Get ready for a dose or two of E in journalism. The coming year will be marked by five trends that are becoming increasingly prevalent in shaping the contours of news and the media: Journalism that is experimental, experiential, explanatory, emotional, and economical.
Experimental journalism: News organizations, big and small, have been exploring new approaches to journalism for years. Often, though, experimentation has been happening at the edges, fuelled by a handful of individuals. Experimentation is becoming far more than just an add-on: It is emerging as a prerequisite for survival at a time of flux and uncertainty. Be it telling stories on WhatsApp or producing content for specific distribution networks from Facebook’s Instant Articles to Snapchat’s Discover, experimentation is just part of what it means to be a relevant news organization in the 21st century.
Experiential journalism: Journalism has always been about more than just the facts. There is a place for informational news but also for experiences that immerse the audience in the narrative. The New York Times’ Snow Fall is an example of an attempt at using words, graphics, video and interactivity to have readers feel the story of the avalanche at Tunnel Creek. Vice News draws viewers into distant locales with work such as its documentary on the Islamic State. News as an experience plays to the strengths of digital and emerging technologies. Just take virtual reality: Frontline’s Ebola outbreak VR documentary places viewers at the heart an emergency field hospital as Ebola spread in West Africa. Such approaches break down the distance between the news and the audience, offering the potential for powerful, emotive and impactful storytelling.
Explanatory journalism: Among the wave of recent news startups are explanatory news sites, from Vox to Syria Deeply. Explanatory journalism is one of the more established of the five Es. It reflects a greater need for journalism than advances the public’s understanding of the news. Commodity news is readily available from a multitude of daily sources. The gap is less the availability of information, but more the analysis and interpretation of information, where journalists operate as knowledge leaders.
Emotional journalism: On the other side of the spectrum is emotional journalism. Stories that resonate with audiences tend to stand out from the constant buzz of information. As news has become an ambient experience, never more than a screen away, it is easy for stories and issues to just become part of the background noise. Feel-good stories, tales of redemption, or revelations that spark anger have been a tried and tested means to try to make people pay attention and sell newspapers. Social media has propelled the shift towards emotional journalism: People’s interactions on social media lend themselves to stories that strike a chord, as emotions are powerful drivers of sharing. Social media provides channels for audiences to share joy with others, join in a chorus of outrage or mourn together following events such as the Paris attacks. With the rise of social discovery and recommendations, journalists increasingly are working in a space where people are not so much sharing information but rather sharing a feeling.
Economical journalism: It’s no secret that the news business is hurting financially. There are plenty of stories about the loss of advertising dollars, declining revenues, and constrained budgets. That tension is producing experimental, experiential, explanatory, or emotional journalism. That’s where economical journalism comes in. There is a need to be imaginative in how to use existing and emerging technologies to cut the costs of producing experimental or experiential journalism. With virtual reality, developments such as Google Cardboard or a $30 View Master VR headset make this kind of experiential storytelling more broadly accessible. Journalism is still an expensive business to be in; journalists need to be compensated for their work. The realities of the industry mean there is an imperative to pursue economical journalism, be it through increased collaborations, smarter deployment of resources, or the use of readily available technologies.
Alfred Hermida is director and associate professor at the School of Journalism at the University of British Columbia.