Listen to weak signals

“If you don’t simultaneously pay attention to signals from news and also those coming from adjacent areas, you’re effectively looking at the world through a pinhole camera.”

There is no such thing as “predicting” the future. I know that seems like a strange statement coming from a quantitative futurist. A prediction would assume that most of the variables that make up everyday life are fixed. You might be able to predict the outcome of an election or a baseball game, but that kind of statistical analysis doesn’t work for foresight, and it certainly doesn’t apply to thinking about the future of news.

The best we can do is to listen to weak signals about emerging technologies in the present, to recognize patterns early, and to build out possible, plausible, and probable scenarios that describe implications. News organizations must focus on incremental actions, starting right now. But they cannot effectively plan for the future without thinking broadly. If you don’t simultaneously pay attention to signals from news and also those coming from adjacent areas, you’re effectively looking at the world through a pinhole camera.

In October, I open-sourced my forecasting methodology and all of my research. I also published a new report, which details 75 emerging tech trends for news. Going into 2018, these are some key insights for every news organization, regardless of size or geographic location:

  • In 2018, a critical mass of emerging technologies will converge finding advanced uses beyond initial testing and applied research. That’s a signal worth paying attention to. News organizations should devote attention to emerging trends in voice interfaces, the decentralization of content, mixed reality, new types of search, and hardware (such as CubeSats and smart cameras).
  • Journalists need to understand what artificial intelligence is, what it is not, and what it means for the future of news. It is vitally important that all decision-makers within news organizations familiarize themselves with the current and emerging AI landscapes. At the moment, the future of the AI ecosystem is being created primarily by nine big corporations: Microsoft, Alphabet, Amazon, Tencent, Alibaba, Baidu, Facebook, IBM, and Apple.
  • Decentralization is a key theme for 2018. There will be a new emphasis on restricted peer-to-peer networks to detect harassment, share resources, and connect with sources. There will also be a push by some democratic governments around the world to divide internet access and to restrict certain content, effectively creating dozens of “splinternets.”
  • Consolidation will also be a key theme for 2018. News brands, broadcast spectrum, and artificial intelligence startups will continue to be merged with and acquired by relatively few corporations. Pending legislation and policy in the U.S., E.U., and parts of Asia could further concentrate the power among a small cadre of information and technology organizations in the year ahead.

To understand the future of news, you must pay attention to the future of many industries and research areas in the coming year. When journalists think about the future, they should broaden the usual scope to consider developments from myriad other fields also participating in the knowledge economy. Technology begets technology. We are witnessing an explosion in slow motion.

Amy Webb is founder of the Future Today Institute.

Damon Krukowski   Reviving the alt-weekly soul

Mariano Blejman   News games rule

Imaeyen Ibanga   Longform video leads the way

Alexios Mantzarlis   Moving fake news research out of the lab

Elizabeth Jensen   Show your work

Usha Sahay   Wallets get opened

Matt Carlson   Attacks on the press will get worse

Emily Goligoski   Looking beyond news for inspiration

C.W. Anderson   The social media apocalypse

Federica Cherubini   The rise of bridge roles in news organizations

Bill Keller   A growing turn to philanthropy

Raney Aronson-Rath   Transparency is the antidote to fake news

Laura E. Davis   Writing answers before you know the question

Lam Thuy Vo   Breaking free from the tyranny of the loudest

Umbreen Bhatti   The trust problem isn’t new

Jim Moroney   Newspapers have to be good enough for readers to pay for

Lanre Akinola   Making noise is not a strategy

Emma Carew Grovum   Newsroom culture becomes a priority

Sue Schardt   Jump the niche

Ariana Tobin   Too tired to tap

Felix Salmon   Covering bitcoin while owning bitcoin

Corey Ford   The empire strikes back

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   Women of color will reclaim and monetize our time

