Each year the Nieman Lab asks dozens of leading media thinkers to make predictions for the coming year. They’re always interesting and worth reading.
The lab posts them individually; I wanted to be able to read them all in one go. So, taking advantage of the Lab’s handy Creative Commons license, I downloaded the whole feed and reformatted it in one continuous chunk of plain-Jane HTML so it’s easily printable, e-bookable, and Instapaperable.
The posts appear in reverse-chronological order. All credit to the authors, naturally.
Next up is Keli Goff, author, political commentator, and contributing editor at Loop21.com.
Though the last few years in media have been described in doomsday terms, we will likely look back on this time, and particularly the coming year, as the golden age of minority-focused media.
While mainstream media institutions have struggled to stay relevant and stay afloat, in their demise many of the walls that kept the less connected and less privileged out of media have begun to fall. There are many who would argue that those walls were essential to keeping media credible and honest. I would argue that those walls kept many diverse voices, in terms of both race and class, from being heard by wider audiences.
But thanks to the end of the reign of mainstream print media as the defining journalistic institution, the rise of the Internet as the predominant source of news and information, and the proliferation of blogs, more voices that would not have been widely read or heard just years ago are helping to define mainstream conversations.
The election of President Obama only increased the role that online minority media vehicles such as The Root, The Grio, NewsOne, Loop21.com, BET Online, Huffington Post Black Voices, and others have played in reaching audiences that for a long time felt ignored by mainstream outlets. With another presidential election looming, these outlets will continue to grow in both audience and relevance, and we will see more of them, as well as more focus on them, in 2012.
Next up is Clara Jeffery, co-editor of Mother Jones.
Predictions are a chump’s game. So this is more like a window into what the editors of a small nonprofit news organization are betting on.
Forget distinctions between blog posts and stories because readers don’t care. What they care about is a source — be it news org or author — that they trust and enjoy.
We at Mother Jones had a breakout hit with our income inequality charts. 5 million readers, 240K Facebook likes, 14K tweets, and counting. Charts were pasted up on the walls of Wisconsin state capitol during the union fight; #OWS protestors blew them up and put them on signs, and distributed them in leaflets. Partly, it was the right message at the right time. But it was also that a very complicated story was boiled down into 11 charts and that the sources for the charts’ information were provided.
More broadly, in 2011, chart fever swept media orgs — hey, USA Today, you were right all along! In 2012, I am sure we’re not the only ones who are investing in ways to make data more frequent, and more interactive.
If you want to do visual storytelling, you need people who can marry words with images, animation, video. We’re not only hiring people who have advanced data app and video skills, but we’re also training our entire editorial staff to experiment with video, make charts, and use tools like Document Cloud and Storify to enrich the reader experience. To that end, anything that makes it easier to integrate disparate forms of media — whether it’s HTML5 or Storify — is a friend to journalists.
There are a number of cool content collaborations out there — MoJo is in the Climate Desk collaboration with The Atlantic, Grist, Slate, Wired, CIR, and Need to Know, for example. But in retooling that project for 2012 (coming soon!), we really started thinking about collaborating with tech or content tool companies like Prezi and Storify. And why shouldn’t news orgs on the same CMS potentially collaborate on new features, sharing development time? So, for example, we, TNR, Texas Monthly, the New York Observer, and Fast Company (I think) are all on Drupal. Is there something we all want? Could we pool dev time and build a better mousetrap? We actually built a “create-your-own-cover” tool that, in keeping with the open-source ethos of Drupal (and because I’m friends with editor Jake Silverstein) we handed over to Texas Monthly; they improved on it. The biggest barrier to collaboration is bandwidth within each constituent group. But ultimately it makes sense to try learn collectively.
As people increasingly get news from their social stream, the implications for news brands are profound. If nobody comes through the homepage, then every page is a homepage. Figuring out when (and if) you can convert flybys into repeat customers is a huge priority — especially for companies that have subscription or donation as part of their revenue stream. If everyone is clamoring for this, then somebody is going to invent the things we need — better traffic analysis tools, but also A/B testers like Optimizely.
It also means that being a part of curation communities — be they Reddit or Longform/Longreads — is as important as having a vibrant social media presence yourself. As is the eye candy of charts, data viz, etc. Lure them in with that, and often they’ll stay for the long feature that accompanies it.
Social media and Storify are making users into content producers in ways that earlier attempts at distributed reporting couldn’t. Especially on fast-breaking stories, they are invaluable partners in the creation process, incorporated into and filtered through verified reporting. For MoJo, for example, the social media implications surrounding our Occupy coverage were profound. We were reporting ourselves, as well as getting reports from hundreds of people on the ground. Some became trusted sources, sort of deputized reporters to augment our own. And we found ourselves serving an invaluable role as fact-checkers on the rumors that swirled around any one incident.
It was heady and often exhausting. But it won us a lot of loyal readers. We could do all that in real time on Twitter and use Storify to curate the best of what we and others were reporting on our site, beaming that back to Twitter. (And Al Jazeera’s The Stream, for example, is taking that kind of social media integration to a whole new level. Of course, it helps to be bankrolled by the Al Thanis.)
To me, especially within the magazine world, there’s been an overemphasis on “apps,” most of which thus far aren’t so great and are often walled off from social media. But anything that improves — and monetizes — the mobile experience is a win. And any major element of what you’re offering that doesn’t work across the major devices is a sunk cost. Sorry, Flash.
Despite all the hand-wringing of a few years ago, it turns out that people do read longform on the web, on tablets and readers, and even on their phone. They love charts and graphs and animation and explainers. They want to know your sources and even look at primary documents. And they want it all tied up with voice and style. There’s no better time to be an investigative journalist.
Here’s Josh Young, who currently handles the contributor network at the real-time media company Sulia, and who formerly headed social news at The Huffington Post.
The first of Google’s ten core principles has framed the way we think about the content on the Internet:
Focus on the user and all else will follow.
Of course, that user is really what technologists and economists both call the “end user.” When it comes to content, that means the reader. This principle presumes that users have information needs and that the information to satisfy those needs already exists. The task is culling, discovering, finding.
This is essentially the idea that content just happens. Search is the easy example, but you can see it in curation, too. The answers are all there — disguised by the blooming, buzzing confusion of even more information — and we just need a better filter.
Almost all content platforms are informed by this principle, as well — at least as a matter of positioning. WordPress has no agenda. Tumblr doesn’t care what you write. Pinterest doesn’t have a say in what boards you pin together. Quora doesn’t care what you ask or answer. Nor does YouTube care what you upload. Soundcloud doesn’t care what you create. Read It Later doesn’t care what you read later any more than Twitter cares what you Tweet. The list goes on and on.
The formula for today’s most successful content platforms is to give a bunch of writers each a soapbox and then to give vastly more readers some tools to find the soapbox best for them. In any two-sided market, after all, an economist might tell you to subsidize the side that’s more price-sensitive and to charge the side that has more to gain from network effects. Blah blah blah.
Of course, audiences will never just happen. Likewise, “Focus on the writer and all else will follow” doesn’t seem like a promising economic model.
But I am not an economist, and I think 2012 will be the year in which we realize that Google’s first core principle misses something important. We will recognize all over again the value in catering to the writer — or, rather, the best writers. We will thus also invest in giving them tools to reach the right readers. Maybe readers aren’t so price-sensitive, and maybe they stand very much to gain from network effects. 2012 will show us.
Here’s news pioneer Alfred Hermida, a founder of BBCnews.com and currently an associate professor at the University of British Columbia School of Journalism.
I am always hesitant to make predictions, but 2012 may just the year that social media starts to get boring. And this is a good thing.
Bear with me while I explain. Social media is largely still seen as a new, shiny entrant into the world of media.
As with all new communication technologies, there are those who argue social media is changing everything, creating a more open and democratic media space. Others take a diametrically opposed viewpoint. For them, social media just offers new ways to do old things.
Both are right and wrong at the same time. There is no doubt that social media technologies do offer new affordances, creating an open, networked, and distributed media ecosystem at odds with the one-way, broadcast model of mass media that dominated the 20th century.
At the same time, history shows us how dominant institutions, be they governments or media conglomerates, appropriate new technologies and cancel out some of their innovative potential.
The problem is how we frame new technologies. There is always a degree of hype that greets a new technology; we’ve seen it in talk of Twitter revolutions and Facebook uprisings.
Initially we are enchanted by the novelty of what these tools and services enable us to do: upload funny videos, post updates of our lunch, and share links to worthy articles.
Technologies reach their full potential when we forgot about the novelty. Instead they become boring and blend into the background. How often do we think about the technology behind the telephone, or the television set in our living room?
With any luck, this is what will happen with social media. Social media tools and services will be so ingrained within our everyday experiences that we forget that they are such recent developments.
Essentially, the technology will become invisible as we shape it to meet our political, social, and cultural needs.
Mediated sociability will be with us at all times, no matter what we are doing. Arguably, for younger adults, this is already happening. Facebook is part of their lives, just like the telephone is simply there.
For journalists, what this means is that social media will become part of everyday routines. Facebook or Twitter won’t be simply add-ons, but an inherent component of the media environment for journalists.
Here’s Lab columnist and Newsonomics author Ken Doctor, weighing in on what 2011 developments will become 2012 trends. (Just don’t look for these fanciful products in stores any time soon — we couldn’t find any of them listed in Amazon or the App Store, for some reason.)
The pages of the Lab have been filled this week with wondrous predictions about 2012. Some of them will prove true. Yet I think we’ve been missing some of the most important technologies, so far unreported, that may drive the realities of journalistic practice next year. Here are my top nine to watch (some still in the labs, some in beta, and some ready to go mass) in the coming year:
Rubik’s Cube Home Design Set: The tablet, when vertical looks like a magazine. When horizontal, it looks like a magazine. It’s neither, of course, and both, and it’s a newspaper, a book, a radio, and a CD player. So it’s lots of fun to see how designers are playing with their fingers, swiping for fun and profit, creating conveyor belts and doing flips. The latest New York Times tablet app is something of a Rubik’s Cube. Go up, go down, go sideways, as if we’re playing with a set of content and refiguring how to fit it into some kind of intuitive order that makes sense to us. Perhaps the perfect last-minute present for that special designer on your Christmas list.
