Predicting the future (based on the past)

John Naughton (2010) observed that living through today’s media revolution is

like being a resident of St Petersburg in 1917, in the months before Lenin and the Bolsheviks finally seized power. It’s clear that momentous events are afoot; there are all kinds of conflicting rumours and theories, but nobody knows how things will pan out. Only with the benefit of  hindsight will we get a clear idea of what was going on.

So in short, the future is up to you to discover. One of the best ways to approach this task is to talk to people. It is well worth discussing your ideas for new journalism websites and apps with friends who have a knowledge of computing. Take an experimental and entrepreneurial approach.

Futurist Ross Dawson Future of Media Report, 2008 says: ‘In uncertain times, don’t try to predict the future. Systematically explore possible futures.’

So instead of waiting for the big idea to come to you, launch new sites in beta format to test the market. You’ll get feedback from your users, you’ll then make improvements and then you’ll launch something better.

Questions to help you think about the future

We can assume that prices in computing come down over time as products gain mass appeal and manufac- turing costs fall. The famous Moore’s Law predicts that that computing power doubles every 18 months to two years. In short, computers get faster and cheaper very quickly. Battery power has often been a problem for mobile devices. But the development of power efficient, high-performance chips, hopes to solve this problem.

Devices no longer need large hard drives as cloud-based storage systems such as Dropbox, Google Drive and Apple’s iCloud become popular.

Accessing content on small-screen mobile devices can be a frustrating experience. So can you think about how the experience could be improved? Many manufacturers are experimenting with voice con-trol and allowing users to browse the web using blinks of the eye. Motion control is used on games consoles such as Microsoft’s xBox – how could this be used on other devices?

There is likely to be far more growth in on-demand streaming TV services. As we write this, by far the most popular tools are online video sites YouTube, NetFlix, BBC iPlayer and Hulu (in the USA). Accessing the internet on a TV from the sofa is still a frustrating experience though.

Wearable technology is likely to be important in the future. Manufacturers are working on watches and even glasses that allow us to make calls and interact with the online services.

Legal issues to do with user-generated content

Andy Chatfield writes:

In the same way that ISPs play no part in the authorship of journalism on the websites they host, editors cannot anticipate what readers will publish in the ‘comment’ fields widely available on their web pages.

Swift and wide-ranging interaction with readers is one of the fundamental benefits of publishing on the web, fuelling the free flow of information and comment. Yet illegal content of all kinds is an ever-present danger, whether you are a solo blogger who has enabled the comment facility, or a big company hosting interactive features like forums or chatrooms.

Long gone are the days when readers’ views were only represented on the fixed letters pages of a newspaper, after careful editing by trained journalists. Few have the resources to monitor such live UGC, but all need some kind of moderation process.

An important case in the area of user-generated content (Karim v Newsquest Media Group [2009] EWHC 3205 (QB)) established that publishers could rely on Regulation 19 of the E-Commerce Regulations, a piece of European legislation.

An article entitled ‘Crooked solicitors spent client money on a Rolex, loose women and drink’ was published on websites run by Newsquest, a UK regional news publisher. The High Court ruled that the article itself, about a lawyer being struck off, was not defamatory because it was a fair and accurate report of a tribunal and covered by absolute privilege. Newsquest escaped liability for defamatory comments posted beneath the story thanks to the directive.

To enjoy this protection, it is vital that the organization controlling a site ‘upon obtaining such knowledge or awareness [of serious illegal- ity], acts expeditiously to remove or to disable access to the information’. As we discuss in Chapter 9, most news companies use their readers as moderators of UGC on their sites, providing a clear way for alerts to be sent in, and a procedure for acting on them swiftly if necessary.

Football fans’ forums seem to have provided particular challenges in this regard.

An independent forum for Sheffield Wednesday fans, owlstalk.co.uk, hit the headlines in 2007 when the club sued the site’s owner for allowing some fans to pursue an often libelous ‘sustained campaign of vilification’ against the club chairman. The suit was later dropped, but the case was also significant for the attempt by the club to gain a so-called ‘Norwich Pharmacal’ order.

 

Your Users are Not Like You…

We must understand that our users are not necessarily like us and this has always been the case in media publishing.
David Randall of the Independent writes in The Universal Journalist (2000) that journalists ‘often inhabit circles and have lifestyles, habits and tastes that are far removed from those of their readers’.
They may be older, wealthier, have different political affiliations and live in another part of the country to you.For example, it is relatively common for women to edit magazines and websites that are aimed at men and vice versa. This is not a problem as long as the editor has that fundamental journalistic skill – to have empathy and understanding of the audience.

Analytics Software

Luckily we can learn a lot about our online visitors by deploying analysis tools (known as analytics software). These allow us to access detailed information about what visitors do when they are on our sites. We can monitor precisely what they are clicking on at any given moment and the popularity of individual stories and sections. This provides the online journalist with far deeper understand- ing and near immediate access to data on the likes and dislikes of their users. The depth of data is far greater than is available for those journalists who work in traditional print or broadcast.

However, some worry that online news is becoming market driven. That is to say, news websites may become solely reactive to the whims of their users to generate hits and that much-needed online advertising revenue. This normally entails increased coverage of content that is cheap to produce and is popular with users.

As a result, websites may focus on crime news and celebrity scandal that has perceived shock value, at the expense of other types of journalism, such as investigations and international news coverage. As journalists we need to understand the crucial difference between journalism that is of interest to members of the public and the concept of public interest journalism. We discuss the meaning of public interest journalism in chapter 7.

Mobile Video Journalism – bail-hearing of Oscar Pistorius

Sky News journalist Alex Crawford uses a mobile phone to report from inside the court during a break in the bail-hearing of Oscar Pistorius in February 2013.

The Paralympian sprinter is accused of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Sky News went live to Alex Crawford who broadcasted from within the court using just a smartphone. No judge would allow this to happen in a UK court.