Trends in journalism are important for publishers and journalists to analyze in order to effectively prepare for a future that may look very different than our present.
During a recent ICFJ Pamela Howard Forum on Global Crisis Reporting webinar, Sam Guzik of the Future Today Institute, and Nic Newman from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism shared their insights on what is shaping the news industry today, and how this will inform what is next for newsrooms and audiences.
“Our choices will determine if the future of journalism is hopeful or bleak,” said Guzik. “The future isn’t predestined. If we can identify a threat in the future we can also turn it into an opportunity, but that’s only true if we plan for it today.”
Newman produces an annual research report for the Reuters Institute in which he analyzes the emergence of notable trends and offers predictions in media and technology. In the latest edition, Newman discussed the rise of podcasts and audio reporting; increasing revenue for newsrooms especially through subscriptions; acquisitions and bundling of companies; targeting of young people through visual content; hybrid newsrooms; and the popularity of newsletter-led publications and startups. Publishers are increasingly investing in these trends even as news readership overall has fallen.
“Some of this is cyclical after this extraordinary time for news. But, it also represents a fundamental challenge for publishers as consumption moves online, such as a loss of interest in news and politics by certain groups,” said Newman.
Audiences and publishers are also increasingly worried about information inequality, and reporting on important issues like climate change more effectively. There is a growing need for reporters and newsrooms to build skills for today’s industry needs and those of the future — especially as media organizations are already increasingly incorporating developments like artificial intelligence, he explained.
“Being essential doesn’t guarantee [journalism’s] future. Our industry is too important to assume we’ll be okay,” said Guzik.
How to respond and use information about trends is critical for the industry, added Newman: “We need to think about retention, [and] we need to think about growth. The industry is trying to focus on features they can deliver today [and] giving attention to core issues.”
The history of journalism is grounded in disruption. This is not a new development, explained Guzik, noting that it dates back to the invention of the printing press in the 1400s. In the past century, radio, television and the internet have all disrupted the media market. It is important to look within the industry, but also to trends outside of it to better prepare for changing times.
Guzik and Newman highlighted several new trends to look out for, such as the rise of synthetic media like deepfakes, AI algorithms that can translate, transcribe and more, and the metaverse. These trends will impact not only how audiences consume news but also how reporting is gathered and disseminated.
Newman predicts that the ultimate battle will be between platforms and publishers. “The challenge is where to invest and how to stand out. It’s harder to create value, and the business model gets even harder [to maintain].”
Planning for the future
Analysis of history, current trends and research can help media leaders make predictions to better prepare newsrooms for new developments, said Guzik.
He predicts that emerging trends like natural language search, different kinds of AI, wearables and aggregation will impact not just newsrooms but every part of the value chain, from how people search for information to advertising. “It’s not enough to just observe what’s happening. I believe it’s possible to use this kind of analysis to make better choices today, but it starts with seeing trends and acting,” he added.
Newman noted that responding to change requires using available tools and developing skills for the future to better prepare business models and products for consumers and publishers alike. Reaching audiences in new, more personalized ways, developments in content creation and consumption, and new devices and platforms will change our world. They will lower barriers, but will also be unknown territory, noted Guzik.
“Other industries are defining what expectations the consumer will have, and there’s a real risk,” said Guzik. “We’re not just responsible to use these technologies to propagate our businesses, but it’s also essential we use our knowledge as journalists to challenge these technologies and to think about what implication they have on society.”