The Infinity Stopper: The Internet has just gotten too big for its britches. It is spilling over into our bedrooms, through tablets and smartphones. It assaults us in elevators. It even threatens the passivity of our living-room TV experience, a particular hazard to our culture as Americans lead the world (save Serbia and Macedonia) in couch potatohood. The Infinity Stopper, though, handily offers to put a plug in some of that content, boundaries you know that any media psychologist will tell you are the must-have for 2012. Somehow, The Economist (“Yet Another Reason the Economist is Trouncing Competitors“) got one of the beta Infinity Stoppers and has been going to town with it, extending its limited print franchise into a limited (and quite successful) digital franchise. The simple secret of the Infinity Stopper: a beginning, a middle — and ta-da — an end to the stream of content. As infinity-loving tablet aggregator products now profliferate (Google Currents and Yahoo Livestand joining Flipboard, Pulse and Zite), both The Daily and AOL’s Editions test out their own versions of the Infinity Stopper, offering a daily snapshot for infinity sufferers. Expect the sale of Infinity Stoppers to mushroom, as publishers just say “no.”
The Socializer: Let’s face it, most journalists fall off the I spectrum on the Myers-Briggs personality assessment. So the idea of fully participating in the social swim gives them hives. Yet, now the social world is introducing new and younger audiences to traditional news. The Socializer, a patented pharmaceutical developed in the wilds of the Humboldt coast, allows editors and reports to become familiar with Facebook and try out Twitter. While it’s rumored that LinkedIn is a known gateway drug here, no empirical proof has yet been published.
Billionaire Bingo App (iOS only, HTML5 in development): Finally, we’ve found a new use for the .0001%. They’re the 412 U.S. billionaires. They can buy up incredibly cheap U.S. newspapers. With prices falling below Filene’s Basement and perhaps copying its business model (“… every article is marked with a tag showing the price and the date the article was first put on sale. Twelve days later, if it has not been sold, it is reduced by 25 percent. Six selling days later, it is cut by 50 percent and after an additional six days, it is offered at 75 percent off the original price. After six more days — or a total of 30 — if it is not sold, it is given to charity,” New York Times, 1982 via Wikipedia), newspapers are beginning to sell to an assortment of new buyers. Warren Buffett buys the Omaha paper for $200 million, Michael Ferro and John Canning snatch the Chicago Sun-Times for $20 million or so, and Doug Manchester buys the San Diego daily for about $130 million. Billionaire Phillip Anschutz swaps out the San Francisco Examiner for the Oklahoman. Whether your interests are community service, political pulpits, and plain-old profit-seeking, the Billionaire Bingo App offers you fast-moving bingo matching of money, interests, and newspapers. Bonus: Got a billionaire buddy who has the app? Play and swap in real time!
Kred Kurrency: In a world that measures Klout, why can’t real news companies that do real reporting, which gets mentioned throughout the web and fills the vats of aggregator coffers, get some new currency, even virtual currency? Maybe they could exchange the Kred Kurrency for even better SEO rankings, or buy fake bricks to build digital paywalls.
MP11 Remover: Forget MP3s and 4s. The secret chemical compound, concocted by Friends of Murdoch in an Asian country with loose manufacturing standards, is the perfect antidote of choice for bothersome Parliamentarians. The British Parliament’s 11-member Special Committee on Culture, Media and Sport — and who couldn’t love Tom Watson — may be vanished overnight, launched Skyward. And what would those pinkos at the Guardian have to livecast then?
I Ching Hourglass: This melding of two technologies may be first tested by Boston Globe publisher Chris Mayer. What will the sudden departure of New York Times Co. CEO Janet Robinson and the divestment of the flagship Times’ other non-Times newspaper holdings, its regional newspaper group, mean to the Globe? Only the contemporary blending of ancient Chinese hexagrams and the old standby hourglass (it’s reversible and non-digital!) tell the future.
Tebowing the Tablet: In recent years, with no great new business model in sight and the old one fading ever faster, publishers searched for the “Hail Mary.” Now, the modern publisher can Tebow the tablet. The power of the tablet — with the power to both save the news industry or destroy it more quickly — may only be harnessed by Tim Tebow-like injunctions of the Almighty. iPad 2 sold separately.
The Missing Paper Finder: For the confused newspaper subscriber, especially in Michigan or northern California, who has trouble finding the daily newspaper that only arrives sporadically these days. The Missing Paper Finder app redirects calls self-doubting seniors make to their family physicians to the new centralized customer service centers (Bangalore or Bangor), where they can be upsold into new all-access subscriptions.
Taking us home is Amy Webb, the head of the digital ideas and strategy agency Webbmedia Group, weighing in with predictions for the big tech trends of 2012.
Information is everywhere, and more than any previous year in our history, 2012 will be the year of data. We’re recording our daily activity with BodyMedia arm bands and syncing our biometrics with our Android phones. Hacker-journalists are converting huge datasets for use by everyday newsroom reporters. Hyper-creative data visualization teams, such as JESS3, are creating stunning charts and graphs appealing to the non-geeky set. Untold amounts of healthcare, government, personal-location, business, academic and transportation data can be mined for research as well as to generate answers about our efficiency, effectiveness and productivity. In 2012, we anticipate seeing a number of new initiatives that attempt to crack the big data nut.
Oblong Industries recently unveiled its g-speak spatial operating environment, which was the culmination of three decades of research at MIT and uses object recognition. You may already be familiar with Oblong’s work, which was featured in the film Minority Report. g-speak combines a “gestural i/o, recombinant networking, and real-world pixels” to meld humans with information displays. You may not buy a g-speak environment for your living room in 2012, but do expect to see OR in mobile apps and devices. High-end sensor processing, enhanced cameras and troves of databases will enable you to snap a photo and instantly glean information about the person sitting next to you on the train, the ingredients in your entree or even the designer of your friend’s new shoes.
In 2011, we saw a number of new graphic interfaces. The New York Times debuted its “magic mirror,” which uses Microsoft Kinect to recognize a users face and then becomes a morning bathroom companion. It can recommend what shirt to wear with what tie, let you search the web, check the weather, read your email and access your prescription medication information. Japanese tablet manufacturer Wacom released its Inkling, allowing graphic artists to use a special pen and receiver clip to draw on any surface. Tether the clip to a computer, and everything that was drawn can be imported into just about any image editing program. We expect to see more interactive surfaces in the coming year as well as new tools to access them.
Aggregation (even personalized aggregation) no longer solves our information overload problem. In 2010, we saw the debut of Flipboard and the reintroduction of Pulse, which are dynamic content curation apps. Now we’re seeing topic-focused dynamic curation and recommendation built into apps and websites. Some of the players in this space include Scoop.it, Twylah and Storyful. At the end of 2011, Google launched a Flipboard-like topics aggregator, Currents. (It had been code-named Propeller during development.) As much as some news organizations may grumble that basic topics pages don’t drive traffic or serve the user, these newer, dynamically-organized pages that include curation have been tremendously successful. Grouping people and companies together is a great way to keep information organized, and fluid topic pages that continually update help consumers make sense of all the information that’s available. Expect to see a lot of dynamic topic pages — even if they’re called something else — in 2012.
We are uploading millions of photos every day to social networks, and in the process we’re attaching rich data along with them: who’s in the photo, where the photo was taken, even what equipment was used. Combined with social check-in services, which continually show our physical locations and who we’re with, a number of clever search tools have emerged that can effortlessly divulge a person’s name, age and interests simply by snapping a photo of his or her face. While sophisticated users have expressed concerns about their privacy, younger mobile and social network users are more and more willing to share everything with everyone. Facebook continues to change its terms of service often, but most users aren’t aware of what personal information is being shared with the outside world. What — if anything — to do about our digital privacy will be an ongoing discussion throughout the next year.
The tech world may seem largely dominated by men, but a cadre of smart, creative women have been hard at work — and often hardly-noticed — leading product development, tech innovation and startups. Groups such as TEDxWomen and advocates like Change the Ratio are working to highlight both successes and inequalities. In 2012, we expect to see more woman receive funding, speaking at conferences, interviewed by mainstream media, judging awards and getting recognition for their many contributions in tech and beyond.
In 2011, there were numerous high-profile ethics questions at major tech/journalism companies. Tech blogger Michael Arrington launched a $20 million venture capital fund that would invest in many of the companies covered by his publication, TechCrunch. Microblogging platform Tumblr, which is used by many in the fashion industry, made news when it sent 16 bloggers to Fashion Week shows at their hosts’ expense. Tumblr was charging brands as much as $350,000 for private events with bloggers, and in return, brands would receive guaranteed product placement within blog posts. The What’s Trending web series on CBSNews.com posted a tweet that Steve Jobs had died (well in advance of his actual death), and then issued a snarky response: “Apologies — reports of Steve Job’s [sic] death completely unconfirmed. Live on.” As the media landscape continues to evolve, newsrooms, developers, marketing and sales departments and content producers of all stripes will need to question their activities and discuss what’s appropriate and why. In 2012, will transparency be the new objectivity?
The Arab revolutions in 2011 were enabled because of Facebook, Twitter, text messaging and BlackBerry’s Messenger service. The ease of use of social networks combined with the ubiquity of inexpensive mobile devices has empowered the previously disenfranchised. Due to the success of organized movements in the Middle East, more groups will use mobile phones and social networks to catalyze their own revolutions around the world in the coming year.
