As part of the Wick Digital Task Force, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about The Future of Journalism. Truth is, I feel like I’ve been thinking a lot about that for the last decade or so, and you probably have too.
If tackling that question feels a little like catching dust motes in the occasional glint of light, you are not alone. Planning for the future when the present is changing so rapidly is very, very difficult.
But if you were to ask me today where I think we’re headed, I would suggest that “reporters” (or whatever they will be called in the future) will be called upon to tell stories using whatever tools are most appropriate to the audience and story at hand. And the tool box will be ever-changing. Writing a story that will appear in the newspaper will be simply one option.
For instance, we know from recent research that Hispanic people are more likely to get their information from mobile devices and less likely to access our site on a desktop or to buy the newspaper. It follows, therefore, that if you are in a community with a lot of native Spanish speakers and you have a story on, say, the cost of rent along the border, you would want to produce something appropriate to the audience. You might consider charts from Zillow showing the trend. Maybe an interview with homeowners conducted in Spanish and English and posted on YouTube. You might decide this is primarily a tablet story and would seek help with a responsive design package.
Or maybe you plan a story on that new senior center in a retirement community. Your audience may well come primarily to the newspaper. You might think of a longer print story, with side boxes on the cost, when it opens, new services, etc. …
If you are at the Palo Alto Weekly, and you have an ongoing tragedy of teen suicides in your community (there have been four since October and another half-dozen since about 2009), you might do something like this. On Tuesday, the newspaper collected all its stuff on the crisis along with student YouTube posts and other social media in a format that does not directly rely on its own website. Instead it uses Storify to gather all the info and then link back to Palo Alto Weekly products.
This platform/audience-specific thinking is not my idea. It’s become viral in the business. It does leave some crucial questions, such as how to fill up the newspaper while you are Storifying, YouTubing and Yik Yaking. Don’t expect the future to be easier.
This is where I think we are headed. Being a journalist will mean making savvy decisions about your audience and the tools at your disposal. It will not mean filing 12-inch stories about the city council meeting last night. Of that, I’m reasonably sure.