In my project course "Future of Media" (spanning the whole autumn term), this year's theme is "The Future of News / News of the Future". My previous blog post discussed the difficulties of "grading the future" (i.e. grading these students projects).
This year we think long and hard about technological, economical and other aspects that have made the news industry into what it has been (past), what it is today (present), and what it will become tomorrow (future).
The news landscape is changing quickly today and the opportunities have never been greater when it comes to introducing new content or new business ideas. Anyone with a computer and an Internet connection has unlimited choices regarding what to read – or can become a news channel (of sorts) and publish his or her own news. However, the threats facing traditional publishers and broadcasters have never been greater than they are today. Traditional business models struggle and new business models might – or might not – be forthcoming.
So what will the future bring us? What genres, what purposes of consuming news, what content, what technologies and what business ideas will emerge and become important in the future? These are questions that my students are exploring and attempt to answer in this course. In short, what will news look like 10 or 20 years from now?
Ten groups of students are right now exploring ten different futures for news. The students will present their suggestions and the results of their projects in front of a live audience on December 12 (welcome - sign up here!). The results will also be available online, at futureofmedia.se/news.
All ten project groups are aiming at futures that will come true sometime in the next 10-20 year, i.e. sometime between 2023 and 2033. All the groups have also had to limit themselves to, or at least orient themselves towards, a Swedish (Western, relatively affluent) context. The proposed futures might, but do not have to, assume large technological breakthroughs. Some technologies and ideas are already around today, or are being explored in laboratories at this very moment, but might take many years or even a decade or two to germinate – to spread and take hold among a larger proportion of the population. The challenge might not always be to invent a purely technological future, but to imagine patterns of usage and new business models emerging when current (or future) patterns of usage among pioneering groups of early adopters spread to larger groups in our society.
Despite widely different ideas and scenarios, there are still at number of "trends" that the ten project groups assume will happen. How do we know what these trends are? We of course asked the students. Instead of each group using up their supply of limited, precious words to describe a trend that several other groups also assume, we asked them to suggest trends to offload to the introductory chapter of the book we are producing. We did this last year too and identified seven different magazine trends. This year we managed to identify no less than eleven (sometimes interlinking) technological, economic or lifestyle/usage trends that are of importance to "The Future of News / News of the Future". Each trend is important for at least a few groups, and sometimes for many project groups:
1. More mobile devices
We will use more mobile devices in the future, such as smartphones, tablets etc. Just as virtually everyone today owns a mobile phone, they will own a smartphone and/or a tablet in the future, and will to a large degree use these devices for media consumption.
2. Multiple devices used
People will use and switch between multiple devices, depending on their moment-to-moment situation. Even when moving between different rooms at home, people can switch between different devices. This will lead to a high demand for shared or uniform security and “sensible” subscription or other payment plans.
3. Always connected, always synchronized
As we will use our mobile devices more in the future and switch between different devices, there will be a higher demand for seamless solutions. Devices will always be connected and perfectly synchronized with each other. These always-connected, always-synchronized devices will be a natural choice for consuming media.
4. More news channels
Besides current media channels, there will be alternative channels in the future. These could for example include individual channels, such as “ordinary” persons publishing blogs or podcasts, or corporations starting a TV-channel, or non-governmental agencies with their own Facebook and YouTube channels.
5. More (co-)creation and sharing
There will be a greater volume and variety in the news landscape, because of more co-creation and sharing of content, for example via blogs, Facebook, and other social media. Ordinary persons who cannot be regarded as full-fledged news channels (see above), will produce news-related content that will be shared among smaller or larger groups of people.
6. Personalized/individualized news
Beyond mass media, there will be real individualization of news, according to each individual’s interests and preferences. While there are some attempts to go in this direction today, we have really only seen the beginning of this development. In the future, you will read articles from sources that you haven't heard of before.
7. More non-text formats for news
News will to a higher extent be consumed through non-text formats, such as video, images, and audio. Today’s popular cat images and YouTube videos hint at this growing trend. In a time-pressed future, short news items will win out over long complicated in-depth stories.
8. Increased need for high-speed, high-quality infrastructure/networks
In order to cater for higher volumes of data traffic, there will be an increased need for better infrastructure. According mobile traffic forecasts from 2010, the amount of traffic will increase by a factor of 33 between 2010 and 2030, and the broadcast network of 2020 will be ultra-high speed and ubiquitous.
9. Hurried, time-pressed news consumers
The future will be high-paced, with hectic lifestyles and impatient users. This implies a need for shorter visual news items and more overviews presentations. Multitasking is on the rise, which will lead to an increasing use of audio while performing other tasks.
10. More commuting
People will spend more time commuting due to continued urbanization and a continued spatial and geographical expansion of cities. This trend implies that we will access and consume news on the move; in subways, on buses, etc. This will also be a driver for using more mobile devices in society.
11. Big data & surveillance
More data will be collected and more surveillance will be performed – for good and for bad. This has important implications for issues having to do with integrity, but it also brings about possibilities for more convenience and better service in many different areas of society.