To Infinity and Beyond: the Future of News Media
“Societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication.” – Marshall McLuhan
Media is changing. I don’t have to tell you that. You already know because we see the changes everyday: people reading tablets instead of newspapers, watching shows on smart phones instead of a television set. With technology growing at such a rate, is it any wonder that news media has changed?
Think about it. How do you know what’s going on around the world? I have a friend who solely reads headlines through tweets and Facebook statuses. My boss likes to scroll through his tablet to check business news. Mr. Henderson down the street rocks it old school with a newspaper. You get the idea. We read and consume news in different ways, but how does that effect media?
The Pew Research Center’s for Excellence in Journalism releases an annual State of the Media report. This report discussed how newspapers have adapted to technological changes as well as a crumbling economy.
Pew reported that newsrooms are now 30% smaller than in 2000. Ownership has changed with seven of the top 25 U.S. newspapers are owned by hedge funds. News, in the traditional sense, has become more of a commodity, with news and old news organizations still producing the content that audiences consume.
The way they consume it has added a new layer of complexity that ultimately connects the content to consumers. More importantly, 41% of people reported using the Internet for their international and national news, which is up a high 17% from last year; an astonishing change that newspapers must adapt to.
“In a media world where consumers decide what news they want to get and how they want to get it, the future will belong to those who understand the public’s changing behavior and can target content and advertising to snugly fit the interests of each other.”
Of course, this does not just apply to newspapers, but any media in general. The Internet has already changed our daily habits, how we consume media, and how we connect with each other. But what will media look like in the future?
The Future According to Brogan
Chris Brogan, a well-known author and speaker on social media marketing had several ideas about the future of media. He posted his ideas on his blog and I think they are on point with how media will change.
According to Brogan, media will be:
- Rich data minded
- Faster with longer burn
We already see some of these changes. Media is already multi-touch, as in multiple ways to consume media including video, graphics, audio, and games. These multiple touch points to consume news will allow many different kinds of people to absorb the same media. For example, a more visual person enjoys seeing photographs of an event, while someone else would like to view a video of it, or read about it. In essence, multi-touch media will provide multiple ways to consume the same news. In fact, it already has.
Brogan predicts that we will not only consume media through our mobile phones, but will also create it there. Take for instance “cell phone journalists” who can record newsworthy events at a moments notice.
Which brings us to serial media. Brogan believes that there are two types of media “first news” and “full news.” A great example of this would be the death of Osama Bin Laden. The news broke first on social networks and grew exponentially until the President’s announcement. Then newspapers and newscasts gave the full story the following morning.
One of the things that “works” with social media is that it encourages conversations and works as a two-way mode, and media will be no different. It’ll not only report the news, but ask readers to contribute to opinions, ideas, and debates. Just see the comment section on any article.
Rich minded data means that it won’t be static. “We’ll have stories, fiction and otherwise, that pull elements from the world around us,” says Brogan. And those stories will be subscription-based.
He ends with a statement that I think is spot-on with the future of media, “We’ll have a lot more connection with media hitting us the moment something happens, but then it’ll have a longer time line to getting completely explained.”
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
“… the most wonderful public communication system imaginable, a gigantic system of channels… capable not only of transmitting but of receiving, not of isolating [the user], but connecting [the user]. Users of this technology could leap around the world [and wipe] out for all time the age-old barriers of race and language and distance.”
This technology was not about the Internet, but the radio. In his book Future Active: Media Activism and the Internet, Graham Meikle “chronicles and critiques the tactical strikes of hactivists, culture jammers, and other mutant free radicals who [sic] are putting the Internet to political use.”
Decades later, the parallels with the Internet are striking. The new medium has tremendous potential for social change. It has power to revitalize democracy, empower us, and create a new public sphere for information.
While the promises of this media change were grandiose in the beginning, the Internet has rapidly become a place that can organize, unite, and empower any cause.
Take for instance Occupy Wall Street, which was essentially created, organized, and motivated by social media. And while most of conventional media does not cover the hundreds of activists who have been camped out in protest of corporate greed for weeks, the Occupy Wall Street community is reporting the news. A simple Twitter search for #OWS and thousands of Tweets provide minute-by-minute coverage of what’s happening on the streets, and effectively chronicling the start of a movement.
There are many more examples of activism media including the It Gets Better Project, Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, Anonymous, NOH8, and thousands of other causes and campaigns that are created on social media for social change.
Of course, the Internet is not the only vehicle for new media; it has become an increasingly crucial part of a broader media, especially when it comes to activism, even if it’s not the only one. Most of these other cases rely on the Internet, but they also rely no the more established or traditional media including newspapers to provide information to their cause, and television to promote it. The more successful campaigns know that they need a mix of media to work.
To Infinity and Beyond
There are many forms of news media, and as these mediums continue to change and grow, it’s important to understand the effects of the changes. Two communication scholars who have long explained our changing modes of communication and media are completely relevant to the future of news media.
Walter Ong, who wrote Orality and Literacy (1982), famously looked at how the shift from an oral-based stage of consciousness to one dominated by writing and print changes the way we humans think. He calls the electronic modes of communication (e.g., television and telephones) the second orality. It’s important to note that Ong suggests that future knowledge of the differences between orality and literacy might produce new and interesting insights into our interpretation of literature, and enrich already familiar types of literary criticism.
In the same vein, Marshall McCluhan wrote in his media ecology book, The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962), suggests that communication technology affects our cognitive organization.
“…[I]f a new technology extends one or more of our senses outside us into the social world, then new ratios among all of our senses will occur in that particular culture,” states McCluhan.
McCluhan’s “medium is the message” does not refer to the channel in which the content is delivered, is more important than itself. Instead, the medium is more of an extension, and technological advances in society feature a domino effect, in which one change leads to another. The message is not the content delivered, but rather the changes that this medium brings to the society that uses it.
This is what we have to look forward to when anticipating the future of news media. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and I’m glad I’m along for the ride.