News Flash From the Future: What Will Journalism Look Like?

With newspapers’ traditional business model in free fall, the top media minds at global design firm IDEO (designer of the Apple mouse, consultant to Fortune 500 companies) were asked to imagine: How will we get our news after the traditional model falls apart? Here's their answer.

everythingisilluminated1 Illustrations by Tom Manning for IDEO | Photographs by Nicolas Zurcher with IDEO

THE ONCE PROFITABLE NEWS INDUSTRY IS TEETERING ON THE BRINK. The recession has battered advertising. Dailies are folding. Printing the New York Times for a year costs twice as much as sending every subscriber a free Kindle. The Daily Show is a more trusted source than network news. And consumers have been marginalized in media dialogue about how to save journalism.

Yet how we define and experience news can—and should—change for the better, if we ground ourselves in what people really need and want. The next four pages showcase two environments that put the future of news in the context of our daily lives. In these scenarios, we see that information has become even more personalized and hyperlocal—and, paradoxically, more communal, participatory, and global. Journalism is more like having a conversation. People speak with unique voices, take ownership of content, and establish credibility, which in turn enables strong communities in which news can thrive. Anything that's notable to a person in a particular moment and place becomes newsworthy.

This future journalism is less beholden to current models of production, distribution, and advertising support—but nimble brands still find ways to thrive. Formerly obscure companies, like Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Wikipedia—now household names—are joined by other powerful companies in a network of touchpoints that lets us find the information we want as soon as we want it. News is supported by a web of contributions from consumers, for-profits, nonprofits, distribution partners, and other entities. Rather than eschewing risk and possible failure, brands (at least the ones that endure) shift from a top-down model of centralized distribution to become incubators for journalistic experiments.

Everything is Illuminated

Peer into the future and imagine the landscape of information that could be available to you. When connected to high-speed, wireless Internet, two people looking at the same street could access completely different information. One might call up postings for nearby school events, while the other might opt to see news about a campaign to fix local sidewalks following the last earthquake. Users could add to this cloud of news right from where they stood, or from anywhere else with network coverage. This customized mix of news feeds could include the local, international, social, personal—or just plain weird.

feedyourmindFeed your mind: This highly contextual network can provide real-time information from countless feeds and filters. A far cry from today's mobile RSS feeds, the network lets you blog live, trace a history, find a clue, follow a trail, or even uncover a mystery.

Screen capture: Your video-enabled mobile device will become an enhanced lens on the world, thanks to a combination of high bandwidth, location-specific information, tremendous processing power, and ultrasmart image processing.whatsoldisnew

What's old is new: Depending on your interests, you'll be able to browse through various histories of wherever you find yourself. How did this street look on VJ Day? When was the last time Radiohead played down the road?


everythingisilluminated2

Crystal-ball culture: Predictive analysis follows us everywhere, and it's created by more than the major data crunchers (Google, Microsoft, and government agencies). Every time you trash a restaurant or alert the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition about an accident, you contribute to the collective foresight: That restaurant probably won't be very good. You really shouldn't be near this intersection on Thursday nights under a sliver moon.embellishmentwelcome

Make your mark: All this information didn't come from just anywhere—it came from each of us, as well as from other trusted news and information sources. We can rate it, rant about it, forward it to friends and colleagues, add to it, and even edit it on the spot.

Embellishment welcome: News is often generated when a curious onlooker digs deeper into a story that's been overlooked or discarded. This great find might start with a seemingly trivial observation ("Hey, was that hot-dog graffiti here yesterday?").

Future Newsroom

futurenewsroom1

Tomorrow's newsroom resembles today's café—but look closer. From your perch, you see that the woman near the door is commenting on a story that a blogger just posted. Market St. Beat, as the blogger's handle reads, is one of the most popular and trusted journalists in the city—but she's never set foot in a traditional newsroom.

Those touchpad tables are filled with local information: You can scroll through upcoming events (from concerts to job fairs) and get a customized printout of the ones that catch your eye. An older patron still likes to read the paper, but it's not really paper. And he's not just reading—he's watching and commenting, making the world a smaller and more personal place.

Almost everyone is making some kind of contribution that has a local (and possibly global) impact. The café itself is a source of news, personalized for its customers.

Participation pays: Several regulars earn points and credibility by reading, writing, rating, and ranting about the news (and they, in turn, are rated by other café patrons). This process makes the café a trusted new filter with its own unique local voice. Points can get you a free cup of joe, a dose of notoriety, even the attention of professional news networks.

eveyonepartofthestoryEveryone's part of the story: Within moments of being posted, this neojournalist's story receives immediate feedback from her readers, her trusted network of reviewers and fact-checkers, and her sources.

