Slides and quick summary of a talk I gave at the University of Northampton’s ‘Imagine Journalism in Ten Years’ Time‘ mini-conference. Other speakers included: Professor Jay Rosen, New York University; Matt Andrews, developer, The Guardian; Andy Dickinson, lecturer, UCLAN and Teodora Beleaga, data analyst, KBM Group EU. The event was chaired by Kevin Marsh, director, OffspinMedia, and produced by John Mair, subject leader for Journalism, University of Northampton.
Journalism in Ten Years’ Time…
I anticipate an unravelling of definitions and a repositioning of brands.
If the last ten years are an indicator in terms of pace, strange cultural legacies may live on, despite the potential for dramatic change through technological development. Nonetheless, things will shift, and one of the areas for the biggest potential change is the ‘news cycle’ and in particular, the ’24 hour news cycle’. One of the underlying confusions in the Leveson Inquiry is that the ‘press’ still plays a dominant role in setting the national news agenda, despite diminishing print readerships, and an ever-growing array of online news sources. The way they filter and select news is still highly influential.
Consumption, production and distribution are changing
However, the social sharing of news – the social distribution of news – disrupts some of the features of a typical news cycle. Key disrupters include: Google’s automated suggested search terms, aggregation sites like Reddit and boards like 4Chan, media organisations’ Facebook apps which give new life to old content and Twitter trends. Additionally, suggested search terms and the Google News’ algorithm have an increasingly influential role in setting the agenda.
The news spirograph
Lorenz Lachauer / eat-a-bug.blogspot.co.uk
In ten years’ time the news cycle might have been replaced by a news ‘spirograph’, where stories loop back and re-emerge at different points in time, perhaps in a new form.
To check whether anyone else had visualised it like this first, I googled “news spirograph” and came up with one result: a Media Bistro story from 2010. The author of the piece described his sprirograph like this:
The new picture of a news story’s life cycle looks less like a tight loop that closes after 24 hours. Instead, it enters a period of dormancy only to return weeks later. The resulting chart of a story’s attention trajectory looks more like a Spirograph — a large circular pattern constructed out of smaller loops.
Mike Taylor, Fishbowl NY, Media Bistro (2010)
This is different from the idea that the news cycle reduces to minutes because of social media – as was suggested at another ‘future of journalism’ conference I was at this week:
Or from how the BBC’s head of digital communications, Sophie Brendel, described it in 2012:
Social media have changed what we talk about, who we talk about and how quickly we talk. The 24-hour news cycle is dead, now it’s 24 seconds.
Like Taylor, I see the news spirograph as lengthening rather than shortening cycles. However, perhaps I see it in a more positive light: the news spirograph could help rather than hinder originality. A spirograph’s shape can be incredibly varied (see this Flickr group, for example). A spirograph model allows for more points of entry from a variety of sources.
The full spirograph is not yet very developed: there are occasional loop backs – such as this revival of an old Guardian article from 2009 – but these type of incidents remain anomalies.
The role of the public
It seems likely that the public will have a bigger role through their consumption choices, as well as active production of content, which will help strengthen their right to receive and impart information, as set out in Article 10 of the Human Rights Act.
The technological disruption of the news cycle should allow the public an enhanced right to receive and impart information and ideas, which will be a good thing – for democracy, and for education.
But there will be challenges as well: legal, ethical and economic (for example: how will it be regulated; how will it pay; what about the undesirable parts of public influence?).
Evolving news patterns
So, to re-formulate Taylor’s original definition:
The pattern of journalism in ten years’ time may include a news cycle that looks very different from a neat 24 hour loop, with a small number of influential media sources. Instead, changes in digital consumption, production and distribution may transform it into a ‘news spirograph’, with a greater number of sources, and stories that loop back at different points in time. In fact, we are likely to see transformation in the very notion of news and the ‘news story’… It’s already evolving.
In 2013, we think about how the public consumption – and occasionally public production – of media changes how the professionals do ‘news’ and set the agenda.
By 2023, advances in technology could shift the question slightly: how does the public control the news cycle, set the news agenda, and create the dominant debates?
In turn, this will throw up age-old debates about desirable characteristics of content and appropriate levels of prominence, and the defining features of journalism and news.
Two years ago, Martin Belam set out – perhaps a little flippantly – a simplified dead tree news cycle:
1. Write newspaper
2. Print newspaper
3. Wrap fish ‘n’ chips in newspaper
Which he expanded in the bullet points below, emphasising “and publish it all to the web”.
Spirographs on sale in Istanbul, 2009
But over the next ten years it may come to look like this:
1. Produce content, drawing from more sources and across more topics
2. Publish on digital platforms, selectively and carefully with effective curation, labelling and contextulisation
3. See content gain new lease of life and inform future content
•Belam, M. (2011) ‘How digital transformed the news cycle’, currybet.net
•Belam, M. (2012) ‘The Guardian’s Facebook app’, currybet.net
•Magee, K. (2012) ‘Beyond the 24 hr news cycle’, PR Week
•Taylor, M. (2010) ‘The 24-Hour News Spirograph’, Fishbowl NY, MediaBistro.com
•Tinworth, A. (2009) Our Real Problem: ‘The Death of the News Package‘, Onemanandhisblog.com.
•Wynne-Jones, R. (2012) ‘Enquirer: watching the hacks get hacked’, Guardian.co.uk.