10 ideas for change

Tim CurrieOnline journalism professor Tim Currie attended the 2009 Joseph Howe Symposium on the future of news at the University of King’s College in Halifax and pulled together 10 ideas for change. Here’s what the experts want to see more of.

The 2009 Joseph Howe Symposium at the University of King’s College in Halifax attracted 300 people for an engaging discussion on the future of news. We invite J-Source readers to comment so we can continue the conversation on the future of news.

1.    More entrepreneurship
Smaller newsrooms are almost a certainty — competing with leaner newcomers. The Chronicle Herald‘s Bruce MacCormack said, “Innovation needs to become a process” in newsrooms. AllNovaScotia.com‘s Kevin Cox told the audience he’s a primarily a reporter, but he’s also involved in the business side of this eight-year-old venture, selling subscriptions and providing customer support. Donna Logan pointed to online upstarts such as The Tyee that are carving a niche in the media landscape.

2.    More specialization and focus on value-added content
Again and again, the audience heard that people will not pay for content found in abundance online. But they do pay for information that is specialized – especially business and sports information. “Content is king,” Kevin Cox told the audience. “It must be engaging, informative and unique.” Chris Anderson’s book Free describes how businesses are providing some services for free but other, premium services, for a fee. For news organizations, that might mean indepth, personalized, or hyperlocal content. Torstar’s John Honderich described community-funded initiatives in the U.S. such as spot.us that aim to find the kind of value-added content that people will pay for.

3.    More engagement
Long gone are online audience metrics such as page views or even unique visitors. Engagement is the new measure of audiences. Thestar.com launched a re-design two weeks ago incorporating Facebook Connect. The Globe and Mail occasionally incorporates Twitter streams for story context. Kyle Shaw of the Halifax weekly The Coast, said his site aims to become the Halifax hub for users to connect with each other. Technology commentator Michael Rogers talked about numerous opportunities for crowdsourcing.

4.    More training
A future characterized by varied business models almost certainly requires better training for journalists. New business models will mean success for some and failure for others. Young journalists will need the skills to thrive. This speaks directly to the curriculum of journalism schools. Journalists are likely to need entrepreneurial skills – some of which are beginning to be included in journalism programs in the U.S. and U.K.

5.    More attention to mobile
Michael Rogers predicted that everyone who wants a cellphone will likely have one by 2020. There is little doubt news organizations will be delivering much of their content in this medium in the future. Some Canadian news organizations have only recently created mobile versions of their websites. Many others don’t have one at all.

6.    More personality
Donna Logan presented statistics showing the popularity of social media among young (and not so young) Canadians. Social media is by its nature personal. We see social media editors at The New York Times, Globe and Mail and CBC aiming to engage Canadians personally. The Washington Post recently issued social media guidelines to its reporters advising them against having opinions online – a policy that would seem to be at odds with the nature of the medium. Clearly there is a tension with traditional journalistic values but a future of journalists having their own brand seems likely.

7.    More speed
Michael Rogers described a future in which users consume news and react in real-time. Media outlets will need to tighten their news cycles to keep pace. Donna Logan cautioned newsrooms against the trade in gossip and rumour characterized by many sites online. There may be a new middle ground.

8.    More investment in technology
Michael Rogers talked about the possibilities of comment-sifting software to greatly aid journalists in pulling important contributions from online discussions. He showed the possibilities of augmented-reality applications that overlay data on images of the real world taken by people using mobile devices. Where are news organizations in this rapidly changing technological future? A greater attention to the possibilities of technology seems necessary.

9.    More use of audience data
Donna Logan talked about how news organizations are beginning to monetize the vast amounts of user data they collect from online traffic. Michael Rogers spoke of the possibilities of expanding contacts databases with crowdsourced data. News organizations have vast opportunities to use the information supplied by their audience.

10.    More attention to new forms of storytelling
Michael Rogers related the possibilities of putting metadata in online stories to create new forms of interaction. Kyle Shaw talked about the importance of the iPhone. How do we tell complicated stories on data-enabled phones? Much exploration is needed.

For more information and coverage from the 2009 Joseph Howe Symposium, check out The News: What is its future?

Tim Currie is Assistant Professor (Online Journalism) at the University of King’s College