Forests need to burn to regrow

“The drive for scale has made so many places way, way too big. And there just aren’t enough good jobs to keep everyone working, satisfied, succeeding.”

This is going to sound darker than it is, but this is my general take on digital media after 2016: Forests need to burn to regrow.

hillary-freyLayoffs are terrible. Endings are gutting. But the drive for scale has made so many places way, way too big. And there just aren’t enough good jobs to keep everyone working, satisfied, succeeding.

So what’s going to happen in 2017?

Prediction No. 1: Some digital nomads, young, middle-aged, and old, will leave journalism altogether and go into different industries. In the last month, I’ve talked to a number of laid-off and/or miserable writers and editors tired of jumping from promising digital news upstart (or well-funded expansion/reinvention) to the next. In each case, the same cycle is repeated: investment, growth, the hiring of writers with big social footprints (to bring their followers — which, by the way, is not how a brand grows an audience!), the setting of impossible metrics, demands to increase video views. STOP! Change of strategy, layoffs, reassignments, re-orgs, possible sale or IPO, lose/change identity.

I’ve been through this cycle myself four times in the past six years. Based on my own experience, you can get through between 9 and 18 months before the end of what you built is clearly near. And by “end” I don’t mean that your company is going out of business — it’s just going to try and reinvent itself, already and again. The second you get going on one strategy, the directive comes to shift, your colleagues (and possibly you) are out of work, and all you have to show are a few good stories, a successful experiment or two, some unhappy and anxious writers you are begging to post three times a day, and a whole bunch of frustration.

The writers and editors I talked to are exhausted by this hamster wheel — even if they are in their 20s! So, in this new Trump world, they are contemplating nonprofits, city council jobs, labor-organizing jobs, LSATs. The same thing that drove them into journalism — the desire to do good work that has impact on the world we live in — will drive them out of the industry that, in their own instances, has ceased to value their contributions, or give them a runway to success.

Prediction No. 2: Some of these journalists will end up in the agency world. The work, of course, will be called content, not journalism. But agencies will make things that aren’t ads that have news value and that change the way we look at the world. This may be more relevant for film and video journalists than print — at first. But that won’t last. These ex-journalists will play with forms, and ways of storytelling, and do it outside the pressures of a newsroom. And my guess is they will have fun, too.

(Note: What’s wrong with the newsroom anyway?, you ask. Well, somehow, despite building more collaborative, open spaces with no offices and glass walls, we still function as siloed institutions where it’s almost impossible to develop ideas across specialties. Reporters still don’t know their counterparts in design, or development. The C-suite execs may have weekly staff meetings where they find things they are doing in their own areas dovetail, but the bulk of people charged with coming up with ideas don’t have ways to talk to one another, inspire one another, create with one another. Slack is great, but it’s not a cure-all. Some companies have tried to address these issues with interdisciplinary task forces to take on certain projects, or brainstorm ideas, etc. But they never last. People have day jobs, responsibilities, to achieve scale. And a task force is always just an add-on of time suckage that no one wants to prioritize — especially the brass, who want the clicks. Get back to your desk! This has to change. Innovation can’t just happen in the “innovation” group. And we can’t just make beautiful open physical spaces and expect proximity to do the work, either.)

Prediction No. 3: Voices will realize they don’t need big media to make a living. By “voices” I mean those writers with huge social footprints desired by every scale outlet in the country. They may make brand deals. They may find VC investment in specific projects and ideas, or do an angel round to start a newsletter. They may find a nonprofit to fund their trip to Iraq, and a studio to help cut the pilot for their video series. They could meet a rich person at a dinner party, and that person could write them a check! They will value creative control of their voice, copyright, and ideas over a 360˚ big-ticket deal that sounds amazing and pays them enough to go on a nice vacation but prevents them from ever getting anything done the way they want. Because they still answer to the (white) man.

These voices will change the media world in the process, and show the next generation that they can chart their own paths, too. They will go step by step, and will listen to the desires of their followers and, hopefully, support one another. And more startups looking to seed ideas, to develop them and shape them, will pop up to support these creators, too, and help turn their best dreams into sustainable realities that can nurture a wider, more diverse world of great stories, and fuck with old, dead models in the process.

2016 sucked, and 2017 is going to be a rough year. But at the end, things we didn’t expect will grow. And journalists, even working in different industries, will do important work. And that will be beautiful.

Hillary Frey is co-chief creative officer at Matter Studios.

Olivia Ma   The year collaboration beats competition

Mary Walter-Brown   Getting comfortable asking for money

Jonathan Stray   A boom in responsible conservative media

Sara M. Watson   There is no neutral interface

Mario García   Virtual reality on mobile leaps forward

Michael Kuntz   Trust is the new click

Tim Herrera   The safe space of service journalism

Moreno Cruz Osório   The year of transparency in Brazilian journalism

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting stratifies into hard layers

Peter Sterne   A dangerous anti-press mix

Nathalie Malinarich   Making it easy

Mary Meehan   Feeling blue in a red state

Matt Waite   The people running the media are the problem

Kawandeep Virdee   Moving deeper than the machine of clicks

Elizabeth Jensen   Trust depends on the details

Lee Glendinning   A call for great editing

Sydette Harry   Facing journalism’s history

Samantha Barry   Messaging apps go mainstream

Corey Ford   The year of the rebelpreneur

Emi Kolawole   From empathy to community

Asma Khalid   The year of the newsy podcast

Keren Goldshlager   Defining a focus, and then saying no

Tim Griggs   The year we stop taking sides

David Skok   What lies beyond paywalls

Sue Schardt   Objectivity, fairness, balance, and love

Guy Raz   Inspiration and hope will matter more than ever

David Chavern   Fake news gets solved

Richard Tofel   The country doesn’t trust us — but they do believe us

Doris Truong   Connecting with diverse perspectives

Sarah Marshall   Focusing on the why of the click

Vivian Schiller   Tested like never before

Robert Hernandez   History will exclude you, again

Caitlin Thompson   High touch, high value

Melody Kramer   Radically rethinking design

Hillary Frey   Forests need to burn to regrow

Geetika Rudra   Journalism is community

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Earn trust by working for (and with) readers

