Things get real

“We need to use the convening power of media to build network effects, where products get better the more people that use them.”

2016 was a journalism nightmare, with the missed story on the U.S. election and rampant misinformation. 2017 was a rebuilding year, with brave reporting on sexual harassment showing journalism’s impact, and healthy subscription growth at top organizations like The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Next year, 2018, is when things gets real. Despite the promising momentum, this easily can go sideways. This is the year that we need to solidify business models and make real steps to improve news product. No pressure or anything — it’s just the fate of our democracy on the line.

Ads haven’t been cutting it for a while, and we know a major part of the business model answer is getting the people who use our product to pay for it. This isn’t the time to be timid in closing the sale. Subscriptions and memberships are gaining traction, and 2018 needs to be a year with more business model experimentation.

One of the more interesting attempts will be around cryptocurrencies and the blockchain. This isn’t about the hype around Bitcoin’s soaring value, but building new currencies around trust and authenticity using an open, transparent platform. Civil is one such experiment set to launch early in 2018 that will be closely watched.

On the product side, we’ve refined the basic story forms and are getting the hang of podcasts and newsletters. Now this needs to get truly interactive. One of the hottest new media products is HQ, the interactive trivia show mobile app. How can journalism apply the lessons from that format to create exciting live experiences, and give tangible benefits to users for knowing the facts?

We need to use the convening power of media to build network effects, where products get better the more people that use them. Galley, an app in private beta that’s like a Slack team for media geeks launched by Josh Young, has begun testing whether closed, niche networks can build more constructive interactions than the dreaded comment box. Such experiments will expand next year to other niches and formats.

We need to think smartly about how to leverage algorithms and machine learning, and see how they can help source stories and present them. One interesting experiment is Vigilant (which we’re funding at the Lenfest Institute), making public data more accessible and understandable. Their local pilot in Philadelphia is just getting started and they will be expanding trials early in the new year.

Journalists will also be working more smartly. The Washington Post’s Arc platform will be much more widely adopted in the new year. Some of Arc’s most interesting features provide internal metrics that track how journalists are meeting deadlines and whether they are publishing the right stories when audiences want to read them. Media organizations will also working yet more collaboratively. Platforms like Heather Bryant’s Project Facet, launching soon in beta (and another Lenfest grantee), will test whether better tools foster more collaborative storytelling projects.

2018: We can do this.

Burt Herman is director of innovation projects at the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.

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Juliette De Maeyer   A responsible press criticism

Michelle Garcia   Navigating journalistic transparency

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Vanessa K. DeLuca   Women’s voices take center stage

Dan Newman   A return to trust

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Jennifer Choi   Standing up for us and for each other

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Elizabeth Jensen   Show your work

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Matt Thompson   Here come the attention managers

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Jared Newman   Venture funding and digital news don’t mix

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Kyle Ellis   Let’s build our way out of this

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Mary Walter-Brown   Show a little vulnerability

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Publishing less to give readers more

David Skok   Finding an information-life balance

Pablo Boczkowski   The rise of skeptical reading

Jarrod Dicker   Honesty in advertising

Lucas Graves   From algorithms to institutions

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Doris Truong   Computer vision vs. the Internet vigilantes

Amie Ferris-Rotman   More female reporters abroad (please)

Cory Haik   Suffering from realness, pivoting to impact

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Alfred Hermida   Going beyond mobile-first

Neha Gandhi   Filler killers

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Bill Keller   A growing turn to philanthropy

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Sarah Marshall   Loyalty as the key performance indicator

Monique Judge   Letting black women tell their own stories

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