Journalism as a service

“The central challenge within news organizations is that there are immediate, acute problems — but reasonable solutions will require long-term investment in energy and capital.”

A great wave of disruption — anchored in artificial intelligence, robotics, cognitive computing, and big data — is underway. As these technologies move from the fringe to the mainstream, they promise to forever change how news organizations work and what we think of as journalism.

amy-webbIn 2017, a critical mass of emerging technologies will start to converge, finding advanced uses beyond initial testing and applied research. That’s a signal worth paying attention to. Rather than focusing on digital media, technology and journalism alone, I would encourage you think like a futurist, and to look far afield to gain perspective on your year ahead.

Our annual report lists 159 tech trends for the coming year, and a few dozen of them are devoted to news, media and publishing. Here are eight highlights:

Predictive machine vision

Researchers at MIT’s CSAIL have trained computers to not only recognize what’s in a video, but to predict what humans will do next. Trained on YouTube videos and TV shows such as The Office and Desperate Housewives, a computer system can now predict whether two people are likely to hug, kiss, shake hands, or slap a high five. This research will someday enable robots to more easily navigate human environments — and to interact with us humans by taking cues from our own body language. Soon, this kind of technology will enable news organizations to automatically compile video news stories without the direct involvement of human journalists.

Adversarial images

In short, an adversarial image is a photo with a tiny modification, usually one that’s imperceptible to humans, that is created in order to help computer scientists adjust machine learning models. In order for machine learning systems to learn, they must recognize subtle differences. For example, a computer scientist might slightly alter an image of a llama — using something as tiny as a few scattered pixels — and fool the system into miscategorizing the image as something completely different, such as a shoe or a cup of coffee. When that happens, an adjustment is made to the system and it continues training. Adversarial images can also be used to knowingly and purposely trick a machine learning system. If an attacker trains a model, using very slightly altered images, the adversarial examples could then be deployed out into other models. There are implications for any service that automatically tags our photos, such as Google and Facebook, and every news organization that distributes content through them.

Limited-edition news projects

Some organizations have begun to experiment with temporary products: limited-run newsletters, podcasts that only last a set number of episodes, live SMS offerings that happen only during events. In 2017, expect to see more temporary podcasts, newsletters, and chatbots that are deployed specifically for just one event. This is a revenue and outreach opportunity, as they are vehicles for targeted, short-run advertising.

Journalism as a service

“Software as a service” is a licensing and delivery model, where users pay for on-demand access. It’s a trend I’m seeing in other industry sectors (health care, retail) and it’s a model that I believe could work for news. In fact, in the near future, it might just be an inevitability.

The central challenge within news organizations is that there are immediate, acute problems — but reasonable solutions will require long-term investment in energy and capital. The tension between the two always results in short-term fixes, like swapping out micro-paywalls for site-wide paywalls. In a sense, this is analogous to making interest-only payments on a loan, without paying down the principal. Failing to pay down the principal means that debt — that problem — sticks around longer. It doesn’t ever go away.

Transitioning to “journalism as a service” would enable news organizations to fully realize their value to everyone working in the knowledge economy — universities, legal startups, data science companies, businesses, hospitals, and even big tech giants. News organizations that archive their content are sitting on an enormous corpus — data that can be structured, cleaned, and used by numerous other groups. How could you rethink news deployed as a service that would include different kinds of parcels: news stories; vetted and fact-checked mini-biographies for other sites and digital services (to replace Wikipedia); verified, searchable databases of people and organizations. An AI-powered service that automatically generates a short report of the opinions on a particular subject, along with a list of quoted experts. A calendar plugin that summarizes the most important news events to pay attention to during the week. All of these services could work outside of the social media landscape, which means that news organizations would not have to share revenue or give away their content for free, but could charge for access.

Conversational interfaces

We are entering an era of conversational interfaces. You can be expected to talk to machines for the rest of your life. We’re already surrounded by conversational interfaces: Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, Google’s watch and phone interface (“OK Google”), among others. Conversational interfaces can simulate the conversations that a reporter might have with her editor, as she talks through the facts of a story. Bottable interfaces and platforms, such as Pandorabots and Chatfuel, will start to replace standard search and FAQs. Meanwhile, journalists will engage in conversations with machines to assist in reporting. IBM Watson’s various APIs, including Visual Recognition, Alchemy Language, Conversation, and Tone Analyzer can all be used to assist reporters with their work.