The signal behind the noise: By analyzing the frequency and content of online conversations, advanced social network analysis tools will help give newshounds access to unlikely networks of experts on the most obscure subjects in the strangest of places.

signalbehindthenoiseBurn your press card: Like any San Francisco Giant, all reporters will have immediate, realtime statistical analysis of their performance. Just as sports stats have undergone a revolution that increased their relevance, so will our ability to judge the quality of our journalists. Good luck, Glenn Beck.


futurenewsroom2

Sharing is caring: Interactive touchscreens are built into everyday work surfaces, allowing people to share news and information as easily as passing notes across a table.

hitchingarideHitching a ride: Good ol' cork bulletin boards are supplemented by electronic means of displaying community activity and interests. What's happening in this café? What's the latest from our sister café in Bangalore? Anyone looking for a lift to Portland?

Print isn't dead: Local newspapers and magazines with passionate audiences will thrive, and each reader's experience will be enhanced by easily customizable newspapers-on-demand.

papergoesplasticPaper goes plastic: The speed at which we create, react to, and act on news is fundamentally changing our relationship to information and how we put it in context. Revolutionary interfaces will engage us in constant dialogue with our surroundings and our favorite news sources, from Wolf Blitzer to an uncle in Shanghai.

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25 Comments

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  • Rekha Murthy

    @Michael Roberts: The conflation of information and journalism in this essay was troubling to me, too. But you (and Neil Postman) articulated it far better than I could have. I've seen so many of these cyberutopian user scenarios - they're cute, kind of fun, even useful. I've worked on a few myself. But they're not journalism and shouldn't be pitched as such.

  • Michael Roberts

    Despite using the terms interchangeably, IDEO seems to be talking more about “information” than “news.” And the piece notes in passing that quality information bubbling up from the café might even draw “the attention of professional news networks.” Sounds like the present without details on what the new professional model might be.

    This passage is eerie, but familiar sophistry from various media futurists:

    "People speak with unique voices, take ownership of content, and establish credibility, which in turn enables strong communities in which news can thrive. Anything that's notable to a person in a particular moment and place becomes newsworthy."

    Foreshadowed in another way 25 years ago by Neil Postman, in the foreward to his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death:

    "What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right."

  • Kevin Lenard

    Monetization is the real issue, and IDEO hasn't really addressed it.

    I’ll pay a few cents for an article, but won’t pay $49/mo. for access to only one publishers’ archives. I want to read the Economist, CNN, Newsweek, AdAge, Time and a local news provider to get a cross-section of different reporters’ views and I want those experts to filter the bloggers and feed me Seth Godin’s blog only when it is pertinent and relevant (and worthwhile). I suspect were reaching the ‘maturing’/saturation point of blogging and Twitter. I really don’t want to read 100 ‘tweets’ a day, 1,000 blog entries a week, nor do I want to get stuck in a cycle of reading only one tight, narrow-minded group of bloggers who are all inter-linked.

    In other words, contrary to this IDEO notion which is riding on the current popularity of what is largely a lot of experimenting with new technology and, as such, is not necessarily where things will net out in 2 or 10 years from now (the 35+ year old segment is already tiring of Facebook and abandoning it -- you could argue that they're not the target, but they do communicate what people who value their limited time want, just because 12-24 year olds and a lot of geeks spend all their time on something today, doesn't mean they will when they have jobs and 2 kids or move on to the next new thing), the prediction of many pundits back in 2003 seems to be dawning, the notion that eventually people will tire of ‘free’ news and opinions and will return to be willing to pay to have someone clever, experienced and trustworthy sort things out (research and edit) for us.

    One key to success for news suppliers would be for a service like Pay Pal to offer a ‘universal subscription’ service — I pay $129/mo and get access to EVERY news publishers’ archives — they sort out payment distribution as iTunes does. (Now THAT’S a big idea!)

    If I'm paying for articles, I’ll complain if they push too many ads at me, but if they TRACK my behaviour -- and there's an increased possibility of doing so if a blanket subscription buys me into all of, say, Time-Warner’s news sites -- then the ads I’ll see will be more addressable (relevant to me) and I might even enjoy the ad feeds!

    Just a thought. http://advertisingbusinessmode...

  • Temenouzhka Zaharieva

    Yes, the world is going to become more comfortable place with all these possibilities, but I do agree with those concerned about the so called "Wiki-journalism". Let's take the example with the restaurant - this kind of journalism allows competitors to influence its reputation the way they feel is best for them.

  • Paul Baron

    There will always be the need for journalism and investigative reporting on the issues and matters of national and international import .. but I agree that the model, both of business and of economy require a new methodology. Consider the hyper-local efforts, but not simply to provide ad dollars, but also a feeder or journalism-mill of sorts for emerging and experienced reporters and students of journalism. At www.hometowntimes.com, we address both the needs of the community and also the opportunity for student, retired journalists, and those laid off from the declining opportunities in print to return home, create a local foundation for their financial future, and create a legacy for their families and neighbors. We are soliciting journalists to take a look at our model - where the stakeholder is the local journalist or ad salesperson -- what the future brings to those making a living off the ad sales to support the community's need for information, events, business, and hard news. I encourage anyone looking to solve the problems and discover a new career path of independence to take a look at hometowntimes.com today.

