Daniel Green | journalism.co.uk
The past decade has transformed the journalism industry, from the surge of smartphone reporting to the important transformation of business models as media organisation are searching for new ways to replace declining advertising revenue.
What might the decade have in store for journalists and media companies? To find out, Journalism.co.uk spoke to a range of industry experts to find out their predictions for the years ahead.
Deepfakes have attracted considerable attention over the last few years as the next big threat facing journalists, with examples developed by Reuters providing a worrying glimpse to what the new challenges of misinformation may pose.
However, digital editor at First Draft Alastair Reid explained that deepfakes have yet to go mainstream and that there is still time to prepare.
"Everyone has a kind of moral panic over deepfakes, but there’s nothing really new in terms of the manipulated videos that we’ve seen," he said.
"We’ve seen what a lot of people called ‘shallowfakes’ - it’s still the old tricks which are the best and most effective.
"What we do need to do is have a collective change about how we think about this stuff, and that will take time."
Matt Navarra, social media consultant, agreed that there is some cause for optimism in the battle against new kinds of misinformation.
"I think the fact that there is a greater awareness of it now and a lot of big tech companies are joining forces to flag up pieces of content that are suspicious are positive steps."
However, Reid said that the problems of tackling misinformation will probably get worse before it gets better.
"We’ve got a few more levels to drop before we start to bounce back."
Mobile journalist Glen Mulcahy said there are many developing areas of technology which hold huge potential for storytelling, but they come with risks.
He highlighted augmented reality (AR) as a key area where storytelling could thrive with new ways of engaging audiences. However, he doubts that virtual reality (VR) will ever take off as it requires a lot of extra equipment.
"The experience of apps like Pokemon Go show that audiences do have an appetite for augmented reality because it’s easy to consume," he said.
"That was the core problem with 360-degree content and VR; you needed extra gear, whereas with AR, you can consume it on the device in your hand.
"Even though 360 is still potentially growing and there’s a lot of technical evolution in the space, it is not resonating with audiences and the take up of VR headsets has been a fraction of what was predicted just three years ago."
Despite the potential for augmented reality storytelling, Mulcahy added that currently such content requires a significant amount of coding and there is no simple platform for creating it.
However, as demand grows, machine learning may step in to help reduce the amount of time and effort needed to create AR projects.
Other types of technology on the horizon for newsrooms include automated verification, which fact-checkers at Full Fact are experimenting with, as well as 5G to boost live-streaming, and new tools such as Adobe Sensei, which use machine learning to help with projects, including cropping 16:9 footage into the perfect vertical shot.
Representation and diversity
The decade ahead will likely see a massive shift in how newsrooms themselves operate, as the millennials will start to enter senior roles.
"I think my generation and the generation I learnt from felt very differently about their working lives compared to the news journalists that are coming into newsrooms," said Polly Curtis, editor and partner at Tortoise Media.
"There is a difference in terms of being incredibly purpose-driven rather than brand-driven, a willingness to move around more, and to push for a better deal."
Next year will also see Facebook decide whether to continue funding its Community Journalism Project as its trial period comes to a close.
Given its success in bringing a diverse range of talent into the industry, head of partnerships for the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) Will Gore is hopeful that continued support for the project will ultimately be secured, explaining that not only local newsrooms would benefit, but their audiences will too.
Burnout is becoming an increasingly serious issue among journalists and editors. Add to this the aftermath of the MeToo movement and it becomes fairly obvious that news organisations will need to deeply transform the way they function.
Zuzanna Ziomecka, programme director of the WellCome Institute and founder of now-defunct website NewsMavens, pointed out this will be most challenging for the traditional legacy organisations, where culture change is harder to bring about.
"Smaller digital native organisations have, in a way, an easier task to make sure that they create cultures that are supportive for everybody," she said.
"Mental health is going to have to land centrally on the table in the coming decade, in the same way that diversity and gender equality has done in the past decade."
Despite the need to continue to diversify funding as advertising revenue keeps on declining, Curtis does not foresee the end of the days of getting news content for free.
However, she is concerned at the prospect of a two-tier system of news developing between those who have the ability to pay and those that do not.
"There are large parts of the audience who won’t pay for news, so what I worry about is that you end up with people who pay for news and who will get higher and higher quality, and perhaps the quality for everyone else will decline."
She sees this as more of a threat if the BBC’s position as a public service broadcaster is threatened, whether that is because of the questions around the future of the license fee or its difficulty in engaging younger audiences.
"I desperately want to see the BBC still in the same position it’s in ten years' time."
Gore, who served as deputy managing editor at the Independent, foresees that other titles may need to transition to online-only.
"The vast majority of titles are some significant way off reaching that position, so it seems to be unlikely that other titles will follow in the very immediate future, but I suspect it would be relatively likely within five years."
Ziomecka agreed and said that the next ten years will be pivotal in determining what the future model of news organisations will be.
"Whether by dying off or through adaptation or both, in ten years I think our transformation from the powerhouses of yesterday to the scrappier survivor species of tomorrow should be complete."
In 2021, the NCTJ celebrates its 70th birthday and, for Gore, this milestone is a testament to how the organisation has adapted to the changing skills and requirements of being a reporter.
"It has survived that long precisely because it has evolved to stay relevant, and we’re doing that now by moving into the fields of data journalism and recognising that there will always be new things that people need to learn about if they are to do their jobs well," he said.
However, Gore said that core journalistic skills, which have remained largely unchanged for many years, will still be just as important - including, he argued, shorthand.
"The truth is shorthand has stood the test of time, and if you want to get into news journalism, your chances of getting a foot in the door are massively increased if you’ve got shorthand.
"The debate will continue, but my view is shorthand is a massive advantage to give yourself the best chance of getting a job."