Mobile design, virtual reality, building trust with diverse communities, shifting revenue models, and finding new formats for storytelling as technology shapes content: These are among the biggest issues journalists will be grappling with in 2016. Here’s how some of the leading thinkers in the field are planning to tackle each of these challenges:
Richard Gingras, head of news and social products, Google:
“Speed and performance are persistent points of pain and user frustration–pages are slow to load and, once loaded, scroll and display poorly, too often with ads that are more annoying than helpful. How can we make the mobile web as fast and furiously compelling as we know it can be? The value of the open web to publishers as a discovery funnel to build audiences is far too crucial to not address this issue with urgency. Collaborative efforts like the open-source AMP Project to make web content ‘instant everywhere’ have emerged. With more than a thousand publishers and technology companies involved in the effort, it appears solid progress will be made in 2016.” —@richardgingras
Robert Hernandez, journalism associate professor, USC:
“Whether you dismiss it as hype or not, the truth is virtual reality technology is coming, and it is coming faster than you think. So, the biggest challenge the journalism industry faces in 2016 is how can they invest and innovate on an emerging technology that hasn’t gone mainstream yet. Do news organizations get in early and risk the tech not working out? Or should they wait and let others define VR journalism and risk being left behind?
“In 2016, the journalism industry needs to start preparing to lead the next disruption. When it actually hits is nearly irrelevant, because there is no doubt it will hit. Journalism needs to start experimenting with platforms like the Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, Google Cardboard now. To do this, news organizations can partner up with institutions like the University of Southern California and other schools that are posed to lead the charge. My students and I are preparing the first drafts of VR/AR/MR Journalism and would love to collaborate. You can see some of our early/beta work here.
“We both have a vested interest in shaping journalism in these emerging spaces, ensuring its relevancy. While I wouldn’t expect it to be in every household, 2016 is the year virtual reality becomes reality. And it’s our year to lead.”
Matt Mankins, FairTread founder (and former Fast Company CTO):
“Next year publishers will need to diversify their advertising-dependent revenue portfolios by offering consumers new ways to support content.
“Consumers, happily gorging from their ad-free buffet without regard to who pays for the content, are seemingly oblivious to the thinning publishers who will look to paywalls, anti-adblock techniques, as well as native and sponsored content to maintain their dwindling advertising revenues. Unfortunately, these shortsighted moves by publishers will continue to alienate consumers, pushing them farther into the platforms they already know–Facebook’s Instant Articles, Apple News, Twitter, Google, etc.–whose terrible terms to publishers may well be the talk of 2017. Small, independent publishers, unable to join or uninvited to the platform party, will start disappearing.
“If we’re lucky, the adblocking boycott will end by the next New Year’s as products like FairTread introduce modern monetization methods for consumers, enabling consumers to support content and creators, all without ads.” — @mankins
Tracie Powell, John S. Knight Journalism fellow:
“There are myriad of reasons why lawyers are now more trusted than journalists. Among them: Lack of transparency, accepting police gospel as truth, and the pressure for traffic and ratings that has outweighed the relevancy of the information presented and the possible harm it would cause, in direct violation of journalistic ethical standards to do no harm. No journalist, or news organization, has been publicly held accountable for these serial breaches.
“To solve this, in 2016 journalists must do a better job holding each other accountable; news editors must give reporters the time and tools to more effectively report on all communities in their market, not just well-off white citizens who are aging and already subscribe; finally, journalists have got to get over their ongoing identity crisis. Who do journalists want to be: purveyors of content for the most prurient in society, or arbiters of truth who want to produce measured, thoughtful news coverage?” — @TMPowell
Michelle Ferrier, Scripps College associate dean for innovation:
“Community engagement has been touted as one means of engaging new sources and deepening connections with diverse communities. However, community engagement without authentic listening and deep, continued relationships will not build this trust. To solve this dilemma, media needs to move beyond technological solutions and return to a community-based approach to reporting, investing money in journalism that helps community residents solve community issues.” — @mediaghosts
Niketa Patel, news partnerships, Twitter:
“As audiences continue to fragment and homepages become less popular destinations, many newsrooms spent 2015 thinking creatively about how to seize this as an opportunity for new forms of storytelling. On-platform options will continue to grow and diversify next year and my hope is that newsrooms continue to align resources accordingly and carve out teams that are specifically creating content or adapting existing content for these experiences. There is strong potential to retain and grow audiences and engagement in this space, especially when publishers emphasize creativity and voice when using these experiences to tell great stories.” — @Niketa
Mizell Stewart, managing director, content, Journal Media Group:
“Surmounting this challenge will require local news organizations to get serious about rebuilding the value proposition for independent local journalism, focusing even more squarely on smartphones as the always-on, supremely portable replacement for print. Experiments that blend news content and commerce in ways that generate much-needed revenue will be on the rise. Branded, or so-called ‘native’ content, will evolve even further; news consumers will be able to purchase goods and services directly using a mobile device and a commerce-enabled news app.