More and more people are watching television with a companion device, whether it is a mobile phone, tablet or laptop computer. In the past year, we’ve also see the rise of video broadcasting outside of the set-top box. A number of new services provide a platform meant to be used by traditional and new devices. Flingo, a new platform launched after two solid years of work by the Bittorrent team, allows users to “fling” content between screens. Denso is an iPhone/iPad/Android app that allows users to save video content to an account and then stream on just about any device. In 2012, we will see co-viewing experiences and platforms launch en masse, by independent developers, retailers, news organizations and political groups.
Late 2011, YouTube relaunched with not just a new look, but plans for a new business model. In this new video-centric space, YouTube will display channels that could be of interest to you individually, as well as other curated content. During the next year, expect to see YouTube offer original programming initially for the gaming and programmer community offered via the Google TV platform. Internet-connected set-top boxes and the new YouTube approach has the potential to draw away viewers from the traditional networks and over to newer forms of digital content syndication.
We are already seeing work done by major broadcasters and news organizations in preparation for the 2012 presidential campaign season. Expect to use your mobile device or laptop to fact-check debates and speeches in real time. Synch your device with live broadcasts to get additional news content from major media brands. Co-viewing experiences that integrate social networks such as Twitter and Facebook will gain widespread use.
High-end optical character recognition software developer ABBYY shocked many in the tech community when it released a 99-cent iPhone app in 2011. Dubbed TextGrabber, it allows a user to snap a photo, extract the text and then import it into a document that can be edited, copied and even translated. Amazon already lets users take photos of products to search for them on its website, and there will be similar photo and text scanning services meant to support commerce launching in the next few months.
With the adoption of the Siri application, iOS 5 mobile phones (Apple only) can now compare location, interests, intentions, schedule, friends, history, likes, dislikes and more to serve content and answers to questions. Siri uses natural language processing, so that a user can simply speak into her phone: find a dinner reservation for four. In return, Siri will locate a restaurant that the user will probably like, suggest three other friends to invite based on shared calendars, and make the reservation through OpenTable. While Siri has 40 years of DARPA research and the work of several universities (Carnegie Mellon, Stanford) powering it, we do anticipate similar context-aware mobile apps coming to market in 2012.
Square, the white, square-shaped credit card swiping reader that plugs into an iPhone, is being used by thousands of small businesses and consumers. Square’s Card Case service now lets a user check into a venue with her phone and then pay with a credit or debit card at an iPad-enabled Square Register. Google Wallet allows users to store credit cards and swipe their mobile devices at physical registers. And Silicon Valley startup Naratte is working on its Zoosh product, which uses a ultrasound system on ordinary mobile handsets in order to transmit payments. We expect to see more mobile payments in 2012, if not fewer leather wallets.
When Google launched its new social network Plus, it made headlines for requiring users to create accounts with their real names and identities. At the time, Google argued that people behave better when they use their real names — it even went so far as to call Plus not a social network, but a digital identity service. Some are now questioning how and when Google would be using our digital identities. Outside of social media, police departments in the U.S. have started using MORIS, which snaps on to an iPhone and enables officers to scan the irises of alleged criminals. In Brazil, police offers are starting to fit glasses with biometric cameras which can scan 46,000 data points on a face and query a criminal database in real-time. Siri, an application acquired by Apple for the iPhone, can recognize individual voices and infer contextual information based on the user. In 2012, our fingerprints may not matter nearly as much as our eyes, faces, and usernames.
Next up is Gina Masullo Chen, who spent 20 years as a newspaper reporter and editor and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in communications at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. She blogs at savethemedia.com.
“Great entrepreneurs do not really see the future as much as the create the future they envision.”
That’s a quote from MIT professor Michael A. Cusumano from a piece he wrote on the late Steve Jobs, but I think it offers some insight for the future of journalism in 2012. I think we in the industry need to heed this advice and create a future for journalism — rather than just wait and see what happens.
If I were creating this future, a large component of it would include offering greater customization of news and information for readers. I have been quite impressed with the Zite app on the iPad, which allows me to pick from a list of topics and customize my own magazine of sorts. The device uses the topics the user selects to curate blogs and news sites across the web, creating a personalized news summary.
On my Zite, my topics include journalism (of course), social media, science, and psychology. I open my Zite, click on one of my topics, and I receive a series of summaries. I can access the whole articles with a touch. One might be from The New York Times; another from the technology blog GigaOm; another from Psychology Today. With just a touch of my finger, I can sort through a variety of topics and news venues. I can seamlessly share these on Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus. I also can “vote” on whether I liked the article and would like to receive more like it. In essence, Zite learns what I like over time and creates a more accurately customized product for me the more I use it. In this way, it offers some of the intended benefits of the older program, StumbleUpon, but I find that it’s easier to use.
In the future of journalism that I would like to envision, a Zite-like application would exist for other types of news and information. Imagine a local Zite, where I can read my hometown paper, TV station websites, alternative weekly, and blogs from my community all with the swipe of a finger. Or consider a Zite for more national and international news, with the application curating across countries and topics. Or one that aggregates topics not traditionally considered news-y, such as scrapbooking, fishing, or gaming.
Sure, I can do all that now. I can Google newspaper sites from across the globe or access pretty much any blog I want. Plus, other applications let me sort through newspaper websites or blog directories or social media outlets. But what I envision is more than that. It enables me to better access all the web has to offer because it sorts and makes sense of the information for me, and it delivers that information right to me. It also introduces me to blogs or lesser-known sites that I might not happen upon on my own.
Now, some will worry that personalized news applications like I suggest would curtail the marketplace of ideas that is so important in a free society. I question this worry. I agree that in a perfect world, we’d all be exposed to high-quality information that offers a variety of viewpoints, including those very different from our own. However, in the real world, that’s not the case. People gravitate to media that supports their worldview, and then this information validates and reinforces this worldview. Liberals read liberal tomes; conservatives read conservative information.
Certainly, some people deviate from this, and certainly there are many shades of gray between polar ideological opposites where much cross-over of viewpoints occurs. But since the first person scanned a library shelf and picked one book over another, people have had the ability to pick which information they want. People choose what they like, what interests them, what gratifies their own needs, and what fits how they see the world.
In 2012, technology may help them make those choices more quickly and easily.
Next up is Tim Carmody, an occasional Lab contributor who writes about transformations in media and technology for Wired magazine and the Epicenter blog at Wired.com.
In consumer technology, five year cycles are really interesting. For instance, if you look at Apple, it’s about five years between when Steve Jobs returns to the company and when Apple introduces Mac OS X, the iPod, and its first retail stores. You can talk about the first iMac and a few other things, but it’s really in 2001 that Apple becomes the company we recognize today. That’s when the company really becomes profitable again, too. (They actually lost money in 2001, can you believe it?) Then in another five years, you get the first Intel Macs and the iPhone. And another five years gets you to today.
It’s not just Apple; you see the same five year pattern with Microsoft. Five years between their first GUI stuff (which isn’t very good) and Windows 3/MS Office (which is), another five to Windows 95, which really takes the whole concept mainstream. In another five years, they’re officially a monopoly, and then they come out with two of their best products, Windows XP and the Xbox. (Seriously, 2001 was really a banner year in tech history.) Then it’s five years-plus to Vista (which shipped late) and another five to Windows 8, which is in beta now and will be shipping next year.
And you can do this with Google, you can do this with a lot of other companies, products, and subfields. Sometimes, it works so well that you feel like you’re cherry-picking or inventing the pattern. But I think you can also argue that it takes about five years for a breakthrough product to mature, for companies and designers and partners to see its potential, and for users to not just be ready for a big leap forward, but to really want and demand that leap.
Why does this matter for 2012? Well, besides five years of iPhone, we’re also looking at five years of Kindle. That’s two five-year anniversaries that really signal the point when mobile reading became mainstream. You could also call it the five-year anniversary of the tablet as a media device, because really, that’s what the Kindle is, form factor-wise. The first version of it was laid out like a janky, old-school smartphone, but you can see that incremental evolution over the last five years.
In 2012, I think we’re going to see new devices that really raise the bar for reading, whether it’s books or blogs or magazines or newspapers, and whether they’re e-readers or tablets or smartphones. We’ll almost definitely see the iPhone 5 and iPad 3 next year from Apple, and in either late 2012 or early 2013 I think we’ll see the next generation of Amazon readers. We may also see a Google-branded tablet, plenty of competitive Android smartphones and most likely some very good new international e-readers from Kobo and Barnes & Noble.
It’s going to be a big leap.
Now wait, you might say: Wasn’t 2011 a big leap? I mean, with e-readers alone you’ve got a whole mess of new touchscreen E Ink devices, new tablets, and huge price drops that put the devices in sub-$100 iPod Shuffle territory.
But actually, I think the 2011 devices are a little disappointing. I mean, don’t get me wrong, they’re better, and they’re definitely cheaper. But apart from price, they don’t really change the field that much. The iPad 2 is an incremental improvement over the first iPad (ditto iPhone 4S over iPhone 4); Nook Tablet’s an incremental improvement over the Color; the Kindle Fire isn’t really finished yet.
With e-readers, in general, I don’t think we’ve really figured out how touchscreen reading devices are supposed to work, how to blend what we’ve learned from tablets with what we’ve learned from e-readers. Even things like how many buttons should you have (specialized page-turn buttons and home-back-search buttons are actually really nice), or how you develop non-book software for a black-and-white screen, or how you blend text and hypertext. It’s not until next year that we’ll see new HTML5-based specs for EPUB 3 and Kindle Format 8 really take off, and I’m willing to make a bet that those will force gadget-makers and publishers to really rethink how they approach this space.
So it’s not just my superstition about five-year-intervals. The lifecycle for both the devices and the publishing formats really suggests that next year will show us some big changes. We’re not just going to say, “wow, there’s a cheaper version of this other thing that I wanted.” We’re actually going to want new things.
If I could make an analogy, 2011 for reading devices was like the first color/video iPod. 2012 will be the iPhone year. It seems like we made big leaps forward only because we don’t actually know what the real leap forward looks like yet.