Nicholas Diakopoulos   Fortifying social media from automated inauthenticity

Manoush Zomorodi   Self-help as a publishing strategy

Mi-Ai Parrish   Blockchain and trust

Helen Havlak   Keywords, not publishers, power the world’s biggest feeds

Joanne Lipman   Journalists inventing revenue streams

Marcela Donini and Thiago Herdy   Collaboration is the way forward for Brazilian journalism

Renée Kaplan   The year of quiet adjustments (shhh)

Miguel Castro   The arrival of the impact producer

Tamar Charney   We get serious about algorithms

Jennifer Brandel and Mónica Guzmán   The editorial meeting of the future

Hossein Derakhshan   Television has won

Kelsey Proud   No, no, no

Craig Newmark   Working together toward sustainable solutions

An Xiao Mina   Memes and visuals come to the fore

Amy King   Let’s amplify visual voice

Sam Sanders   Shine the light on ourselves

Trushar Barot   The Jio-fication of India

Rubina Madan Fillion   Unlocking the potential of AI

Kim Fox   Audience teams diversify their approach

Julia B. Chan   Looking for loyalty in all the right places

Heather Bryant   Building the ecosystems for collaboration

Richard J. Tofel   The platforms’ power demands more reporters’ attention

Doris Truong   Computer vision vs. the Internet vigilantes

Steve Grove   The midterms are an opportunity

Borja Echevarría   TV goes digital, digital goes TV

Jesse Holcomb   Information disorder, coming to a congressional district near you

Vivian Schiller   Pivot to tomorrow

Mariana Moura Santos   Think local, act global

Kristen Muller   The year of the voter

Alastair Coote   The year of self-improvement

Christopher Meighan   Passive partnership is in the rearview

Rodney Benson   Better, less read, and less trusted

Nushin Rashidian   Publishers seek ad dollar alternatives

José Zamora   Revenue-first journalism

Tim Carmody   Watch out for Spotify

Carlos Martínez de la Serna   The new journalism commons

Almar Latour   Conquering calm

Jessica Parker Gilbert   Design connects storytelling and strategy

Nathalie Malinarich   Peak push

David Skok   Finding an information-life balance

Matt DeRienzo   A recession, then a collapse

Molly de Aguiar   Good journalism won’t be enough

Zizi Papacharissi   Women come back

Francesco Marconi   The year of machine-to-machine journalism

Sarah Marshall   Loyalty as the key performance indicator

Matt Thompson   Here come the attention managers

Ståle Grut   Reclaiming audience interaction from social networks

Yvonne Leow   The rise of video messaging

Betsy O'Donovan and Melody Kramer   Skepticism and narcissism

Brian Lam   Sketchy ethics around product reviews

Amy Webb   Listen to weak signals

Sara M. Watson   Feeds will open up to new user-determined filters

Joanne McNeil   Gatekeeping the gatekeepers

Jennifer Choi   Standing up for us and for each other

Adam Thomas   Sharing is caring: The year of the mentor

Juliette De Maeyer   A responsible press criticism

Sally Lehrman   Trust comes first

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Seeking trust in fragmented spaces

Mary Walter-Brown   Show a little vulnerability

Frédéric Filloux   External forces

Cory Haik   Suffering from realness, pivoting to impact

L. Gordon Crovitz   Serving readers over advertisers

Mike Caulfield   Refactoring media literacy for the networked age

Nancy Watzman   Know thy TV

Nicholas Quah   Stop talking trash about young people

Edward Roussel   Eyes, ears, and brains

Rachel Schallom   Better design helps differentiate opinion and news

Lucas Graves   From algorithms to institutions

Rodney Gibbs   Tech workers turn to journalism

Errin Haines Whack   At the ballot, it’s time to count black women

Carrie Brown-Smith   Transparency finally takes off

Matt Boggie   The intellectual equivalent of the Dead Sea

Jared Newman   Venture funding and digital news don’t mix

Michael Kuntz   The only pivot that might work

Hannah Cassius   The year of the echo-chamber escapists

Jennifer Coogan   The future is female

Tanzina Vega   It’s time for media companies to #PassTheMic

Andrew Losowsky   The year of resilience

Ray Soto   VR reaches the next level

Andrew Haeg   The year journalists become relationship builders

Caitria O'Neill   The new court of public opinion

Corey Johnson   The pro-fact resistance

Millie Tran and Stine Bauer Dahlberg   (Hint: It’s about your brand)

