In this day and age, information abounds, but it is increasingly difficult to discern what information is accurate and reliable. What does this mean for the future of journalism? FM decided to ask the experts. Luckily, 24 of the world’s most accomplished journalists are right here at Harvard’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism, which celebrated its 75th anniversary this weekend. We asked some of the Nieman Fellows to describe in 100 words what they envision for the journalism of tomorrow.
PROFIT V. PURPOSE
The best way to understand journalism’s future is to remember its past (and present). While the business model that has been the mainstay for decades is broken, the craft is not. No matter the format, no matter the medium, no matter the business model, journalism will still be able to hold the powerful to account and aid the disadvantaged—as it long has. But that can only happen with a commitment to not just doing journalism, but doing it well. My biggest fear is that a model will emerge that puts profits above purpose. My hope is that there are too many smart, dedicated people in the industry to allow that to happen.
—Issac J. Bailey, columnist and senior writer, South Carolina’s The Sun News
EVOLVING TECH: APOCALYPSE OR ALRIGHT?
Recently in class, I was part of an interesting discussion about the future of journalism. The professor, Nicco Mele, the former webmaster for the Dean presidential campaign in 2004, argued that we have unwittingly exchanged one set of gatekeepers—editors in the newsroom—for a new gatekeeper: the algorithm. Historically it was the editor’s prerogative to decide which stories made the front page. Now it is Google’s algorithm. Place this in the context of authoritarian regimes. What happens when an algorithm is written to delete a whole swath of stories the government might find offensive? Which gatekeeper would you prefer?
—Dina S. Temple-Raston, counter-terrorism correspondent, National Public Radio
Semaphore, typewriter, telegraph, telegram, cablegram, facsimile, telefax, pantelegraph, telephone, radiotelegraphy, bildtelegraph, telegraphese, telex, teletypewriter, packet switching, Arpanet, Internet, email, cellphone, iPhone, Instagram.
Don’t panic, colleagues, it will be alright.
—Greg Marinovich, nonfiction author and Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist based in South Africa
THE READER OF THE FUTURE
Readers are no longer just readers—they are also content generators, bloggers, newsgatherers, pundits and disseminators of information. Some people use the Internet as a pulpit to denounce injustice or draw attention to important causes, while others use it as a soapbox for their lunacy, but either way it has given people instant access to an audience like never before…. So this might trend toward a strange situation where there are more voices and opinions available than ever before, but less tolerance for diversity, a shorter attention span for plurality, and less empathy for everything else. If the pendulum swings too far in that direction, I think that traditional news outlets—the ones that still exist at that point—might find new relevance among the ashes of the old media industry as readers try to make sense of all the noise around them by allowing the mainstream media to once again filter it for them. But then again, I’m probably being quaint.
—Tim Rogers, editor of The Nicaragua Dispatch, contributing writer for publications including the BBC
The newspapers and magazines of general interest will either die or become rare species, while the ones of special interest will survive if they can successfully find the “long tale” belonging to them. The content will never die but will be based more and more on personal brands, which are dis-aggregating and will continue to dis-aggregate traditional news organizations. We will be finally living in “holo-era” when everything around you is informative, whether it is a screen, a tree or even a part of your body. At that time, a new species of aggregating media (with strong “mute” function) will revive to help us select.
—Yang Xiao, Beijing correspondent and chief writer, China’s Southern People Weekly
FREELANCE IS FINE
People may be rueing the death of the newsroom and the corporate news landscape is changing, but having spent the past 15 years freelancing in the field, covering the Middle East, I see that for writers and reporters it feels like there are more platforms for content than ever before. Websites, whether attached to existing newspapers and magazines or new media, provide a forum for immediate blogs and for longer pieces. Amazon Singles and digital publishers like the Atavist and Byliner run features of up to 30,000 words (unheard of in print) and pay the writer according to sales, allowing for the occasional windfall. We may fear the cutbacks of staff positions, but from a freelancer's point of view, lots of new opportunities are opening up.
—Wendell Steavenson, Jerusalem-based staff writer, The New Yorker