Next up is Burt Herman, the founder of Hacks/Hackers and the co-founder of Storify.
Social media’s essential role in serious journalism can no longer be ignored. Next year, social media journalism will finally grow up.
Journalism will be more collaborative, embracing the fundamental social nature of the Internet. The story will be shaped by people involved in the news, curated by savvy editors from diverse sources and circulated back again to the audience. This is the new real-time news cycle.
It is telling and fitting that next year’s Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting will be judged for the first time based on real-time reporting. A Pulitzer Prize for tweeting was a joke just a few years ago. It’s now a reality.
Take Occupy Wall Street. Even in New York, with its swarms of professional journalists, social media illuminated the protests and insured that the movement’s story was told. When police blocked media access and detained card-carrying members of the press, live-streamed videos from participants and students curating social media stepped in.
Looking at the Occupy movement itself hints at where journalism will go in its decentralized, real-time, collaborative, and curated future.
News will break on whatever website or format lends itself to the story, and be even more likely to happen away from news organizations’ homepages. Whether via a Livestream feed, an answer to a Quora question, or an Instagram photo, the story will splinter further, evolving from a singular product into something much more dynamic and multi-dimensional.
Audiences expect to see news at Internet speed, and have no patience for conventional journalists to wake up to this reality. News consumers should be able to learn about important issues as quickly as they can see what a friend is listening to on Spotify through Facebook’s new seamless social sharing.
With the decline in journalism staffs, the audiences and participants involved in the news are also more involved than ever before in telling their own stories. Reporters will increasingly open their process and discuss stories as they’re developing; they’ll also be more willing to talk candidly about what they do and don’t know. They will increasingly crowdsource their coverage, asking their audiences for input in their stories. And they’ll become more collaborative with fellow journalists, as well, soliciting information and sharing their work.
Bringing all these elements together will underscore the importance of curation. Journalists have always taken masses of information and condensed it into something digestible for readers, adding context and insights. More than ever, journalists will curate sources outside their newsrooms to tell their stories.
Social media journalism can do better than snark. Following the death this week of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, there were the usual social media roundups of clever one-liners and LOLcat mashups. But we need to push the boundaries of how social media can be used to report on an event that throws an entire continent into a state of uncertainty over a potentially unstable, nuclear-armed state.
The protesters occupied Wall Street to prompt a national debate on widening disparities in wealth and opportunity. It’s up to the new generation of social media journalists to #Occupythenews — and to make sure society doesn’t miss the stories that, diffuse and elusive though they may be, are crucial to understanding our world.
Next up is Rex Sorgatz (@fimoculous) — a media consultant, writer, and entrepreneur based in New York — who has an apocalyptic vision for the nation’s startup scene, and who really needs to work on his tan.
Let’s get this out of the way: I hate LA.
I hate LA the way that any good New Yorker hates LA, with a passion bordering on paranoid psychosis. I hate the faux culture, I hate the vapid people, I hate the unctuous politics. I hate their smug attitude toward snow, unless it involves indie movie premieres near ski slopes. I hate the things that are too cliché to even mention hating: their tans, their cars, their smog. I hate the way they turned silicon into silicone.
So we’re clear?
But I am here to preach a new sermon: LA is the Future. It pains me to say, but it’s time we all sucked up the fresh sludge spewing from the organic juice pumper. My logic? Let me start with a story….
I moved to New York City four years ago — just in time to catch the economic collapse, but also just in time to witness the rise of the so-called “New York Tech Startup Scene.” It seems silly to recall this, but back then, that phrase — “New York Tech Startup Scene” — literally did not exist. There was no Foursquare, no GroupMe, no Kickstarter, no General Assembly, and no TechStars. Tumblr, HuffPo, Buddy Media, and Gilt Groupe had yet to celebrate one-year birthdays. There were no Google or Facebook mega-offices. Tina Brown was busy writing books about Princess Di.
But look at you now, baby! You’re the rising star of the tech family, positioned right behind big brother Silicon Valley in creating new media enterprises. You’ve nurtured a new culture of entrepreneurialism, created thousands of jobs, and caused countless people to utter that phrase “we want to change the world” without irony.
Yet one question lingers: Why now? After all, New York was barely a blip in the first dot-com boom of the late ’90s. So what caused the scene to suddenly erupt? No one has yet written the definitive account of why exactly NYC had this surge in entrepreneurial gusto, and we lack the space to investigate it thoroughly here, but I have my own working theory: It’s the economy, stupid. Duh.
But in this case, it was, somewhat paradoxically, an economic collapse. In the recession that began in 2008, three sectors of the New York economy were hit especially hard: finance, media, and retail. It’s no coincidence that today’s most successful NYC-based startups are unique reinventions of those industries. If you scan the startup scene now, you’ll hear endless stories about people who “used to work in finance,” “hated their job in fashion,” or “will never work for a media company again.” (Okay, maybe that last one is me.) Clearly, what happened is that talented people left their jobs, but didn’t leave their industry. Instead, they built new businesses — more efficient businesses, more interesting businesses — in the industries they knew best.
This part seems obvious.
You see where I’m going with this?
Let’s start here: Right now, I pay over $200 per month to have 1,600 TV channels pumped into my apartment. How many of those channels do I watch? A dozen, max.
This is clearly broken. Really broken. Stupid broken.
And we all know this has to end, somehow. And we all know it will end, somehow. But no one knows quite how. Maybe it will be fixed by Apple, maybe Hulu, maybe Netflix, maybe Google; probably, by something we haven’t even seen yet. But I think we can all agree that this broken system is going to be fixed, somehow.
And when that happens, the fallout for the LA-based television industry will be catastrophic. It will make the print media collapse of the past decade look like Legos. I predict over half of those 1,600 cable channels will disappear. Sure, they’ll try to recreate themselves on YouTube or via other online mechanisms, but that industry is already too bloated to realize that it needs to do more than shave costs by 10 percent — it needs to move an entire decimal to the left. Maybe twice.
When the collapse hits, capital will rush out of the traditional entertainment industry faster than you can say “Lehman Brothers.” And, as in New York, talented young people with industry awareness will be there to grab that capital and create new businesses. That’s when things will get interesting. Just as New York — against all odds — became the locus of traditional business being disrupted by technology, Los Angeles will erupt with creativity around the collision of technology and entertainment. New forms of content — programming that isn’t bound by 13 episodes that are 22 minutes long! — will appear overnight. The disruption will be challenging at first, but a Video Renaissance will emerge.
And as the production and distribution costs plummet (just as they have for written media), innovation will start to appear in related industries: social sharing technology, revenue models, aggregation, and distribution. Suddenly, coders in SF will consider LA as another option for employment. Crazy talk!
This will of course require more than some happy chatter and a few blog posts. And let’s not forget, this is LA we’re talking about — there will be blunders! But failure will nurture knowledge. LA will be poised for this moment because it will have the cash, the talent, and the creative culture to seize it.
It will be fun, it will be exciting. And I might even hate LA a little less.
Below are predictions about the business of, and platforms for, journalism, from and platforms for, journalism, from Brian Boyer, Rick Edmonds, Kevin Kelly, Joy Mayer, Alan Murray, Alan Mutter, Geneva Overholser, Howard Owens, and Sree Sreenivasan.
What will 2012 bring? Responsive websites instead of native apps, new products that ignore the desktop and address mobile and tablet, a single term that represents mobile/tablet/pocketable/sofa-friendly devices, and lots of little helicopter cameras…. And that’s just what I’m trying to do. It’s gonna be a fun year.
I hate to be a dull guy with a dull forecast, but I do expect more of the same for newspaper organizations in 2012 and probably 2013, as well. That means continuing pressure on advertising revenues, though the secular shift to all things digital could be muted by a better economy. Newspapers’ own digital transformation is the work of many years, so I would be surprised if 2012 were a breakthrough. Certainly the paywall and bundled subscription movement will continue to gain steam. More organizations may omit a print edition or home delivery several days of the week, but not shut down altogether.
As you know, I have a continuing concern that cuts and more cuts (and there will be still more) may cripple the news core at many organizations. As Pulitzer winner Glen Frankel told John Temple in an interview several years ago, “If we don’t have anything important to say and no unique journalistic contributions to make, we won’t need new platforms. We won’t need to exist at all — and we won’t.”
Ebooks continue to mushroom, Amazon takes over paper book publishing, Google+ becomes a publishing platform with a revenue model, touch tablets languish, streaming TV begins to eclipse broadcast TV, games are tried as a vehicle for news, and the first successful Facebook-only news organization is launched.
News will increasingly be a conversation rather than a series of stories.
In 2012, the divide will grow between journalists who are intently aware of and responsive to the needs of their communities and those who continue to make decisions based on long-ago-learned fortress mentalities. I wish I could say I were optimistic about crumbling fortresses. Instead, I’ll say that I’ll be on the lookout for examples of news presented as an ongoing, topical conversation rather than a series of journalist-driven stories. In an election year, being responsive to users’ actual information needs and being a part of a community’s conversation is more crucial than ever
Print and video news will continue to merge. With new technology, there’s no good reason why great reporters should limit themselves to the print medium alone. Nor is there any good reason to have TV “reporters” who don’t actually report.
The success of the iPad will force a rethinking of news websites, to make them more readable, more scannable, and less clunky.
Last year’s big theme — mobile — will continue to be a big theme this year. The best news organizations will figure out new ways to deliver content over smartphones.
The best election coverage in 2012 will be digital-first.
Sorry, Siri, but I don’t think 2012 will be the year people start talking to their newspapers/sites. Maybe next year.
Next year will be the year that the big technology companies go after local publishing and broadcasting businesses more fiercely than ever before. Most local media companies have no idea what’s about to hit them – much less a plan to respond. As discussed more fully in my blog, here’s what to look for in 2012 and beyond:
Information in the public interest will come ever more richly and deeply from an ever widening array of sources — individuals, organizations, and institutions of all sorts. The results for the public will be uneven, with many feeling engaged and enlivened, others left out or uncertain what to believe. Communities will conclude that credible and comprehensive information on the affairs of the day is a public good that demands their support. The conversation about “the future of journalism” will be enriched by a much broader chorus, occurring in many more venues and across many more platforms.
