Do people actually believe what fortune cookies tell them? I’m not saying that the cookies are not filled with wise quotes or decent general advice for life. What I’m saying is, do these generalities actually apply? Let’s say you’re at a restaurant with some friends and you get a cookie saying, “clean your room and your mind will be clean for success.” The cookie is not part of your life, it doesn’t know if your room is actually messy, or if you are all ready successful. To add to this, what if one of your friends gets that cookie and you had another. You would switch messages. In essence, you’re getting a premade statement that may or may not apply to you, but contains enough general advice that it should be able to connect with you. …and, in sum, that’s how I feel about predicting the future of news.
Let me elaborate my summed message. We know very little about the future. In the ’50s, people thought we’d have flying cars and cyborgs by now. WRONG! Predicting the future of such a dynamic entity is a near impossible task. Honestly, you might not even be able to predict what you’ll have for lunch tomorrow, much less the future of the entire news media.
There are 5 things we can say about news that is true for right now:
1, news online is instantaneous and accessible once the story breaks. No longer do we wait for the paper or the 6 o’clock broadcast. The reason television news successfully outperformed print had little to do with images and more to do with immediacy of news. Rather than wait until the next morning to read about what happened, people could hear about it at 5, 6, 10, 1030, and in the morning. Turner Broadcasting changed the understanding of television news blocks when they created CNN. CNN was the first 24 hour news programming and viewers could now watch when it fit their schedule, instead of when the news broadcast or was print. This translated easily to the internet where news happens immediately and is reported right after the event. Only, instead of being broadcast to a mass, the internet made news more interactive. Comments on stories, and blogs took off making news more interactive.
2, reporters and news agencies use Twitter for the right reasons. What a useful tool Twitter is for spreading news. Reporters and news agencies found this out when they started using the service. We found out Osama Bin Laden was dead before the news broke on TV (*ahem* immediate access to news). ESPN covered the Phillies and Mets at Citizens Bank Ballpark in Philadelphia the night Bin Laden died. No televised messages reached the people in the ballpark, but they knew what was going on because of Twitter.
3, only old people consistently read the newspaper or watch televised news broadcasts. Okay, so that’s a generalization, but not too much of one. Ask any tv news reporter what their viewer’s age demographic is. They’ll tell you that their consistent audience is older adults. Kind of hard to retain an audience that the grim reaper will be taking.
4, news websites are an outdated method for news. Whoa! The internet is now out of date? Yes, it is. Widgets and apps are becoming a huge source of news. Your desktop computer, laptop or smartphone brings the news to you right when it’s published. Websites are not a dead media, but apps and widgets are becoming more and more prevalent in news consumption.
5, news organizations are branching off into areas they are not known for. Radio stations and newspapers are starting to hire people who know how to edit video. Television stations are hiring people who know how to write stories for online publications. Convergence is creating similarities between the major media outlets, rather than extrapolating the differences. Look at the Eagle’s and KSN’s website. As of right now, 4;12 CST on 10/19/2011 they have the same story about slot machines arriving in for the new casino in the Mulvane area. Not only do they have the same story,they have the same style. Picture and print, no video.
So, let’s grab the check and crack open that fortune cookie. “The future of news mediums will continue to be unpredictable because of the dynamic forces behind the changes.” Huh, good job fortune cookie.
Okay, so that’s the general view of news media changes, but what about comparing how people have consumed news in the past to attempt to dictate the direction of news?
People like information immediately, or at least immediately at their disposal. No longer are we basing our lives on when news is reported. We are consuming the news: at a rate we want to, with the stories we want to, from the sources we want, whenever we want to. In the next block I will give an example of how broadcast news changed. The traditional local broadcast model goes something like this (first segment):
1. Graphic crime story
2. Quick VO/SOT of crime story with a concerned citizen
2. Different ways you or your family could die
3. A look at the Weather (which I still believe is right outside the window)
4. Followup on a national story about something bad that happened or political event (can be switched to first block if bad enough or with local connection)
5. Local Charity or School did something
6. Back to the Weather
7. Tease of a playful kitten that got stuck in a tree (the story doesn’t actually broadcast until the end of the news)
Okay, so the first segment of the local news has 5 different stories you are forced to engage in. Well if you went online, you wouldn’t have to sit through all the death and ways your family could die just to see the cat stuck in a tree. You could just click on it. And…if you had a computer or smartphone with widgets or apps installed you could just watch the story whenever you want without even going on the website. The traditional broadcast method makes viewers sit through things they are not interested in, but news media has all the stories laid out in a buffet style (the 2-year-old General’s Chicken is even out there). Not only can you pick from the stories that you are interested in, the news outlets show you other stories you may be interested in because of the one you selected. This is just comparing TV to online. There were changes between Print and Radio, Radio and TV, TV and Internet, and now Internet and Widgets/Apps.
I hate writing a piece about the future of news without stating a piercing belief I have about the future of news. But that would be contradictory with the message I’m writing about. I am writing about the future of news, but what I’m saying is we don’t know what the future is. General statements like changes will happen are of course accurate. It’s when you attempt to describe the changes that you become wrong. People in the ’50s said we’d have flying cars and cyborgs by now. Well we don’t, but their prediction, while wrong, indicated that we’d have more advanced technology than at current time. That is correct. So I’m going to say a general fortune cookie style statement about the future of news. It consists of two parts:
1. The future of news mediums will continue to be unpredictable because of the dynamic forces behind the changes.
There will be changes in our news mediums, but, because one change often leads to another, predicting all the changes is nearly impossible.
2. People will continue to consume the news: they are interested in, when it fits into their schedule and from various sources.
This isn’t a new trend. It started with television and carried over the internet, now it is transferring to apps and widgets. We’ll encounter new mediums along the way and the cycle will continue.
So maybe the fortune cookie is right.