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Dec. 21, 2011, 3 p.m.

Amazon conquers, Patch dies, a Facebook-only outlet is born…and more predictions for 2012

Predictions from Brian Boyer, Joy Mayer, Kevin Kelly, Sree Sreenivasan, and more.
Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2011 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring.

Below are predictions about the business of, and platforms for, journalism, from and platforms for, journalism, from Brian Boyer, Rick Edmonds, Kevin Kelly, Joy Mayer, Alan Murray, Alan Mutter, Geneva Overholser, Howard Owens, and Sree Sreenivasan.

Brian Boyer

What will 2012 bring? Responsive websites instead of native apps, new products that ignore the desktop and address mobile and tablet, a single term that represents mobile/tablet/pocketable/sofa-friendly devices, and lots of little helicopter cameras…. And that’s just what I’m trying to do. It’s gonna be a fun year.

Rick Edmonds

I hate to be a dull guy with a dull forecast, but I do expect more of the same for newspaper organizations in 2012 and probably 2013, as well. That means continuing pressure on advertising revenues, though the secular shift to all things digital could be muted by a better economy. Newspapers’ own digital transformation is the work of many years, so I would be surprised if 2012 were a breakthrough. Certainly the paywall and bundled subscription movement will continue to gain steam. More organizations may omit a print edition or home delivery several days of the week, but not shut down altogether.

As you know, I have a continuing concern that cuts and more cuts (and there will be still more) may cripple the news core at many organizations. As Pulitzer winner Glen Frankel told John Temple in an interview several years ago, “If we don’t have anything important to say and no unique journalistic contributions to make, we won’t need new platforms. We won’t need to exist at all — and we won’t.”

Kevin Kelly

Ebooks continue to mushroom, Amazon takes over paper book publishing, Google+ becomes a publishing platform with a revenue model, touch tablets languish, streaming TV begins to eclipse broadcast TV, games are tried as a vehicle for news, and the first successful Facebook-only news organization is launched.

Joy Mayer

News will increasingly be a conversation rather than a series of stories.

In 2012, the divide will grow between journalists who are intently aware of and responsive to the needs of their communities and those who continue to make decisions based on long-ago-learned fortress mentalities. I wish I could say I were optimistic about crumbling fortresses. Instead, I’ll say that I’ll be on the lookout for examples of news presented as an ongoing, topical conversation rather than a series of journalist-driven stories. In an election year, being responsive to users’ actual information needs and being a part of a community’s conversation is more crucial than ever

Alan Murray

Print and video news will continue to merge. With new technology, there’s no good reason why great reporters should limit themselves to the print medium alone. Nor is there any good reason to have TV “reporters” who don’t actually report.

The success of the iPad will force a rethinking of news websites, to make them more readable, more scannable, and less clunky.

Last year’s big theme — mobile — will continue to be a big theme this year. The best news organizations will figure out new ways to deliver content over smartphones.

The best election coverage in 2012 will be digital-first.

Sorry, Siri, but I don’t think 2012 will be the year people start talking to their newspapers/sites. Maybe next year.

Alan Mutter

Next year will be the year that the big technology companies go after local publishing and broadcasting businesses more fiercely than ever before. Most local media companies have no idea what’s about to hit them – much less a plan to respond. As discussed more fully in my blog, here’s what to look for in 2012 and beyond:

  • Google already has feet on the street from Portland to New York City to sell search advertising and directory listings to small and medium business (SMBs). Sales to local SMBs are absolutely the last stronghold for newspapers and Yellow Pages.
  • Amazon is well on the way to doing to local merchants and big-box stores what it already has done to bookshops. Main Street and Big Mall merchants are the primary buyers of local newspaper, radio, and television advertising. If Amazon and other digital competitors seriously disenfranchise bricks-and-mortar retailers, then local media will suffer along with them.
  • Microsoft this month grabbed a lead in the eventual disaggregation of local broadcast and cable TV audiences by adding a host of popular programming services, including Netflix and ESPN, to its Xbox network. Impressive as the new voice- and gesture-controlled Microsoft console is, the big kahuna — Apple — has yet to roar. When Apple, Google, Sony, Netflix, or someone else gets Internet-powered TV right — and someone most assuredly will — then local broadcast and cable TV audiences will shatter. And their business models will follow.
  • Facebook hasn’t siphoned away many local advertising dollars. Yet. But the intoxicating ME-ness of its content it is carving heavily into the audiences of all traditional media and it is axiomatic that advertisers will follow audiences. Not a local media company in the land can compete with the breadth and granularity of the Facebook advertising platform. As younger leaders take over businesses, they will turn to Facebook — and not the local media — to find customers among their friends and the friends of their friends. By comparison, the high-priced advertising sold by most local media companies will look mighty unfriendly.

Geneva Overholser

Information in the public interest will come ever more richly and deeply from an ever widening array of sources — individuals, organizations, and institutions of all sorts. The results for the public will be uneven, with many feeling engaged and enlivened, others left out or uncertain what to believe. Communities will conclude that credible and comprehensive information on the affairs of the day is a public good that demands their support. The conversation about “the future of journalism” will be enriched by a much broader chorus, occurring in many more venues and across many more platforms.

Howard Owens

Legacy media companies will continue to try to innovate by committee, not really accomplishing much. The passive resistors in legacy companies will continue to hold back their employers’ progress. More newspapers will put their content behind paywalls. Some of these publishers will find they have new competition from online-only local news start ups.

Newspaper revenue — for newspapers of all sizes — will continue to decline, even as the economy improves.

The deal trend will falter, but the business model will evolve.

Patch won’t survive the year.

The collapse of Patch will lead to a conventional wisdom among pundits that “see, we told you, hyperlocal can’t build a sustainable business model.”

Meanwhile, the local independents will continue to soldier on, incrementally building their sustainable businesses.

The number of local independent online publishers in the US will double in 2012 (not that we have a real good count on how many actual local indie online news businesses there are now, but the industry segment will continue to grow).

Sree Sreenivasan

I am optimistic about the media scene in 2012. While there will continue to be worries about possible and actual layoffs as well as further belt-tightening at newspaper and TV outlets, there will also continue to be many new web ventures that will be launched. My boss, Nick Lemann, dean of Columbia J-school, often says that the future of journalism is “digitized and specialized,” and that will definitely become even more real in 2012. The journalists who already have the digital skills to take advantage of opportunities — or can reinvent themselves in smart ways — will be able to shine.

A final prediction: I hope I’m wrong, but I’m sure I’ll be asked, for the umpteenth time, by reporters after a big breaking news story, “Has social media finally come of age?”

Image by Michael Kappel used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Dec. 21, 2011, 3 p.m.
PART OF A SERIES     Predictions for Journalism 2012
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