“As I write this, my wife and I are talking about heading out for dinner and a movie. Wouldn’t it be great to order and pay for a night out after perusing the online movie listings? Affinity or ‘membership’ programs that bundle a wider variety of services and benefits around news coverage will also help drive subscriber revenue—after all, news has never really paid for itself except in highly specialized areas.
“Accomplishing this will require news organizations to bridge the gap between the newsroom and the business side, with both working together to identify and solve the ever-changing needs of consumers.” — @MizellStewart
–Mark Glaser, executive editor and founder, MediaShift:
“While the platforms are making deals with larger publishers, the platforms hold all the cards when it comes to how publishers are featured (or not). It also leaves the smaller players out in the cold. To solve this issue, the industry needs to work in a unified front, and reach out to strengthen bonds with the platforms and make sure they have a greater say in the partnerships. Ignoring the platforms would be foolhardy, but working in better collaboration would help.” — @mediatwit
Rebecca Davis, video journalist, NBC News:
“How to tell compelling stories with strong original reporting that hold viewers’ attention through to the end and keeps them coming back for more. Without this, they will be off our sites in seconds and straight back to feasting on their bottomless Facebook buffet—or stop clicking out altogether.
“Much of my career in digital video has centered on creating video for websites at the mythical length of two minutes and 54 seconds, which was said to be the sweet spot for viewer attention on a desktop computer. It made sense in the years of homepage dominance, when our viewers were watching our stories either in a player on our landing page or embedded in a story our site. This past year has seen that assumption thrown out the window for us at NBC, as many of our viewers, having finally cut their cable cords, are now watching our digital docs on set-top boxes like Apple TV, Roku, or Amazon Fire. This has dramatically changed the type of work digital video departments are now creating, knowing longer attention spans come with viewers watching from the comforts of their couches, or on their mobile device on Hulu as they commute to work (and without bosses over their shoulders at the office).
“For us, these new platforms of delivery mean the ability to make longer and more thoughtful pieces. But with this new appetite among our viewers for longer work and more platforms on which to deliver outside the traditional homepage, comes the need for more resources. As in the past, the institutions that invest the resources that it takes to make quality journalism for these new platforms in new ways—from the super long (digital docs) to the super short (Snapchat)—will be the ones that last.” — @RebeccaDavis
Telling Accurate, Nuanced Stories With Historical Context That Are Inclusive Of Underserved Racial/Ethnic Demographics
Alicia Stewart, Harvard Nieman fellow and media consultant:
“It matters for the survival of our business: for reaching new audiences, and explaining culture and society to current consumers. It matters for our journalism: telling accurate, compelling stories with context. It matters for our ethics as a fourth estate: how we tell stories to inform an engaged citizenry is increasingly essential in an era of eroded trust. 2015 was replete with stories of why this matters: Freddie Gray. Sandra Bland. Ahmed Mohamed. Syrian Refugees. ISIS. The coming election year will only offer more opportunities.
“Can you imagine a media company without a mobile-first strategy, or no presence online, or on social media? Laughable, right? That’s how we need to think of inclusion of underrepresented groups in media. But instead of a platform-first strategy, it’s a people-first approach. The news industry can have better coverage in telling the stories of the under-represented racial and ethnic groups if it wants to. Begin with a clear business and editorial strategy that incorporates similar tenets of good reporting: Specificity, context, diverse sources, smart researched questions, and room to learn. Evolve and experiment in an approach similar to the tech industry, and we’re on our way to a solution.”
Cyndi Stivers, digital- and media-strategy consultant:
“In recent years, many companies have made short-term product and content decisions in order to meet quarterly revenue targets—all too often alienating their readers, viewers, and visitors in the process. In print, this has meant so many sponsored/advertorial/”native” units that it’s sometimes hard to tell what is paid for. On digital platforms, the situation is worse. The push for revenue means tonnage rules: Audiences face an ongoing barrage of posts aggregating material previously published (often elsewhere), typically with no added value except a teasing headline or a slapped-on autoplay video with obligatory preroll ads. You don’t have to look far beyond the festering ad-blocker standoff to see that this hasn’t worked out well.
“Publishers must find creative ways to add context while connoting quality and credibility, and reducing anxiety caused by the noise and clutter. They need better metrics for their advertisers, who in turn have to accept tighter limits on their intrusiveness. They have to regain the trust of the audience, with much more respect for the user’s time and much greater transparency about what’s being tracked and how that information is being used. By the same token, audiences have to realize that their media consumption is, fundamentally, a transaction, and will have to be paid for, whether the currency is cash, data-sharing, or some other form of cooperation. — @CyndiStivers