Legacy media companies will continue to try to innovate by committee, not really accomplishing much. The passive resistors in legacy companies will continue to hold back their employers’ progress. More newspapers will put their content behind paywalls. Some of these publishers will find they have new competition from online-only local news start ups.
Newspaper revenue — for newspapers of all sizes — will continue to decline, even as the economy improves.
The deal trend will falter, but the business model will evolve.
Patch won’t survive the year.
The collapse of Patch will lead to a conventional wisdom among pundits that “see, we told you, hyperlocal can’t build a sustainable business model.”
Meanwhile, the local independents will continue to soldier on, incrementally building their sustainable businesses.
The number of local independent online publishers in the US will double in 2012 (not that we have a real good count on how many actual local indie online news businesses there are now, but the industry segment will continue to grow).
I am optimistic about the media scene in 2012. While there will continue to be worries about possible and actual layoffs as well as further belt-tightening at newspaper and TV outlets, there will also continue to be many new web ventures that will be launched. My boss, Nick Lemann, dean of Columbia J-school, often says that the future of journalism is “digitized and specialized,” and that will definitely become even more real in 2012. The journalists who already have the digital skills to take advantage of opportunities — or can reinvent themselves in smart ways — will be able to shine.
A final prediction: I hope I’m wrong, but I’m sure I’ll be asked, for the umpteenth time, by reporters after a big breaking news story, “Has social media finally come of age?”
Next up is Vadim Lavrusik, Journalist Program Manager at Facebook.
Ladies and gentlemen, we can rebuild it. We have the technology. We have the capability to build a sustainable journalism model. Better than it was before. Better, stronger, faster.
Okay, putting “Six Million Dollar Man” theme aside, I do believe every word of that. And here’s a small sliver of the way I think the process can be improved: curating information in a way that both puts it in proper context for consumers and amplifies the reporting of the citizenry.
For the last year, much of the focus has been on curating content from the social web and effectively contextualizing disparate pieces of information to form singular stories. This has been especially notable during breaking news events, with citizens who are participating in or observing those events contributing content about them through social media. In 2012, there will be even more emphasis not only on curating that content, but also on amplifying it through increasingly effective distribution mechanisms.
Because anyone can publish content today and report information from a breaking news event, the role journalists can play in amplifying — and verifying — that content becomes ever more important. Contributed reporting from the citizenry hasn’t replaced the work of journalists. In fact, it has made the work of journalists even more important, as there is much more verification and “making sense” of that content that needs to be done. And journalists’ role as amplifiers of information is becoming more crucial.
What does that mean? It means journalists using their skills to verify the accuracy of claims being made on social media and elsewhere, and then effectively distributing that verified information to a larger audience through their publications’ community of readers and fact-checkers on the social web.
Curation itself will continue to evolve and become more sophisticated. As the year has gone on, breaking news itself has taken on new forms beyond the typical chronological curation of a live event. In the new year, we’ll also see new curated story formats. And we’ll see new tools that allow those formats to take life.
But the mentality of content curation needs to evolve, as well. It’s still very much focused on how to find and curate the content around a news event or story, but much like the old model of content production, there is still little emphasis on making sure that the content is effectively distributed, across platforms and communities. The cycle no longer stops after a piece is written or a story is curated from the social web. The story is ever evolving, and the post-production is just as important.
Though there are plenty of journalists doing a great job at recognizing that — and though news organizations themselves are increasingly putting emphasis on content amplification — the creation of content, rather than the distribution of it, remains the primary focus of news outlets.
The coming year will see a more balanced approach. Whether it’s a written story or one curated from the citizenry using social media tools, we will see a growing emphasis placed on content amplification through distribution, and an increasing effort to ensure that the most accurate and verified information is reaching the audience that needs it. Information will, in this environment, inevitably reach the citizenry; at stake is the quality of the information that does the reaching. If content is king, distribution is queen.
Next up is longtime digital journalist Steve Buttry, the director of community engagement and social media at the Journal Register Co. & Digital First Media.
We will see more newspaper-company transactions in 2012. After a few years where no one wanted to sell at the price the market had dropped to, we’ve had Journal Register Co., the Oklahoman, the San Diego Union-Tribune, and the Omaha World-Herald (am I forgetting one?) sell in the second half of 2011. I believe those sales have helped set the market value, and some people who were refusing to sell will swallow their losses and get out of the newspaper business.
In the transactions mentioned above, people with sufficient wealth appear to have bought the companies outright, taking on little or no debt. (Take the World-Herald, which was bought by the ultimate rich person, Warren Buffett, at the helm of the ultimate public company, Berkshire Hathaway.) I believe we’ll see more transactions involving publicly held companies in 2012. We may also see more creative transactions that fall short of a sale, such as the Journal Register Co./Digital First Media deal to manage MediaNews Group.
I think Google+ will add a new feature (probably more than one, but one will get all the attention) that will make more of a splash than the initial launch of G+ did.
At least one Pulitzer Prize winner (most likely Breaking News Reporting) will have used Twitter and/or Facebook significantly in its coverage and its entry, and the social media use will be cited by the judges (or their refusal to cite it will be glaring).
The winner of the 2012 presidential election will work harder on reaching voters through social media than through the professional media.
Gene Weingarten will write a disapproving column about the changing news business that is funny but dead wrong. (After last year, I had to throw in one sure thing.)
Those are third-person predictions about what other people/companies will do. This last new prediction should carry the disclaimer of obvious self-interest, since I am leading community engagement and social media efforts for the company — but I am confident that Digital First Media will continue to lead the way in transforming the digital news business.
Beyond that, I will re-offer last year’s predictions, since they largely didn’t happen in 2011 (I suppose I can claim #newnewtwitter as being partial fulfillment, though it doesn’t include the features I mentioned):
Next up is Paul Bradshaw, the author of the Online Journalism Handbook and a visiting professor at City University London.
The problem with making predictions is that a year is too short a timescale; and five is too long. The secret, I’ve realized, is to actually talk about things you already know are going to happen, and then accept all the glory when they actually do.
Having broken the Magicians’ Circle of journalistic punditry, then, here are the developments I see shaping 2012.
Liveblogging has been taken up by the news industry more enthusiastically than perhaps any other web-native form of journalism. It’s sticky, great for SEO, and provides a simple way to turn a newsroom used to daily news cycles into a rolling news operation.
Indeed, its influence has been so great that some news organizations are seriously considering the very way they present their news — and in 2012 I think that influence will generate significant changes in how certain media organizations make that presentation.
The “stream” as an interface will move from being the preserve of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to being a serious consideration for news website homepages. We’re all 24-hour news channels now.
If you’re not already tired of conference speakers staging their own coronations where some aspect of journalism is crowned “king” — from content to curation and context to conversation — expect there to be another one in 2012.
I’m betting on “collaboration”: partly with users who have valuable expertise to share; but also between media organizations, strapped for cash and looking for new economies and new opportunities.
In 2009 and 2010, the MPs’ expenses and Wikileaks stories helped news organizations see the potential of data journalism. In 2011, they spent plenty of time talking about it. In 2012, more of them will be ready to start doing it.
At the BBC, the College of Journalism has embarked upon a significant training program to build data journalism literacy among the corporation’s journalists, with other broadcasters making plans in the same area. The Guardian and The FT continue to set the pace for the UK newspaper industry, and the magazine industry is starting to look at the possibilities of data, too.
This slow skilling up of journalists can expect to get a fresh injection of pace with further open data developments in 2012, from the UK government’s attempt to stimulate the economy with further data releases, to the “carrot and stick” of pushing releases of data at an EU level. Any news organization that is serious about its fourth estate role is building the skills to interrogate those datasets.
Next up is Boston-based media commenter Dan Kennedy, an assistant professor of journalism at Northeastern University, a regular panelist on WGBH-TV’s “Beat the Press,” and the author of the Media Nation blog.
Following years of retreat in the face of shrinking readership, mounting financial losses, and a rising chorus of digital visionaries telling them they’re doing it all wrong, 2012 will be a year of retrenchment for newspaper publishers.
Still standing some three years after the near-implosion of the newspaper industry in 2008 and 2009, executives will point to their continued existence as proof that their situation was never as bad as it seemed, and that a few tweaks here and there will restore them to pink-cheeked, if downsized, health.
Their rallying cry will be Dean Starkman’s essay in the November/December 2011 issue of the Columbia Journalism Review, “Confidence Game.” In the course of nearly 8,000 words, Starkman dismisses those he calls the “news gurus” (principally Clay Shirky and Jeff Jarvis), arguing they are more interested in promoting their own the-sky-is-falling agenda than in the fate of public-interest journalism. Starkman calls for the preservation of traditional journalistic institutions, which brought a memorable retort from Shirky:
Saying newspapers will provide a stable home for reporters, just as soon as we figure out how to make newspapers stable, is like saying that if we had some ham, we could have a ham sandwich, if we had some bread.
Starkman’s essay is actually a nuanced, deeply intelligent meditation on the future of journalism, but it’s the caricature — newspapers good, news gurus bad — that traditionalists will embrace. That is especially true with respect to the notion that online readers have been getting a free ride, and that it’s time to insist that they start paying.
At The Boston Globe, for instance, several staff members have taken to tweeting “This is why we pay for journalism” whenever their paper has published something particularly noteworthy — a reference to the Globe’s newly instituted paywall. Never mind that we have always paid for journalism — until recently, primarily through advertising. Never mind that NPR, some commercial broadcast outlets and a rising tide of non-profit news organizations are producing excellent journalism every day that is paid for by someone other than the end user. The unspoken message is, We hard-working journalists have been giving away our work for 15 years, and we’re finally putting a stop to it.
