your social media accounts. It also gives you curated recommendations and the ability to invite people to the conversation.
Trend #7: Screenless computing. Google Glass and DocoMo Translator Goggles are both examples of screenless computing, a trend that will take off in 2014. The pressure is on newsrooms to figure out completely new story types for these devices, Webb said.
Trend #8: Data. Data has been one of the big buzzwords this year, and using data is a trend that’s not going away. "Everyone has to get their hands dirty and play with data," Webb said. Data journalism has become an exciting new field in the past few years, with newsrooms such as ProPublica, La Nación Argentina and NPR producing innovative investigative work after days, or even months, of crunching data.
Trend #9: Drones. At this point in the presentation, Matt Waite, founder of the Drone Journalism Lab at the University of Nebraska, took over the stage and flew a drone equipped with a camera over the audience. Many had their smartphones up, recording the drone flying over them, as it recorded them back.
Unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, have been used to cover protests and other breaking news events, such as the protests that followed the 2011 parliamentary elections in Russia. Waite and his Drone Journalism Lab used one to cover Nebraska's drought last year.
However, in the U.S., only hobbyists (people who are not compensated in any way) and government agents can fly drones, said Waite. But the government is going to propose new rules regulating drones and, by 2015, it might be legal to fly one of this devices with commercial purposes, he said.
Trend #10: Hardware. Open source tools and printers will help popularize the maker movement. One of the most clear and successful applications in the newsroom is the work WNYC has been doing with sensor journalism, most notably the Cicada project, where they used sensors to track the return of the cicadas. These tools will provide newsrooms with the next generation of User Generated Content, Webb said.
Image: Woman wearing Google Glass, CC-licensed thanks to Drakh in Flickr.
Maite Fernández is IJNet’s managing editor. She is bilingual in English and Spanish and has an M.J. in multimedia journalism from the University of Maryland.