What is the future of journalism? Back the smart people

8 Sep 2016

Inspirefest 2016 crowd image via Conor McCabe Photography

From phoning in your copy in the 1990s, to Facebook Instant Articles today, the media landscape is shifting. Where it goes is hard to pin down, but the general theme is a need for constant re-evaluation.

Who could have predicted 20 years ago that tiny blocks of lights, sound and Gorilla Glass, in the pocket of almost everybody on your street, would be distributing news in an instant?

Kara Swisher, co-executive editor of Recode, raises her hand. “I did,” she said at Inspirefest over the summer. “When I was covering the internet, before it was anything, a journalist told me I was reporting on CB Radio, basically a fad. I said: ‘No, I’m covering the decimation of your job’.”

Journalists worry about the future of journalism because, according to Swisher, they are among the most negative people on the planet.

“Many who write about businesses have never run a business, they don’t understand what’s happening to their business and don’t understand the profound situation they are in today,” she said.

Print is dying and the immediate growth in digital distribution of news and content is devastating the industries attributed to legacy media. Printers, suppliers, delivery companies; they are all affected.

“So what?” asked Swisher, before comparing it to the phasing out of horse travel as cars became more affordable. “Think of the adjacent industries to horses. There were the stables, people who put shoes on horses. Too bad. There will be another business plan. They will either figure it out or go out of business.”

This is something Raju Narisetti, senior vice president at News Corp, agreed with. “The whole notion of church vs state has become so ossified that journalists don’t understand what pays for their journalism,” he said. “It’s also funny that the Washington Post’s saviour, today, is Jeff Bezos. He made all of his money on the internet.”

It’s not just the financials behind journalism that is in flux, but how the content created is digested by consumers.

A new market for journalism awaits

There is a larger market for journalism now than ever before, according to Narisetti, learning to embrace that is the challenge.

“I went to journalism school a thousand years ago,” he said. “Professors used to say ‘show, don’t tell’. The great thing about journalism today is it’s using technology where you can show, watch, tell, listen and respond. That’s a big change in how we communicate.”

Monetising that is the problem, with video content providers’ seamless hosting of ads and journalism being something difficult to replicate elsewhere for companies.

Podcasting, event management and other peripheral activities, perhaps, will finance journalism in future, but ignoring the requirements to fund these projects is foolish.

News Corp bought Storyful in 2013, while Recode was acquired by Vox last year, evidence that those already planning for the future are not the ones stuck asking questions.

‘We know old media companies are dying’

“The questions are coming from companies that don’t have a sustainable business model anymore,” added Swisher. “We know old media companies are dying. We get that.”

Seamless advertising is the goal, with radio and podcasting another way to host a place “where ads and content can live together”, said Narisetti.

Add virtual and augmented reality into the mix in the coming years and the avenues where journalism can be monetised are actually growing.

“If you imagine 2pc of the world’s drivers will be in driverless cars, that is a lot of time and attention to gain,” he said, though Swisher immediately upped that to 100pc of all drivers.

Capturing that audience’s attention, capturing anyone’s attention, is an ever-shifting challenge.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic