Week 14 – Adapting for the future

 The future is now.

At least that is the attitude journalism needs to embrace. And at the same time, has always embraced.

As new technology, vis a vis social media, continues to offer new possibilities related to both gathering and delivering the news, the news media is going to have to react. Better to position oneself to pro-react, to be proactive in accepting this reality, than to fail to react and lose out. That might be one critique of what has happened to the news media over the past few years. However, I think it is a specious argument. A more relevant one would be that news opeartions have fallen behind as they became the financial fodder for hedge funds, where 10 percent profit margins lost out to promises of 40, 50 and 60 percent margins that devastated news rooms and the ability of news people to anticipate and devise ways to turn the new technology into tools. Either way, the new media is where it is, gaining its footing and doing what it does–making things work.

That makes me hopeful. As I have continued this line of study, I see more and more that journalism has always used new technology to advance its mission — sometimes better than other times, but at its heart and as a whole, to inform citizens. The rapidity with which technology changes these days seems to be the one thing that might get someone to question this, but technology from its beginning, from the town crier and following with the printing press and the Linotype, desktop publishing and now social media, has always been absorbed and championed new technology. Throughout that dance, what has remained and needs to remain are the principles and values of the free press and its importance to the functioning of citizens in a democracy.

These values and principles are what make journalism journalism, and in the end, democracy democracy.

Adapting for the future, then, means figuring out how use these technologies contribute to the purpose of advancing journalism, rather than allowing them to advance themselves at the expense of journalism, going in a direction that does a disservice to its mission.

Much of what appears to be new to journalism, at the same time, really isn’t. There are new names for what has always been considered good reporting. Take Alfred Hermida’s “The Five Es of Journalism in 2016.” Hermida introduces Experimental Journalism, Experiential Journalism, Explanatory Journalism, Emotional Journalism and Economical Journalism. Experimental journalism simply implies more of an openness to experimenting with new technologies. Early efforts may have include trying story types as well as new designs to attract readers. Now these efforts employ apps. It is an attitude here more than anything, but the spirit that infuses this attitude is one that has always existed — to make relevant information readily available.

Some of this will become de rigueur others of it will fall by the wayside. For instance, a new fascination with virtual reality, presented in a Ted Talk by Nonny de la Pena, “The future of news: Virtual Reality?” leaves me cold, but it deserves a look and the chance to fulfill a destiny as another way to gather and report and deliver the news. Valuable resources will be expended toward this end. The phenomenon happens quickly. A month ago or so, I received along with my New York Times subscription virtual reality glasses provided by Google so that I could use an app on my iPhone to “virtually experience” developing stories from around the world. Part of me was intrigued. Another part was, and I can think of no better word, appalled — that is, I had to ask myself, does it take “pictures” for me grasp the severity of a news report because somehow a story written in words does not convey this and address the same topic fully enough? Am I that lazy or do the people reporting the news think I lack the capacity for this, so that they have to spoon feed me? Would a broadcast not fulfill the same purpose? Are we in the area of “movies” versus “books”? But these avenues need to be explored, because there is no telling how they might come to serve journalism.

And then of course, in serving journalism, how do these tools need to be executed to maintain those values and principles that guide journalism? What shortcuts, what abuses, what what’s need to be determined to avoid indiscretions and perpetuate inaccuracies?

So the future is one filled with possibilities and plenty of hand-wringing and soul searching — but that is fine. It is necessary. And it is unending.

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