Helen Havlak   Chasing mobile search results

Alice Antheaume   A new test for French media

Erin Millar   The bottom falls out of Canadian media

Mathew Ingram   The Faustian Facebook dance continues

Ryan McCarthy   Platforms grow up or grow more toxic

Bill Adair   The year of the fact-checking bot

Swati Sharma   Failing diversity is failing journalism

P. Kim Bui   The year journalism teaches again

Sarah Wolozin   Virtual reality on the open web

S.P. Sullivan   Baking transparency into our routines

Mira Lowe   News literacy, bias, and “Hamilton”

Laura E. Davis   Show your work

Katie Zhu   The year of minority media

Alberto Cairo   Communicating uncertainty to our readers

Felix Salmon   Headlines matter

Burt Herman   Local news gets interesting

Tressie McMillan Cottom   A path through the media’s coming legitimacy crisis

Carrie Brown-Smith   We won’t do enough

Michael Oreskes   Reversing the erosion of democracy

Umbreen Bhatti   A sense of journalists’ humanity

Steve Henn   The next revolution is voice

Anita Zielina   The sales funnel reaches (and changes) the newsroom

Ashley C. Woods   Local journalism will fight a new fight

Amy O'Leary   Not just covering communities, reaching them

Erin Pettigrew   A year of reflection in tech

Mark Armstrong   Time to pay up

Coleen O'Lear   Back to basics

Jeremy Barr   A terrible year for Tiers B through D

Gabriel Snyder   The aberration of 20th-century journalism

Joanne Lipman   The year of the drone, really

Reyhan Harmanci   Bear witness — but then what?

Rebekah Monson   Journalism is community-as-a-service

Annemarie Dooling   UGC as a path out of the bubble

Renée Kaplan   Pure reach has reached its limit

Molly de Aguiar   Philanthropists galvanize around news

Almar Latour   Thanks, #fakenews

Cindy Royal   Preparing the digital educator-scholar hybrid

Christopher Meighan   Unlocking a deeper mobile experience

Bill Keller   A healthy skepticism about data

Rachel Sklar   Women are going to get loud

Lam Thuy Vo   The primary source in the age of mechanical multiplication

Tanya Cordrey   The resurgence of reach

Dan Colarusso   Let’s make live video we can love

Julia Beizer   Building a coherent core identity

Kathleen Kingsbury   Print as a premium offering

Jon Slade   Trusted news, at a premium

Claire Wardle   Verification takes center stage

Maria Bustillos   “It’s true — I saw it on Facebook”

Andrew Ramsammy   Rise of the rebel journalist

Liz Danzico   The triumph of the small

Ole Reißmann   Un-faking the news

Millie Tran   International expansion without colonial overtones

Cory Haik   Navigating power in Trump’s America

Amy Webb   Journalism as a service

Pablo Boczkowski   Fake news and the future of journalism

Nicholas Quah   Podcasting’s coming class war

Andrew Losowsky   Building our own communities

Andrew Haeg   The year of listening

Rachel Schallom   Stop flying over the flyover states

AX Mina   2017 is for the attention innovators

Libby Bawcombe   Kids board the podcast train

David Weigel   A test for online speech

Jonathan Hunt   Measurement companies get with the times

Juan Luis Sánchez   Your predictions are our present

Aja Bogdanoff   Comments start pulling their weight

Zizi Papacharissi   Distracted journalism looks in the mirror

Dannagal G. Young   The return of the gatekeepers

Jim Friedlich   A banner year for venture philanthropy

Liz McMillen   The year of deep insights

Carla Zanoni   Prioritizing emotional health

Adam Thomas   The coming collaboration across Europe

Amie Ferris-Rotman   Вслед за Россией

Matt Karolian   AI improves publishing

Emily Goligoski   Incorporating audience feedback at scale

Nushin Rashidian   A rise in high-price, high-value subscriptions

M. Scott Havens   Quality advertising to pair with quality content

Francesco Marconi   The year of augmented writing

Errin Haines   Chaos or community?

Megan H. Chan   Cultural reporting goes mainstream

Dan Gillmor   Fix the demand side of news too

Ståle Grut   The battle for high-quality VR

Mike Ragsdale   A smarter information diet

Mandy Velez   The audience is the source and the story

Tracie Powell   Building reader relationships

Taylor Lorenz   “Selfie journalism” becomes a thing

Alexis Lloyd   Public trust for private realities

Ray Soto   VR moves from experiments to immersion

Javaun Moradi   What can we own?

Dhiya Kuriakose   The year of digital detoxing

Juliette De Maeyer and Dominique Trudel   A rebirth of populist journalism

Margarita Noriega   From pinning tweets to tweeting pins

Andrea Silenzi   Podcasts dive into breaking news analysis

Ken Schwencke   Disaggregation and collection

Laura Walker   Authentic voices, not fake news

Trushar Barot   API or die

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Truthiness in private spaces

Sam Ford   The year we talk about our awful metrics

Ariane Bernard   Better data about your users

Priya Ganapati   Mobile websites are ready for reinvention

Rubina Madan Fillion   Snapchat grows up

Andy Rossback   The year of the user

Scott Dodd   Nonprofits team up for impact

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   News after advertising may look like news before advertising