What emerging technology or digital trend will upend journalism next? (#jcarn)

2 Feb

This month’s host comes to us from Steve “In” Outing. He is program director of Colorado’s Digital News Test Kitchen and I believe this is part of what inspires his question. Read on to party on…. #JCARN

And your question is! …

“What emerging technology or digital trend do you think will have a significant impact on journalism in the year or two ahead? And how do you see it playing out in terms of application by journalists, and impact?”


I work in a university journalism program, and my focus is largely on answering that question. Of course, I work around faculty and students who have mixed feelings about the overly fast pace of technological change, and how it’s changing journalism practice and the news industry. Some of my colleagues — and I bet it’s the same for you — might rather focus on the craft and theory of journalism; the technology that’s swirling around them and upsetting their world is an unwanted distraction. Other colleagues are immersed in the possibilities and opportunities that emerging digital technologies present. (Our Center for Media, Religion, & Culture recently hosted a Digital Religion conference, for example.)

I must admit, I don’t have much sympathy for those in journalism today (whether working professionally or in academia) who would like to put their heads in the sand in order not to hear about yet another technology development that’s going to alter their world. As I see it, technological developments of the last 15 years (the era of the “commercial Internet”) have upended journalism, all but destroyed old news business models, and put thousands of journalists out of work. Overall, we now have less investigative reporting and public-affairs journalism. And the loss of soldiers in the journalistic army means there are more chances for corruption to go unnoticed and unchecked.

Who’s to blame? The answer is clear to me: Journalists and those who manage news organizations. Our industry and profession didn’t act quickly or aggressively enough to adapt to the way that new technologies would change journalism.

But I’m a digital optimist. Technology also has presented incredible opportunities to improve journalism. Thousands and thousands of my journalism colleagues embrace the emerging technologies and work hard to figure out how to leverage them to keep the public better informed and get individual citizens involved in the news process and the conversation of news. It’s all good … except for the pesky fact that we have a lot of lost ground to make up for, and need to put more journalists to work in the new, digital-first news environment.

So what’s my point?: That this month’s Carnival question is not just about the latest gadgets. It’s not just the obvious question from a gadget freak who buys the latest iPhone whenever a new model comes out. It’s an important question, and your answers can play a role in making sure that news practitioners and executives, and journalism academics, understand how important it is for journalists and news industry leaders to understand what’s coming at them next — so they’re not caught blind-sided, again.

I’ll close by telling you about a lecture I attended a few days ago at the University of Colorado Law School, sponsored by its Silicon Flatirons program. Liberty Media executive Michael Zeisser gave what I thought was an insightful talk, “15 Years of Consumer Internet Industry: What (if anything) have we learned?”

Zeisser, who is an acquisitions expert for Liberty Media specializing in identifying established consumer Internet companies with long-term futures, is a “student of the Internet.” Among his principal observations is that about every THREE YEARS, there is a major paradigm shift within the Internet industry that often topples the existing industry leaders and replaces them with new companies that can better leverage the new technology paradigm. A new emerging technology sweeps onto the scene to dominate the Internet industry, setting the unprepared companies from the previous paradigm on a downward spiral. To hear Zeisser describe it, the Internet industry is a very tough one to survive in for long.

If you consider that technology companies tend to move quickly, especially in comparison to news and media companies, you can understand why the latter have had so much trouble adapting to the digital age over the last decade and a half: The ground keeps shifting under their feet!

To my mind, one of the most important things you can do as a journalist, news-industry leader, or journalism academic is work to understand the emerging technologies that are heading your way, about to upset your industry and field once again.

I look forward to your answers to my question, and the ensuing discussion!

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8 Responses to “What emerging technology or digital trend will upend journalism next? (#jcarn)”

  1. Sheree Martin February 25, 2012 at 3:38 pm #

    My contribution to this month’s #Jarn is here:

    http://benfranklinfollies.com/2012/02/the-resurgence-of-long-form-journalism/

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