In fact, there are reasons to hope the traditional newspaper industry might have a bit more life left in it than we thought a few years ago. The Globe and The New York Times, both owned by The New York Times Company, are pioneering the use of flexible paywalls that keep much of their content open to social networks and blogs while imposing a fee on regular readers. The Times, at least, has had some success; the Globe has not yet released any numbers. Publishers everywhere are hoping to emulate them.
The forces that have been undermining newspapers since the rise of the commercial web in the mid-1990s will come back to the fore.
Since advertising comprises an ever-shrinking share of revenues, publishers have to persuade readers to pay in the form of higher prices for print and something — anything — for online access. The alternative is to continue sliding toward oblivion. And despite some promising experiments here and there, it’s still not at all clear what would replace newspapers, especially at the local level. For every community that has a high-quality non-profit news site like Voice of San Diego (currently experiencing its own problems) and the New Haven Independent, or a for-profit like The Batavian or Baristanet, there are hundreds without anything but their shrinking, debt-ridden, chain-owned local newspaper.
The great newspaper retrenchment may prove to be more than a dead-cat bounce. As the economy slowly improves, the newspaper business may well enjoy a semi-revival. But before long, the forces that have been undermining newspapers since the rise of the commercial web in the mid-1990s will come back to the fore. Some progressive newspaper executives, like John Paton of Digital First Media, are trying to figure out how to combine the best of the new and the old before it’s too late. For the most part, though, you can be reasonably sure that newspaper companies will continue to cut costs, maximize profits (or minimize losses), and do their best ostrich imitations until they find themselves under siege once again.
They’re standing up for traditional values — and what could be more traditional than failing to plan for the future?
Next up is Emily Bell, formerly the director of digital content for Guardian News and Media and currently the director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Making predictions about journalism is a hopeless business: Jay Rosen, who is much wiser than I am, said he never does it, and I salute him for that. But like Karaoke, some of the things you end up doing during the holiday period are regrettable but fun.
What we saw in 2011 was a sudden consciousness among news organizations and individual journalists that the network, and the tools that create it, are not social media wrappers for reporting but part of the reporting process itself. The poster child for this is the inimitable Andy Carvin, with his amazingly valuable journalism conducted throughout the Arab Spring. The network sensibility will grow in newsrooms that currently don’t tend to have it as part of their process — it is still seen in the vast majority of places as more of a “nice to have” rather than a “must have.” The strongest news organizations we know are those which can leverage both the real time social web and provide relevant, timely context and analysis.
While this use of distributed tools and new platforms continues at speed, I think we will also see some much-needed closer scrutiny on what this new reality means for journalism and its constant redefinition of products and services. Or at least I hope so. While a fan of a networked approach, there are important caveats. It is remarkable how much journalism is now conducted on third-party commercial websites which do not have journalism as a core purpose — Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc. — and the attendant ignorance of what this means in the long term will begin to be addressed. Issues about privacy and user information, about the protection of sources, about ownership of IP, about archiving, and about how we can have a “fourth estate” in a digital world will all become vital for individual journalists and institutions to understand.
Journalists have always been very skilled at stories and projects and fairly awful at thinking about platforms. We need more engineers who want to be journalists, and we need to teach students more about the implications of publishing in a digital environment — whatever the format their journalism originally takes.
Next up is multimedia journalist Robert Hernandez, aka WebJournalist, currently an assistant professor at USC Annenberg.
Granted, this will make for a weak lede, but allow me to start this piece with a disclosure: I, like many of you, am not a fan of prediction posts.
Typically, they aren’t based on anything real and are often used to make grand statements we all roll our eyes at… and don’t get me started on how often they’re wrong.
That aside, here’s another piece to roll your eyes at.
But here’s a tweak, this is not really a prediction… this is, to be honest, more of a hopeful wish.
Okay, ready? Here goes.
We know that Content is King. There is no doubting this concept. If you don’t have ‘it,’ no one is going to engage with you.
We know that Distribution is Queen. In this modern age, what’s the point of having ‘it’ if no one will find it?
My prediction is that this ruling monarchy will be augmented by… a prince. Perhaps a duke? Whatever. And it’s called Credibility.
In the age that we live in, content is relatively cheap. Anyone can create it. If not through their computer, everyone’s phone can basically do live shots, record newsworthy sound clips and file stories. Some can do interactive 360 videos or augmented reality presentations. Really cool stuff.
And everyone can distribute their content in 140 characters, their own livestream network or their blog (how traditional).
With technology empowering everyone with the ability to create and to distribute, I predict — and wish — that in 2012 the new dominating factor will be Credibility. Actually, earned Credibility.
What will stand out from the sea of content will be the voices we turn to time and time again. Trusted sources of news and information will transcend their mastheads and company brands…and become their own brand. Brands that are solely based on being known for the quality and reliability of their work.
Just to make Gene Weingarten angry, brands brands brands brands brands. Look, that’s all marketing speak for the most important quality journalists have to offer: Credibility.
And, sure, some of us get a head start by being associated with the Washington Post, NPR, CNN, etc. But I predict — hope — that in the coming year, individual journalists will be valued more than their distribution companies. More than the media format of their story.
Judged by the content of their character. (Wait, that’s a different dream.)
Many news consumers are tired of the political left and the political right fighting, and making journalism — or I should actually say “journalism” — the fight’s platform. Hell, I’m tired of it, too.
We want people who will cut through the spin and tell us what’s going on, how it will affect us and what can we do about it. We want transparent news. We want news that, while it may not always achieve that goal, honestly strives to be objective.
We want to trust journalism. And to do so, we need to trust journalists.
And bypassing the blogger-vs-tweeter-vs-media company-vs-journalist debate, it is going to come down to one thing: Credibility.
Can I reliably trust you to tell me what is going on? If the answer is yes, then I don’t care if you work out of a newsroom or out of your garage.
Let’s see what the new year brings, but that is my predication…that is my wish.
Okay, roll your eyes. Or post a comment. Share your thoughts.
Correction: We initially listed Richard, rather than Robert, Hernandez as the author of this post. We deeply regret the error, and want to stress that it’s the R. Hernandez of USC, rather than the R. Hernandez of Berkeley, who wrote this prediction. Apologies to both.
Next up is blogging pioneer Dan Gillmor, a journalism professor at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the author, most recently, of Mediactive.
Journalists will start paying serious attention to an issue that will ultimately determine whether they can participate in the digital world: control.
We are moving rapidly from an era of an oligopoly of content providers to an oligopoly of content controllers: new choke points. This is not media consolidation in the traditional sense, where a few huge conglomerates used economies of scale to dominate journalism by dominating the local and national agendas. This consolidation, to a very few companies plus increasing government intervention, is even more dangerous — and information providers of all kinds are finally starting to grasp what’s happening.
The choke points include (among others):
The forces of control are getting more powerful every day. They are a direct threat to journalism and innovation. Journalists are starting to take note — and we can only hope it’s not too late.
Next up is Martin Langeveld, who spent 30 years in the daily newspaper business, 13 of them as a publisher, and who contributes regularly to the Lab.
Here we go again — time to have look back at my December 2010 predictions for 2011, and to go out on another limb with prognostications for 2012.
Below, I’ve listed each of my 2011 predictions (somewhat abbreviated in some cases — just click back to the original post for the full verbiage). Following each 2011 prediction, read my report on how things actually turned out, plus a fresh prediction for 2012.
2011 Prediction: Digital convergence: News, mobile, tablets, social couponing, location-based services, RFID tags, gaming . . . All these things will not stay in separate silos. . . . imagine for a moment: personalized news delivered to me on my tablet or smartphone, tailored to my demographics, preferences, and location; coupon offers and input from my social network, delivered on the same basis; the ability to interact with RFID tags on merchandise (and on just about anything else); more and more ability not only to view ads but to do transactions on tablets and phones — all of these delivered in a entertaining interfaces with gaming features (if I like games) or not (if I don’t). In other words: news delivered to me as part of a total environment aware of my location, my friends, my interests and preferences, essentially in a completely new online medium — not a web composed of sites I can browse at my leisure, but a medium delivered via a device or devices that understand me and understand what I want to know, including the news, information and commercial offers that are right for me. All of this is way too much to expect in 2011, but as a prediction, I think we’ll start to see some of the elements begin to come together, especially on the iPad.
How I did: Some hits, some misses in a complex prediction there. Real personalized news still remains an unrealized holy grail of a goal. But we’re certainly moving rapidly in the direction of more and more transactional functionality on tablets and phones — as I described here in an early preview of the Amazon Kindle Fire, which is a big step in the direction of “a device . . . that understand[s] me and understand[s] what I want to know, including the news, information and commercial offers that are right for me.” And clearly Google wants to go there, as described in Ken Doctor’s recent post on “Google’s retail push.” (By the way, some very interesting data just came out about how tablet owners are using their gadgets for shopping in the current holiday season: 87 percent of them are using them to shop; on average they plan to spend $325; most are doing their shopping from the couch or in bed; and about half plan to continue doing more shopping on their tablet. Clearly, my early view that tablets will fuel a new e-commerce explosion is being borne out.)
Prediction for 2012: I’m rolling this prediction into 2012, lock, stock and barrel. And I’ll add that tablet-based shopping in 2012 will surpass all expectations.
2011 Prediction: The Associated Press clearinghouse for news. Lots of questions here: Will be it nonprofit or for-profit? Who will put up the money? Who will be in charge of it? What will it actually do? It will probably take all year to get the operation organized and launched, but I’m going to stick with the listing of opportunities I outlined when news of the clearinghouse broke. I continue to believe that the clearinghouse concept has the potential to transform the way that news content is generated, distributed and consumed.