  • Jesse Weinberger

    The critical portion of that question - is what will "journalism" look like, and that may be the sticking point. How we will get our news is a different or at least a separate question.

    I've just launched www.iChagrin.com , which is an online-only newspaper serving Chagrin Falls Ohio and South Russell Ohio. All of the content is user generated. Based on what I've seen so far and the way the trend is headed - the final product will be some unholy hybrid of the two forms: traditional versus collaborative media.

    For traditional media to be dismissive of so-called wiki-journalism is foolish (as we've seen recently). In return collaborative news sites may not be able to answer some of the nationally or internationally big questions (think Watergate), but on the hyper-local level the yet to be fixed pothole may be bigger news.

    What is considered news-worthy was once determined strictly by sales on the newsstand. Collaborative efforts take a different road, and yes some of those big stories can result, especially on a local level.

    There will always be a place for big national print media, it just may not look like it used to.

  • Jesse Weinberger

    The critical portion of that question - is what will "journalism" look like, and that may be the sticking point. How we will get our news is a different or at least a separate question.

    I've just launched iChagrin.com, which is an online-only newspaper serving Chagrin Falls Ohio and South Russell Ohio. All of the content is user generated. Based on what I've seen so far and the way the trend is headed - the final product will be some unholy hybrid of the two forms: traditional versus collaborative media.

    For traditional media to be dismissive of so-called wiki-journalism is foolish (as we've seen recently). In return collaborative news sites may not be able to answer some of the nationally or internationally big questions (think Watergate), but on the hyper-local level the yet to be fixed pothole may be bigger news.

    What is considered news-worthy was once determined strictly by sales on the newsstand. Collaborative efforts take a different road, and yes some of those big stories can result, especially on a local level.

    There will always be a place for big national print media, it just may not look like it used to.

  • Pat Lazure

    Loraine,

    I appreciate your comments about "wiki-journalism" above, & would be curious to get your constructive thoughts regarding my new start-up called www.WikiCity.com which provides a city wiki for every city.

    Pat Lazure

  • Mark Ivey

    One more issue to think about as people ponder this brave new world: who is going to back you (blogger) up legally the first time an angry company/person drags you into court? If you work for Time, the WSJ, or BusinessWeek, you have lawyers behind you. If you write for this week's ad hoc journalism group, you're on your own...so you'd better have good insurance. Maybe we can all just write entertainment stories (but be careful what you say)

  • Bill Ingle

    I must agree with Loraine. What makes a quality newspaper a quality newspaper? This has much more to do with the combined efforts of highly trained journalists and editors than with the format or the business model.

    There will always be a difference between professional journalism and amateur efforts, as in any field or activity; the structures of business and society are changing, not the distinction between professionals and amateurs.

    Nevertheless, a changed news industry structure must support professional activity -- no quality newspaper can exist if the antiquated structure that supports it has disintegrated. Professionals can't do their job for nothing or without the minimum resources.

    (There is still a great difference between a quality newspaper and those corporate entities that present news but are ruled entirely by a corporate ethos, allowing this to distort their output. This is a related but different question.)

    So -- what does the future of quality journalism look like?

    The web can certainly enable a much more direct connection between journalists and their readers. Anyone can easily imagine any number of possibilities along these lines.

    Imagine, for example, ad hoc collections of journalists and editors who "team" to write particular stories or a series of stories.

    They may rent temporary office space but won't require a "Daily Planet" headquarters building -- they'll be highly distributed, perhaps working from their homes as freelancers.

    Their readers will pay them directly, possibly -- for particular investigative stories -- in advance. (Say 10,000,000 interested readers pay such a group to investigate something like the unexamined loose ends of the events of 9/11, each contributing $1.00 via PayPal. With a greatly reduced structure -- overhead, management, etc., etc., that $10,000,000.00 will pay for quite a bit of professional story, delivered either in installments or as a final item to the readers, the subscribers.)

    Variations on such a theme of greatly reduced and web-enabled journalistic structure, including pay-as-you-go schemes, pay after-the-fact schemes, traditional subscription schemes, and so on, would all be possible.

    Some collaborations might continue, much like successful traveling rock bands or jazz ensembles; others might disband after doing one or more stories, its members regrouping for the next gig.

    Some ad hoc journalistic collaborations might feature an all-star group of reporters and editors, much as Miles Davis did, once, in his venue, gaining a comparable reputation over time.

    Enthusiastic amateurs can and will create their own version of on-line journalistic teaming, presenting their efforts on cleverly programmed websites. This will certainly offer some value, but let's not confuse this with what bands of professionals can and will create.

    Regards

    Bill I.