The future of news

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Photo courtesy (cc) 2011 Nghiem Long

With the advent of the Internet and personal computers, the way that people consume news has changed dramatically over the past few decades. Many people, even before these technologies were conceived, understood that print journalism would not be a permanent medium and looked ahead to predict how the industry would adapt in the future.

A 1981 newscast from San Francisco’s KRON covered revolutionary efforts by The San Francisco Examiner and The San Francisco Chronicle to program the day’s newspaper articles and transmit them to personal home computers. Through a modern lens, the broadcast is funny because the technology seems archaic. However, if you take a step back, it’s pretty remarkable to realize that the editors at the San Francisco papers were essentially predicting the Internet and online journalism.

Perhaps most prophetically of all, David Cole of The Examiner said of the new technology, “We’re not in it to make money.” In retrospect, this is a painfully ironic statement about where the industry was headed, as the Internet made it impossible for journalism to continue as a profitable business.

1994 broadcast from The Knight-Ridder in Boulder, Colorado, debuted another new technology—the tablet newspaper. Roger Fidler, the director of the paper’s media lab, understood that media was undergoing a dramatic transformation and that there needed to be “an alternative to ink on paper.”

At its heart, the tablet newspaper that Knight-Ridder created was a remarkably early version of the iPad and iPhone. The biggest thing the company got wrong, however, was that journalism would still be able to profit through advertising—especially interactive ads. This proved to be woefully inaccurate, as nobody wants to interact with ads. On the contrary, the Internet has given advertisers ways to sell their products without going through newspapers.

Finally, the EPIC 2015 video from the Museum of Media History offers a rather bleak view of the future of journalism (that, thankfully, has not fully come to fruition). However, a lot of it was correct—notably that Google develops the “Google Grid” to combine all of its services, which is essentially Google drive, that Amazon tracks buying patterns and customizes advertisements from it, and that The New York Times switches to a paid subscription service. Google and Amazon, thankfully, have not combined yet to make Googlezon and The New York Times has not sued Google and lost in the Supreme Court.

While it seems that many individuals were able to predict new technologies and mediums for journalism, none of them could figure out one all important question: how would journalism profit in the modern era?

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