Weaponizing WikiLeaks

What happens when a government leaks a cache of sensitive information on WikiLeaks, with the intent of destabilizing another nation? WikiLeaks becomes weaponized. In July 2016, WikiLeaks published 20,000 emails from the Democratic National Committee. By fall, the Obama administration named Russia as the source of the hacked data, citing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s desire to influence the U.S. presidential election. Given the rising political and social tensions within the U.S., Europe, Russia and Middle East, we’re forecasting more leaks in the coming year. This presents some new challenges for news organizations. To start, we’ve only ever had one major leak happen at once. What happens when leaking starts to scale? Are news organizations prepared to investigate multiple leaks at the same time? What ethical considerations will need to be considered, given the current political climate? Better to make plans and decisions now, rather than under duress.

Organizational doxing

“Doxing” is mining and publishing personal information about a person — organizational doxing is when this happens to an entire company. It’s a term introduced by security expert Bruce Schneier. In the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks, we’ve seen a number of data dumps. WikiLeaks has published troves of data. Hackers broke into Hacking Team, publishing a massive amount of internal data. Sony has been breached, and so have various branches of the U.S. government. This isn’t about stealing credit card information, but rather about making public the personal details of individuals, either to protest against policies, to embarrass companies or to blackmail companies into paying big ransoms to hackers. Because of the success hackers had in 2016, we can expect more organizational doxing in the year ahead. Every single news rganization ought to shore up security and to develop a risk management plan should they find themselves doxed. I strongly recommend reading the “Organizational Doxing and Disinformation” blog post by Bruce Schneier.

Fake content (not just traditional news)

Let’s be clear — it’s not because of the recent U.S. election that people suddenly developed this idea of fake news. And it isn’t just election-related fake news that’s being created. Humans have been spreading misinformation since we were first grunting at each other in caves. Fake news is a bigger and more complicated problem than most of us realize. One of the challenges has to do with data: What’s fake to one person may seem very real to someone else. As every research scientist knows, even empirical data is still subject to outside interpretation once a project is reported in the media or talked about by non-scientists. And that’s compounded in this age of social media. We have machine learning algorithms that are just performing their prescribed functions — deliver us content that we’re likely to click on. Six years ago, we at FTI forecasted that this would be an emerging problem. I recommended to a consortium of newspapers that they develop a verification system — a simple line of code — that would travel digitally wherever the news story did. At the time, there wasn’t yet a critical mass of problematic stories as we’re now seeing today, and without an immediate need they didn’t feel a sense of urgency. I hope they feel the urgency now.

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Caitlin Thompson   High touch, high value

Aja Bogdanoff   Comments start pulling their weight

Andy Rossback   The year of the user

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

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Truthiness in private spaces

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

Ken Schwencke   Disaggregation and collection

Bill Adair   The year of the fact-checking bot

Andrew Losowsky   Building our own communities

Sarah Wolozin   Virtual reality on the open web

Carla Zanoni   Prioritizing emotional health

Katie Zhu   The year of minority media

Libby Bawcombe   Kids board the podcast train

Helen Havlak   Chasing mobile search results

Claire Wardle   Verification takes center stage

Felix Salmon   Headlines matter

Amie Ferris-Rotman   Вслед за Россией

Priya Ganapati   Mobile websites are ready for reinvention

Megan H. Chan   Cultural reporting goes mainstream

Reyhan Harmanci   Bear witness — but then what?

Burt Herman   Local news gets interesting

Tim Herrera   The safe space of service journalism

Francesco Marconi   The year of augmented writing

Samantha Barry   Messaging apps go mainstream

Erin Millar   The bottom falls out of Canadian media

Tracie Powell   Building reader relationships

Emi Kolawole   From empathy to community

Margarita Noriega   From pinning tweets to tweeting pins

Jonathan Hunt   Measurement companies get with the times

Swati Sharma   Failing diversity is failing journalism

Sarah Marshall   Focusing on the why of the click

Christopher Meighan   Unlocking a deeper mobile experience

Hillary Frey   Forests need to burn to regrow

Olivia Ma   The year collaboration beats competition

Tanya Cordrey   The resurgence of reach

Sara M. Watson   There is no neutral interface

An Xiao Mina   2017 is for the attention innovators

David Chavern   Fake news gets solved

Umbreen Bhatti   A sense of journalists’ humanity

Jonathan Stray   A boom in responsible conservative media

Peter Sterne   A dangerous anti-press mix

Rachel Sklar   Women are going to get loud

Taylor Lorenz   “Selfie journalism” becomes a thing

Cory Haik   Navigating power in Trump’s America

Almar Latour   Thanks, #fakenews

Errin Haines   Chaos or community?