How I did: The “clearinghouse” is now independently incorporated as News Licensing Group, but it has been virtually mum about its plans. We do have answers to the questions I listed: NLG is for-profit; it has considerable funding from various newspaper companies; its CEO is David Westin and its COO is Srinandan Kasi, former general counsel at AP. Todd Martin is CTO, and the outfit is hiring for key staff positions. So far, NLG doesn’t even have a website yet; the most detailed description of what it is doing and what its plans are can be found on its recent submission for an award at the Cloud Computing Conference. Aside from the content-tracking News Registry system NLG inherited from AP, this document points to a next phase in which NLG plans to create “new and innovative ways for news providers to license, market and distribute their content to digital platforms in a manner that respects intellectual property rights and generates new revenue for publishers.”
Prediction for 2012: Let’s roll the News Licensing Group prediction over into 2012, as well. Expect NLG to (a) come up with a better name for itself, (b) launch a website, (c) be more public about what it’s doing, and (d) demonstrate ways in which news and information content can, in effect, be released onto the web, be used by various published subject to usage and payment restrictions embedded in tags, and send revenue back to the content owners or creators.
2011 Prediction: Embracing real digital strategies. Among newspaper companies, Journal Register will continue to point the way: CEO John Paton ardently evangelizes for digital-first thinking . . . . So for a prediction: Journal Register will outsource most of its printing, sell most of its real estate, bring the audience into its newsrooms with more news cafes like their first one in Torrington, Conn. It will announce by year end that 25 percent of its revenue is from digital sources. It will also launch online-only startups in cities and towns near its existing markets, perhaps with niche print spinoffs. And finally, toward the end of 2011, we’ll see some reluctant and tentative emulation of Paton’s strategies among a few other newspaper groups.
How I did: Well, Journal Register indeed continues to point the way; its CEO John Paton now heads up an unusual management company that is running both JRC and MediaNews Group. Since then, Paton has moved quickly to consolidate the MNG-JRC management structures (with “new bosses” all around, although at this point some MNG editors know about “digital first” only from what they read in the media). So my “emulation” prediction is more than right with respect to MNG, but my outsourcing and startup predictions are off the mark. Paton hasn’t said how much of JRC’s revenue is digital now, but he did tell David Carr of the New York Times that it had more than quintupled during his watch, from $6 million in 2009 to a projected $32 million in 2011. I’m sure that’s not 25 percent of total ad revenue, though, but might be getting close to 20 percent (compared to an industry average of 13.2 percent). More significantly, Paton said that 60 percent of JRC’s digital revenue is digital-only, as opposed to print-driven digital “upsells” which still inflate the industry-reported numbers. Paton has also taken some first steps toward my prediction of “online-only startups in cities and towns near its existing markets” — in the form of ventures taking shape in his IdeaLab (now expanding with the addition of MNG), as well as his just announced DigitalFirst Ventures, which will make investments in tech start-ups focused in the areas of content, advertising and audience development.
Prediction for 2012: Let’s morph this one into a consolidation prediction — More newspapers and newspaper groups will be added under Paton’s Digital First management umbrella. Prime candidates include Lee Enterprises, which is now undergoing a strategic bankruptcy, just as MNG and JRC did; Philadelphia Media Network and Freedom Communications, both of which have major investments from Alden Global Capital which also has effective control of MNG and JRC; Tribune Corp., if it ever emerges from bankruptcy; and perhaps even Canada’s Postmedia Network, in which Alden has a stake and to which Paton has served as an advisor.
2011 Prediction: Newspaper advertising revenue . . . . My prediction is for a very flat year, with the quarterly totals (for print plus online revenue) coming in at Q1: +1.5%, Q2: +2.0%, Q3: no change and Q4: -3%.
How I did: Every year, I try for a pretty pessimistic newspaper ad revenue prediction, and every year, reality turns out to be worse. The actual results for the first three quarters were: Q1: -7.0%, Q2: -6.9%, Q3: -8.9%. What on earth was I thinking when I wrote “no change” for Q3? Since employment trends have gotten marginally better and the holiday shopping season seems to be off to a decent start, perhaps they can still bring in Q4 at -3%. That would make it the 22nd consecutive negative quarter for the industry, but the best since Q4 ’06, when the loss was only 2.2%.
Prediction for 2012: Sorry, but I have to continue to be pessimistic here. See my view below on the accelerating decline in newspaper circulation sales, precipitated by more widespread tablet adoption. Even with some improvement in the economic sectors that traditionally benefit newspapers, the disappearing print audience means ad revenue will continue to plummet: Q1: -6.0%, Q2: -8.0%, Q3: -9.0%, Q4: -10.0%.
2011 Prediction: Newspaper online ad revenue . . . . I predict newspaper online revenue will be: Q1: +5.0 percent, Q2: +3.0 percent, Q3: no change and Q4: no change.
How I did: A pleasant surprise here: The actual results were much better: Q1: +10.2%, Q2: +8.0%, Q3: +6.2% — but keep an eye on how much of that is driven by the aforementioned gimmicky upsells, in which online ads are sold as added value in print ad packages, with an arbitrary portion of the revenue journaled to the online side of the ledger. (At McClatchy, for example, less than 50 percent of online revenue is online-only; the majority is bundled with print.)
Prediction for 2012: Mr. Paton’s influence might be helpful in keeping the uptrend going here — although to keep up with the overall growth rate of online advertising, newspapers should be performing in the double digits. Maybe they can return to that territory by the second half of the year. My prediction: Q1: +7.0%, Q2: +9.0%, Q3: +11.0%, Q4: +13.0%.
2011 Prediction: Newspaper circulation . . . . My prediction: down 5 percent in each of the spring and fall six-month ABC reporting periods. That will mean that by year’s end, print newspaper penetration will fall to about one in three households (a long way down from its postwar peak of 134 newspapers sold per 100 households in 1946).
How I did: This year, the industry sort of gets a pass, because it claims that because of Audit Bureau of Circulation rules changes, 2011 circulation results, as reported in the semi-annual FAS-FAX reports, can’t be compared with those from prior years. But I’m going to claim a partial win on this one, because figures reported by individual newspaper chains suggest that the 5 percent downtrend prediction is right, at least for weekday circulation For example, McClatchy reported weekday print circulation declines of 3.7% to 4.3% in the first three quarters, but its Sunday circulate swung from a loss of 2.8% in Q1 to a gain of 2.0% in Q3. Gannett reported that weekday circulation (excluding USA Today) was off 6% for the first nine months, but Sunday circulation was off just 1 percent. The New York Times Company was not specific but said print circulation volumes were still declining, as did Scripps.
Prediction for 2013: Print circulation (never mind those digital subscription), will drop 7% in the March 31 FASFAX report, and 10% in the Sept. 30 edition. That’s not all bad news, because much of the swing will be driven by increases in paid online access including facsimile editions and tablet versions. In other words, I think the 2012-2013 period (see how I hedge my bet there?) will turn out to be the tipping point where widespread tablet adoption leads to much more time spent reading news digitally, and print newspaper sales begin to drop precipitously. Of course, this brings its own problems — newspapers without solid digital strategies will not survive.
2011 Prediction: Online news readership. There are a couple of ways to look at this. For newspaper websites, NAA recently switched from Nielsen to Comscore because they liked Comscore’s numbers better. As a base measure, Comscore is showing about 105 million monthly unique visitors and 4 billion pageviews to newspaper sites, with the average visitor spending 3.5 minutes per visit. Prediction: all three of those metrics will stay flat (plus or minus 10 percent) during 2011. The other way to look at it is: Where are Americans getting their news? The Pew Research Center looks at this on an annual basis, and in 2010 showed online, radio, and newspapers more or less tied as news sources for Americans. Is there any doubt where this is going? In 2011, Pew might add mobile as a distinct source, but it will show online clearly ahead of newspapers and radio, with mobile ascendant.
How I did: The Comscore data reported monthly by NAA has shown some ups and downs in newspaper site unique visitors, with Q3 looking particularly positive with about 112 million versus about 105 million during the last few months of 2010, along with roughly 12-15 percent growth in page views and visits. Time spent per visit is essentially unchanged at 3.5 to 3.8 minutes. So we’re slightly better than my plus or minus 10 percent prediction there. Pew did take a closer look at mobile as a source for news, and found (in early 2011) that 47% of Americans were getting local news on cellphones or tablets, compared with just 26% who got news of any kind on cellphones a year earlier (tablets were not a factor yet at that time). So mobile news is indeed “ascendant.”
Prediction for 2012: We’ll see a lot more research during the year on how people are using smartphones and tablets for news, information and shopping. The smarter newspaper companies (Digital First, New York Times, and Hearst) will invest, perhaps jointly, in technology that can compete with Amazon and Google when it comes to not only connecting people with merchandise but actually delivering it to them. Although it would not be easy to do, newspapers could have an advantage in exploiting the local side of this opportunity — via your local news site or app, discover local goods and services, pay for them and have them delivered (perhaps even by the newspaper truck that drives by every house in the market every night…).
2011 Prediction: Newspaper chains. Nobody can afford to buy anybody else, and no non-newspaper companies want to buy newspapers. There might be some mergers, but really, there are no strategic opportunities for consolidation in this industry, because there are no major efficiencies or revenue opportunities to be gained. Everybody will just muddle along in 2011, with the exception of Journal Register, which as noted above will move into adjacent markets with digital products and generally show the way the rest should follow.
How I did: Indeed, there were no major ownership changes, but Journal Register was certainly prominent as part of a quasi-merger with MediaNews Group under John Paton’s new management company.
Prediction for 2012: See above, under Embracing Real Digital Strategies.
2011 Prediction: Stocks. The major indices will be up 15 to 20 percent by September, but they’ll drop back to a break-even position by the end of 2011. Newspaper stocks will not beat the market. Others: AOL and Google will beat the market; Yahoo and Microsoft will not.
