When we all partied in 1999, who would have guessed how much things would change so quickly for the news industry in the first decade of the new millennium? In 10 short years, we saw change at a pace that was unprecedented in the history of mass media.
Instead of going back and examining those changes, which are well documented, I’m going to look ahead to 2010. Change is coming fast, so predicting what’s going to appen in the next year is perilous. But I’ll give it a shot anyway in three areas: social media, platforms and business models. Take all with a grain of salt.
The mainstream media really embraced social media in the last year of the decade. I think the media gets little credit for having done so, but the move to try out new tools was profound. When big news happens, newspapers, TV and radio stations are very likely these days to use Twitter and Facebook to collaborate with the community. In the next year, I think that collaboration will only grow. News organizations are realizing that user-generated content can be valuable, if used right. Twitter and Facebook are still relatively new tools, and journalists are just now hitting their stride with them. The interaction between journalists and the public is at an all-time high. For years, those of us in the news media have tried to find a way to make our reporters accessible to the public. We added e-mail taglines to stories, added reader comments online, etc. But it wasn’t until some powerful social media tools came along that we could really become accessible. It’s amazing when you think about it: An average fan could get in contact with a sports writer sitting in the press box at this year’s national championship football game through Twitter, ask a question – and get a response.
Social media is great for gathering public input and getting user-generated reports (think: Iran). In 2010, I see huge growth in using those mediums by the media, and some more experimentation in new tools that come our way, including Google Wave, which I believe has the potential to be the best collaboration tool journalists have ever seen. Real-time collaboration on a story is about to be a reality, and Wave will make it happen. Smart journalists are paying attention to Wave, though I predict it won’t be a serious option until near the end of 2010 (Google has scalability issues to work out, and developers need time to make it great).
I think 2010 will be a year for big changes in the way we consume news. I’m not going to predict the death of print (that prediction has been around a long time, and print manages to keep chugging along). Rather, I see some new avenues complementing print and traditional broadcast media. The first one, I think, will be in tablets. Several tablets (touchscreen PCs that are roughly the size of a hardcover novel, but thinner) are on their way to the market. Apple is reportedly going to get into the game. Publishers are in talks with tablet makers to push content to the tablets. Apple jumping into the market could be huge. Can Apple do for publishers what it did for the music industry? I wouldn’t put it past them.
I also think 2010 will be the year that mobile really takes off. We almost saw it in 2009 with the prominence of the iPhone and the introduction of Android phones. Smart
phones are becoming ubiquitous, and it’s only accelerating. With high speeds available (Sprint is unrolling 4G before many people are even on 3G), the possibilities are endless. I expect geolocation and QR codes to take off in the next year. Smart media companies will be paying attention to both technologies. Google is moving into the market quickly, offering QR codes to hundreds of thousands of local businesses. QR codes are like bar codes on steroids – people scan the codes with their mobile phones and it takes them to a URL. I can imagine a day (perhaps in the next year) when someone walks into a restaurant, scans a code printed on the menu with their mobile camera, and finds out instantly what the reviews are for the restaurant, not only from the public (via I predict Google-owned Yelp), but also from the local newspaper. If the local newspaper is smart, it is providing its own QR codes that serve as coupons for that particular establishment. Geolocation will also take off, and intertwine with
social media. Foursquare and Gowalla, which are social networking games played over a geographic grid using mobile applications, will continue to grow (or be bought out by Google or Yahoo) and will become a bigger part of social media. The media should be watching these services carefully – there’s clearly some advertising potential here, because people are “checking in” to local businesses when they visit. Think about that.
New business models
The Miami Herald recently put out the tin cup online, asking for donations to “support ongoing news coverage” at the bottom of each story. The excitement over paywalls has died off some but is still around. Advertising revenue is expected to rebound some in 2010, along with the overall economy, so I predict that some of the more radical ideas (full paywall) will go by the wayside. Publishers should continue to look for new revenue streams, whether it is finding a way to monetize social media or make a buck off geolocation (imagine your phone buzzing when you walk by a bar, and the local newspaper is telling you about a drink special). I think experimentation in the next year is a good idea, but publishers should avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We’ve made great strides in innovation – pushing too hard to make money off the new ideas might stifle some of the enthusiasm. If the ideas are truly good, their value will be revealed soon enough.
I hear all the time that this is a bad time for my industry. I don’t see it that way. I think it’s an exciting time, full of innovation. Of course, I still have my job, and I’m thankful for that. That’s it. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday and a great new year.