Pablo Boczkowski   Fake news and the future of journalism

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

Rachel Schallom   Stop flying over the flyover states

Moreno Cruz Osório   The year of transparency in Brazilian journalism

Rubina Madan Fillion   Snapchat grows up

Ryan McCarthy   Platforms grow up or grow more toxic

Michael Kuntz   Trust is the new click

David Weigel   A test for online speech

Dhiya Kuriakose   The year of digital detoxing

Ståle Grut   The battle for high-quality VR

Adam Thomas   The coming collaboration across Europe

Carrie Brown-Smith   We won’t do enough

Mark Armstrong   Time to pay up

David Skok   What lies beyond paywalls

Ray Soto   VR moves from experiments to immersion

Lee Glendinning   A call for great editing

Ashley C. Woods   Local journalism will fight a new fight

Ole Reißmann   Un-faking the news

Andrew Haeg   The year of listening

Alexis Lloyd   Public trust for private realities

Amy Webb   Journalism as a service

Mike Ragsdale   A smarter information diet

Jon Slade   Trusted news, at a premium

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

Renée Kaplan   Pure reach has reached its limit

Steve Henn   The next revolution is voice

Nathalie Malinarich   Making it easy

Millie Tran   International expansion without colonial overtones

Asma Khalid   The year of the newsy podcast

Laura Walker   Authentic voices, not fake news

Andrea Silenzi   Podcasts dive into breaking news analysis

Sam Ford   The year we talk about our awful metrics

Keren Goldshlager   Defining a focus, and then saying no

Matt Waite   The people running the media are the problem

Liz Danzico   The triumph of the small

Sydette Harry   Facing journalism’s history

Dan Gillmor   Fix the demand side of news too

Mary Walter-Brown   Getting comfortable asking for money

Mira Lowe   News literacy, bias, and “Hamilton”

Laura E. Davis   Show your work

Tim Griggs   The year we stop taking sides

P. Kim Bui   The year journalism teaches again

Doris Truong   Connecting with diverse perspectives

Jeremy Barr   A terrible year for Tiers B through D

Mathew Ingram   The Faustian Facebook dance continues

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

Mary Meehan   Feeling blue in a red state

Bill Keller   A healthy skepticism about data

Matt Karolian   AI improves publishing

Emily Goligoski   Incorporating audience feedback at scale

Dan Colarusso   Let’s make live video we can love

Joanne Lipman   The year of the drone, really

Guy Raz   Inspiration and hope will matter more than ever

Andrew Ramsammy   Rise of the rebel journalist

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

Molly de Aguiar   Philanthropists galvanize around news

Nicholas Quah   Podcasting’s coming class war

Alice Antheaume   A new test for French media

M. Scott Havens   Quality advertising to pair with quality content

Robert Hernandez   History will exclude you, again

Mandy Velez   The audience is the source and the story

Amy O'Leary   Not just covering communities, reaching them

Corey Ford   The year of the rebelpreneur

Erin Pettigrew   A year of reflection in tech

Trushar Barot   API or die

Kawandeep Virdee   Moving deeper than the machine of clicks

Jim Friedlich   A banner year for venture philanthropy

Mario García   Virtual reality on mobile leaps forward

Melody Kramer   Radically rethinking design

Julia Beizer   Building a coherent core identity

Zizi Papacharissi   Distracted journalism looks in the mirror

Rebekah Monson   Journalism is community-as-a-service

Dannagal G. Young   The return of the gatekeepers

Gabriel Snyder   The aberration of 20th-century journalism

Scott Dodd   Nonprofits team up for impact

Michael Oreskes   Reversing the erosion of democracy

Javaun Moradi   What can we own?

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

Liz McMillen   The year of deep insights

Sue Schardt   Objectivity, fairness, balance, and love

Coleen O'Lear   Back to basics

Kathleen Kingsbury   Print as a premium offering

Cindy Royal   Preparing the digital educator-scholar hybrid

Juliette De Maeyer and Dominique Trudel   A rebirth of populist journalism

Geetika Rudra   Journalism is community

Juan Luis Sánchez   Your predictions are our present

Alberto Cairo   Communicating uncertainty to our readers

S.P. Sullivan   Baking transparency into our routines

Annemarie Dooling   UGC as a path out of the bubble

Elizabeth Jensen   Trust depends on the details