Raju Narisetti   Mirror, mirror on the wall

Tanya Cordrey   Finally, the seeds of radical reinvention

Monika Bauerlein   The firehose of falsehood

P. Kim Bui   The reckoning is only beginning

Basile Simon   We need better career paths for news nerds

Kinsey Wilson   Facebook and Google: Help out or pay up

Susie Banikarim   R.I.P. Pivot to Video (2017–2017)

Charo Henríquez   Training is an investment, not an expense

Eric Ulken   The year local publishers get smart(er) about change

Rick Berke   Value is the watchword

Sam Ford   The year of investing in processes

Pia Frey   Address users as individuals

Andrew Ramsammy   The year ownership mattered

Justin Kosslyn   The year journalists become digital security experts

Jim Brady   With the people, not just of the people

Tracie Powell   The muting of underserved voices

Feli Sánchez   The year for guerrilla user research

Jacqui Cheng   Retailers move into content

Burt Herman   Things get real

Michelle Garcia   Navigating journalistic transparency

Neha Gandhi   Filler killers

Paul Ford   Go global

Julia Beizer   A longer view on the pivot

Michelle Ferrier   The year of the great reckoning

Marie Gilot   No assholes allowed

Alan Soon   The rise of start of psychographic, micro-targeted media

Jamie Mottram   From pageviews to t-shirts

Dannagal G. Young   Stop covering politics as a game

Dheerja Kaur   Fun with subscription products

Kyle Ellis   Let’s build our way out of this

Kathleen McElroy   Building a news video experience native to mobile

Jarrod Dicker   Honesty in advertising

Eric Nuzum   Beyond the narrative arc

Jassim Ahmad   Thriving on change

Mario García   Storytelling finally adapts to mobile

Daniel Trielli   The rich get richer, the poor scramble

Evie Nagy   Pivot to mobile video frustration

Taylor Lorenz   Social and media will split

Dan Newman   A return to trust

Luke O'Neil   The end is already here

Claire Wardle   Disinformation gets worse

Ruth Palmer   Risks will grow for news subjects — especially minorities

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   The Snapchat scenario and the risk of more closed platforms

Cristina Wilson   The year of the Instagram Story

Jake Levine   The return to now

Nikki Usher   The year of The Washington Post

Aron Pilhofer   We can’t leave the business to the business side any more

Pablo Boczkowski   The rise of skeptical reading

Will Sommer   The year local media gets conservative

Joyce Barnathan   It will be harder to bury the news

Mira Lowe   The year of the local watchdog

Mary Meehan   Real lives are at stake in rural areas

Rachel Davis Mersey   AI, with real smarts

Amie Ferris-Rotman   More female reporters abroad (please)

Vanessa K. DeLuca   Women’s voices take center stage

Dan Shanoff   You down with OTT? (Yeah, DTC)

Pete Brown   Push alerts, personalized

Mandy Velez   texting is lit rn, fam

Debra Adams Simmons   And a woman shall lead them

Caitlin Thompson   Podcasting models mature and diversify

Sydette Harry   Listen to your corner and watch for the hook

S. Mitra Kalita   The arc of news and audience

Alfred Hermida   Going beyond mobile-first

Kawandeep Virdee   Zines had it right all along

Alice Antheaume   Are you fluent in AI?

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Publishing less to give readers more

Monique Judge   Letting black women tell their own stories

Niketa Patel   Live journalism comes of age

Cindy Royal   Your journalism curriculum is obsolete

John Keefe   Scooped by AI