How I did: I got the pattern right, but the Dow never made it up has high as 15% — it was up nearly 10% by mid-July, fell back precipitously, and is recently up about 5% since the end of 2010. As predicted, newspaper stocks are not close to beating the market, though: Gannett is off more than 11% year-to-date; McClatchy is down nearly 50%; New York Times is down over 20%; Media General is down 28%; Scripps is off 17%. AOL (driven by ongoing doubts about its overall business model) is in the same boat as the newspaper companies, off 41%. Google is slightly ahead of the Dow; Yahoo is not (down 4%), nor is Microsoft (down 8%). So, all correct except AOL.
Prediction for 2012: The Eurozone crisis gives way to the dollarzone crisis as Congress continues to deadlock over budget and debt issues. The Dow falters, dropping 10% by mid-year. The prospect of a President Gingrich lifts hopes briefly, but when Obama is re-elected while Republicans retain the House and retake the Senate, it sinks another 5%. Newspaper stocks fail to beat the market, but all the digital giants (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Amazon, AOL and Apple) are all in positive territory well ahead of the Dow.
Next up is journalism professor Carrie Brown-Smith, an up-and-coming young academic based at the University of Memphis.
In 2012 we will see a growing gap between newsrooms that are innovating and those that are…not.
2011 saw a number of promising examples news organizations going beyond “digital first” platitudes to actually trying things and making it work, and I’m optimistic we will see this trend continue. For example, The Journal Register Co.’s open newsrooms and other efforts garnered a fivefold rise in digital revenue in just two years; the Chicago Tribune continues to hire news developers to work with reporters to build new tools for making sense of and accessing information; the Wall Street Journal has had surprising success with its investments in online video, earning $200,000 in revenue per month.
in the latest round included the kind of digital staffers, like an online video producer and a programmer, that one might expect to be especially crucial to moving forward in the digital space. I expect we’ll see this gap between digital news haves and have-nots widen, perhaps hastening the demise of print in some markets.
2012 will be a good year for local television.
As some metropolitan daily newspapers continue to slash their already drastically-reduced staffs, they no longer have quite as commanding of an edge in reporting muscle over their broadcast counterparts. In addition to the election-year advertising boon, local television, with its recognizable personalities, also has a clear opportunity in the digital space. For example, in Memphis, where I live, the Commercial Appeal recently launched a more aggressive paywall than the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times, which can’t be bypassed via Google or social media; shortly after doing so it laid off its social media editor. Broadcast reporters in our market have already generally been more proactive in their use of social media to share stories and interact with the audience, and the door is now open for them to increase the public’s reliance on them for [free!] news and information. Of course, given the documented propensity of local television news to focus on crime over matters of local substance; this is not necessarily a good thing from the perspective of quality journalism, but it may be inevitable nevertheless. Even serious news junkies like journalism professors (ahem) find themselves turning more often to the sources that appear in their social streams and don’t require a credit card to access.
2012 *might* see a bursting of the social media bubble, or at least convince us that it is harder game to play than we thought.
This might seem odd coming from an avid social media user who developed two new courses on it for our journalism department and who even has been christened with that dreaded “social media guru” title on more than one occasion (ack). And assuredly, I do think social media is an incredibly important tool for news organizations to use to promote their content, improve their reporting, and engage their audiences; I’m especially hopeful that it can help journalists diversify their sources and audiences, given that African Americans use Twitter at twice the rate of whites and other similar stats. But despite all of our excitement over its potential, I’m beginning to wonder about how big of a community can be meaningfully maintained online and how this affects news organizations. For example, many early Twitter adopters such as myself report that their rate of responses, retweets and click-thrus have declined over time. I suspect this may have less to do with any change in behavior on our parts or that of our followers and more to do with the fact that the Twitter universe is now so large. Already overflowing streams are flooding. The likelihood that even your most interested followers will even see a tweet is ever lower. In order to develop engaged and loyal communities on social media, news organizations are going to have to work harder and smarter and try to find solutions to Shirky’s “filter failure” problem.
Journalism schools will increasingly step up to the plate to play a leadership role in journalism innovation in 2012.
While I and others have long lamented how out of touch the Ivory Tower can be, I think we are seeing more and more examples of journalism schools finally stepping up to the plate, as Geneva Overholser of the University of Southern California and others have long called for. Even at smaller, less wealthy programs like mine, we are starting to teach entrepreneurship and helping to fill holes in the local news ecosystem with hyperlocal reporting. Faculty members of all ages are getting excited in ways I haven’t seen before about the potential of tablets, and I predict this will raise their game as teachers that will emphasize the importance of mobile and publishing in new platforms.
The co-op model is one to watch in 2012.
I read about it here on Nieman Lab, and this is one of the most interesting ideas I’ve read about in the future-of-news space in quite some time. I’m interested to see how it plays out.
Today, it’s web pioneer Dave Winer, a man key to the evolution of many of the publishing technologies we use online today, and currently a visiting scholar in journalism at NYU.
Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard has asked me to contribute a piece for their end-of-year roundup. I did one last year. I guess we were thinking about paywalls then. It’s not such a hot topic now.
At the end of this year I’m thinking about the need for proper criticism of software, alongside other arts like theater, movies, music, books, travel, food and architecture. It’s finally time to stop being all gee whiz about this stuff. Tech is woven into the fabric of our culture, as much as or more so than the other arts. And it’s headed toward being even more interwoven.
We all need this, on all sides of the art. As users and creators. There’s very little understanding of how we work. That’s illustrated perfectly by the Isaacson bio of Steve Jobs. We now see what a disaster this is going to be, from the future-historian point of view.
I’ve thought that perhaps a panel of product creators could give awards to journalism that really captures the spirit of technology. The goal would be to move away from the lone inventor myth and see tech projects as more like film production or a even more apt, a TV series. Software is a process. It’s not like Starry Night, as Joni Mitchell said, but it’s not like a song either. It’s like Breaking Bad or Dexter or Boardwalk Empire.
If I could nudge the editorial people in a new direction, this would be it.
Let’s advance the art of technology criticism.
PS: I’d also like to see J-school students learn how to manage infrastructure.
To kick things off, it’s Nicholas Carr, the veteran technology writer, whose most recent book — The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains — was a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize.
For years now, the line between the software business and the media business has been blurring. Software applications used to take the form of packaged goods, sold through retail outlets at set prices. Today, as a result of cloud computing and other advances, applications look more and more like media products. They’re ad-supported, subscribed to, continually updated, and the content they incorporate is often as important as the functions they provide. As traditional media companies have moved to distribute their wares in digital form — as code, in other words — they’ve come to resemble software companies. They provide not only original content, but an array of online tools and functions that allow customers to view, manipulate, and add to the content in myriad ways.
During 2011, the blending of software and media accelerated greatly, thanks to what might be termed the dis-integration of the internet. The old general-purpose web, where everyone visited the same sites and saw the same stuff, is rapidly being supplanted by specialized packages of digital content geared to particular devices — iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry, Kindle, Nook, Xbox — or to particular members-only sites like Facebook and Google+. Not only has the net left its Wild West days; it’s entered the era of the gated suburban subdivision. As part of this trend, the open, HTML-based website is being replaced, or at least supplemented, by the proprietary app. In app stores, the already blurry line between software and media disappears altogether. Apps are as much content-delivery services as they are conventional software programs. Newspapers, magazines, books, games, music albums, TV shows: All are being reimagined as apps. Appified, if you will.
Appification promises to be the major force reshaping media in general and news media in particular during 2012. The influence will be exerted directly, through a proliferation of specialized media apps, as well as indirectly, through changes in consumer attitudes, expectations, and purchasing habits. There are all sorts of implications for newspapers, but perhaps the most important is that the app explosion makes it much easier to charge for online news and other content. That’s true not only when the content is delivered through formal apps but also when it is delivered through traditional websites, which may themselves come to be viewed by customers as a form of app. In the old world of the open web, paying for online content seemed at best weird and at worst repugnant. In the new world of the app, paying for online content suddenly seems normal. What’s an app store but a series of paywalls?
Appification opens to newspapers the powerful marketing and pricing strategy that the Berkeley economist (and now Google executive) Hal Varian dubs “versioning.” Long a cornerstone of the software business, versioning is the practice of creating many versions of the same underlying informational product, packaging them in different ways, and selling them at different prices to different sets of customers. A software maker, for example, may give away a bare-bones version of an application, sell a version with more features to mainstream consumers at a modest price, and offer a high-end version, perhaps combined with added services, to professional users at a premium price. As Varian explains, “The point of versioning is to get the consumers to sort themselves into different groups according to their willingness to pay. Consumers with high willingness to pay choose one version, while consumers with lower willingnesses [sic] to pay choose a different version. The producer chooses the versions so as to induce the consumers to ‘self select’ into appropriate categories.”
We already see versioning strategies at work in the “metered” programs operated by a growing number of papers, including the Financial Times, The New York Times, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Readers lacking a willingness to pay get limited access to the papers’ sites for free. Readers who value the content more highly, and hence are willing to pay for it, subscribe for a fee to gain unlimited access. And readers with the greatest willingness to pay shell out even more money to receive both the print edition and unfettered online access. Appification provides an opportunity to create many more versions of the same basic content and deliver them to different customer segments. In 2012, we’ll see versioning strategies become not only more common in the newspaper business but more intricate, sophisticated, and lucrative.
The orthodox view among online pundits has been that paywalls and subscription fees won’t work for general-interest newspapers, that people simply won’t pay for a bundle of news online. Last year, media blogger Jeff Jarvis dismissed The New York Times’ metered plan as “cockeyed economics.” Earlier this year, Nieman Lab blogger Martin Langeveld opined that “newspapers are slowly digging their graves by building paywalls.” It seems likely that 2012 will be the year when we stop hearing such gloomy proclamations. Well-designed versioning strategies, spanning various devices, formats, functions, content bundles, and access plans, will provide smart newspapers with new ways to charge for their products, in both digital and print form, without sacrificing the unique opportunities presented by online distribution. That won’t mean the end of the industry’s struggles, but it does portend a brighter future. And that’s good news.