The Future of Journalism -- Tools Every Journalist Will Need in 2015 Live


"The bottom line is that on-the-fly assembly of content needs has improved dramatically since those days – but there is still a long way to go." 
by Stephen Zorio

We asked Joan Van Tassel, a professor who teaches courses in strategic communication at National University, to write a guest post on her thoughts about the future of media. 

She shared what she tells her students about emerging technologies, the promise and peril of technology and the tools journalists will need to stay relevant in 2015.

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Journalism and new communication technologies

In the old days, print and then broadcast media created messages and amplified them.  Today, they create them -- but the people we used to call the audience amplify them.  

Moreover, through their amplification, print and broadcast media journalists also follow social media (and contribute to it), so they see what is trending and put the amplification back through the mass media spin cycle.

Only now the “audience/users/receivers/prosumers, etc.” play a major role in the creation of memes and messages, and perhaps the definitive role in amplification. 

Change technological “affordances,” the actions and behaviors a particular comm tech allows, and you change everything about communication: The producers, the receivers, the business models, the devices, the software, and the effects messages have on individuals and society. Nowhere is this phenomenon seen more clear than in the news business.

They also make possible altogether types of messaging: SMS lets users send short messages, quickly and asynchronously. (Twitter built a successful business atop this free bandwidth, set aside in standardization meetings.) Instagram and SnapChat (and dozens of others) let them send visuals. These are intriguing and novel communication forms (when combined with their near real-time delivery).

(Edit: We talked with Stacy Minero, Head of Content Planning at Twitter, to get her content marketing strategy tips.)

Promise and Peril of Tech

As a scholar, these are the questions I’ve been thinking about for the last 20 years! Over time, I have noticed that the answers to them depend on who you are (background, experience, etc.), what you are looking at and for, and when you answer them.

How about now? Here is how I see technology affecting content creation generally and news more specifically.  

    Promise:  Ever more sophisticated content management systems, servers, and slice-and-dice software: In 1994, I consulted with Intel to consider the problem of marketing communications materials.  Compiling ever-changing catalogs, product sheets, and sales flyers across multiple geographies, languages, product lines, channels, and consumer types had become an expensive, labor-intensive, and difficult task.

    The bottom line is that on-the-fly assembly of content needs has improved dramatically since those days – but there is still a long way to go.  Giving consumers the material they want: Suppose, for example I set up a site (MyFormats.com) that lets people list frequently-visited sites or feeds they get for their phones.  For each site or feed, I can specify the way I want the material formatted.  

    For my phone and tablet, I want Format 1; for my laptop, I want Format 2.  At work, I want Format 3.  I log in and tell MyFormat which system I am using.   The site or feed goes to MyFormat.com, where it is reformatted for me on the fly.  

    Gone are the Washington Posts’s Wash DC news, the NY Times theater section.  Bring politics first.  Eliminate local news. Take out sports for me. (For my brother, put sports first. For my sister, health news is at the top; for my husband, it’s economic/business news). And so forth and so on … oh, and format the phone into voice so I can listen in my car, personalized radio.

    In short, services that let people get what they want by cutting loose the clutter they don’t want.

    Promise: Context-aware searches with “weeding” capability.  I need information as an aid to a job search.  Or I need it for a college paper.  Or a middle school paper.  Or to go eat right now.  All different – now people have to spend too much time weeding through on their own.  Pure pain for mobile users.

    Peril:  You won’t know a bomb is two miles ahead on the freeway you’re driving. Too bad, should have left “local news” in my NY Times feed. I bring up this peril purposefully: People will tailor their material only so far. When they discover they have missed important information, they will reconsider. There is a precursor of that movement today with “cut the cord” and “off the grid” actions I read about.  (There may need to be a Danger Button by geography.)

    Promise:  Mobile Beacons:  Hyperlocal news here, although likely to used mainly for coupons, sales announcements, etc. Still, lots of possibilities and yet-unthought-of uses.  

    Promise:  Machine-generated Content:  Much content can be lifted and reformatted “automagically.”  The same may be true of some short content.  Writers will still be needed for long, complex material.  A computer cannot check with CIA sources and write David Ignatius’ column.

    PerilIt’s going to be a while before organizations can avoid embarrassing and credibility-damaging machine errors. Although there is much fluff and fill, when it comes to the really important the material, organizations will need to be careful.  Consider the functions of writers that computers can do quite well:   Know facts and relate them to one another? Check. Know language? Check. Have a context- and user-sensitive vocabulary? Check. Understand human frame of reference? Hmmm.

    So when it comes to empathy, intuition, emotion, humor – I’m a little less certain here.  Psychologists studying generations (for example, Boomers, Gen Xers, Millenials) might be able to form computer-accessible cognitive maps.  

    Software might assemble a message that is checked and polished by a human writer to add the “human” touches. Creativity is tough to replicate, even for actual humans. Basic question since 1940’s:  Will it pass the Turing Test?

I have to cite the autocorrection in my SMS text function in the iPhone for  some of the greatest unintentional humor coming out of errors I’ve ever seen. I particularly liked the viral substitution: “Going to the gym to bulk up” changed to “break up.” Girlfriend was not amused, called him a high school asshole for breaking up over the phone.

Necessary hardware for journalists – all mobile:

  • Mobile phone/satellite phone
  • Bluetooth external keyboard
  • Camera telephoto lens extender
  • 2 external microphones (to plug into phone)
  • 2-1 microphone input adapter (interviewer/interviewee or two interviewees)
  • Selfie stick for stand-ups and interviews
  • Multiple powerful auxiliary battery packs to power phone

Necessary infrastructure and software:  

  • Connectivity:  Wi-fi
  • Apps to manage above hardware elements
  • Organizational content management  upload ink (if applicable);
  • If individual, Twitter, FB, Medium.com, Instagram, and other comparable websites to disseminate content

Content management system:

  • Auto-routing to editors and perhaps other team reporters (or subset of team reporters)
  • Content formatting to meet platform requirements
  • Multiple platform dissemination paths

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