Pivot to people

What was produced will take a back seat to the all-important question of who was informed and how it served them.”

We believe 2019 will mark the beginning of a significant shift in the news industry: the year when newsrooms stop pivoting to formats and platforms and start building relationships for the future. Already we’re seeing the rumblings of a seismic change, as digital bubbles built upon illusory metrics begin to burst and the organizations that have put in the unsexy but necessary groundwork to directly understand and serve their audiences are reaping rewards.

As newsrooms define their missions explicitly around service-first approaches and align around value-based business models, we can imagine how this could play out in the coming year.

A pivot to people

Finally — finally! — a pivot that actually works. Although truth be told, this isn’t a pivot — it’s the rediscovery of the force that drove us to j-school many years ago. That force: the commitment to inform the public about their world so they can fully participate in and understand it. By refocusing attention on the audiences we serve, newsrooms will develop deep, sustaining relationships that will begin to repair the outdated, broken business models. Newsrooms are becoming increasingly sophisticated in developing the relationship between audience members and revenue. With a wealth of experience and nothing left to lose, 2019 will be the year this approach breaks through from theory into practice.

An ethical code for engagement

Newsrooms have guidelines around how they treat sources. But as co-created content blurs the line between maker and decision-maker, public and staff, newsrooms will need more sophisticated rules for how they work alongside, feature, credit, reward, compensate and protect the people engaging with them pre-publication. We predict the Gather community of engaged journalists will play a key role in building out the work started at SRCCON toward developing an ethical framework for engagement. (That is: In 2019, newsrooms will start to recognize and correct when they’re being askholes.)

Shifting from stories to service

Serving the audience means understanding what they need to know, which breaks journalism free from the restrictions of which platform they use and their medium of publication. The new answer: whatever makes sense for the audience. The end result of reporting will no longer necessarily be a story. It could be a community event, or a conversation, or even a puppet show (wait, that one already happened). What was produced will take a back seat to the all-important question of who was informed and how it served them.

The birth of an editorial CRM

If you know what the acronym CRM means, you’re more likely to be working on the revenue side of journalism or be in a management or innovation position. In 2019, editorial staffers will learn about customer relationship management systems and start to understand how CRMs can benefit their work. (If you don’t know, a CRM helps you track user data and communication, with an eye toward deepening people’s relationship with your organization.)

We predict that as newsrooms continue to open up to their communities, the public won’t just be supporting what newsrooms do by contributing financially (through subscriptions, donations, or membership programs) — they’ll be contributing on the front end to shape and enrich coverage, to provide content and insight for the journalism newsrooms are producing.

This will create the need for editorial relationship management systems so content and revenue departments can understand the full “user journey” with their brand. Creating a universal system will be no small technical task, but the tremendous insights it will yield will justify the investment. Beyond high-level trends of how public engagement leads to revenue, newsrooms will be able to see and value the public as more than a click or a dollar amount, but start to understand individuals holistically and serve them accordingly. (If you’re interested in this, holler.)

Engagement: From archaeology to anthropology

Content consumption metrics and analytics platforms like Chartbeat and Parse.ly were early to the gate in shaping newsroom priorities and their understanding of engagement. But trying to make sense of people’s behaviors, desires and impulses by the digital traces (archaeology) they leave behind will be understood as just one blurry half of the picture. In 2019, the anthropological arm of journalism will continue to develop, and more newsrooms will make it a priority to actually talk to their living, breathing audience members in deeper and more sustained ways to understand and serve their needs. The work of Spaceship Media, The Free Press’ News Voices, and pioneering practitioners like jesikah maria ross at Capital Public Radio and Ashley Alvarado at KPCC will start to be recognized and valued at a premium. While reconstructing the public’s needs and wants via their digital traces and artificial intelligence will continue to attract interest for how “clean” and efficient it can be, the inherent limits and dangers of flattening the public to datasets will be felt, and so will the lack of trust-building that is created through real-life engagement.

Coalescing around new metrics to show journalism’s value

As pageview-driven business models continue to struggle, newsrooms will try to identify and agree upon what’s useful (and realistic) to measure about their journalism, in order to show its value to different stakeholders, like the audience (subscriber or member models), advertisers or sponsors, and grant funders. In 2019, journalists — and the people on the business side of their organizations — will share what’s working from their own experiments, and learn from research (such as that by the Center for Media Engagement, Pew Research Center, Trusting News, Membership Puzzle Project, and others). As the Membership Puzzle Project says, the “metrics for evaluating success and deliverables at the conclusion of the experiment should themselves be part of the experiment” a newsroom undertakes. We predict this experimentation culture with metrics will begin bearing fruit by the end of 2019. These new metrics likely will take more effort to measure than the industry’s previous golden metrics (circulation, pageviews, time on page).

Getting real about source diversity

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Newsrooms are moving at a glacial pace to diversify their staff and retain journalists who come from underrepresented or marginalized communities. So newsrooms leaders? Do better.

Now the first problem begets a second issue: the diversity of sources cited in reporting. As we advocate for radical transparency about the makeup of our newsrooms (slow as that may be), newsrooms will begin to track and talk more publicly about the diversity of their sources. The industry knows this is an issue because journalists like Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato and Greg Linch (among many others) are building databases to combat this. But consider this: Tracking source diversity will be a part of the monthly newsroom analytics report, presented to staff regularly and yes, made public. Let’s dream a little further here: What if AI evolved to a point where it could comb stories for these identifiers (without racist implications) and this data point became a staple in analytics dashboards?

Public media stations such as KUT in Austin, WHYY in Philadelphia, KUOW in Seattle, and KQED in San Francisco are already doing this work and confronting some of the unflattering numbers. If newsrooms are serious about building and gaining the trust of their audiences, they’ll be completely honest to the public about what their newsroom looks like and who they’re talking to in their stories.

Self-training and connecting in non-traditional professional development spaces

WIthout professional development budgets, journalists are seeking out and creating new spaces to learn from one another. For example, there are active Facebook Groups for public media millenials, diverse social media editors, and TV news producers, as well as Slack organizations for news nerds, audience engagement people, and journalists of color. In 2019, we’ll see continued growth in the number of Slack organizations and Facebook Groups related to journalists’ identities and roles. It’s also likely the existing digital groups will grow their membership, leading to the problems that inevitably emerge as a close-knit community scales from dozens to hundreds to thousands.

Through these other ways of connecting and learning, journalists may not see as much value in high-dollar professional organization memberships, or may cut back to only belonging to one rather than two or three. The professional organizations will be forced to assess what they can offer that these free and often well-moderated communities can’t, or partner with these communities to provide value. (Maybe improved moderation, or upgrading Slacks to the paid plans.)

The next-gen journalist

To better meet the demands of an audience-driven mission, newsrooms will begin seeking candidates from non-traditional backgrounds who bring an array of needed skills to the table.

  • For those engaged in community-building work, advocacy or grassroots skills will become central.
  • Business and editorial skills will continue to merge as everyone becomes responsible for the essential transformation of audience engagement into the organization’s financial stability and sustainability.
  • A wide variety of professional and life experiences will inform this group of newsroom newcomers, whose resumes will highlight very different skills from the ones needed 10, 15, or 20 years ago.

Libraries and newsrooms will have babies

As traditional institutions continue to battle market and cultural forces for relevance and sustainability, dalliances will turn into full-fledged partnerships, and new shared futures will emerge. Poised for the hookup are libraries and newsrooms. They both serve the function of helping people get the information they’re seeking, except one institution has more public trust, more geographic and demographic diversity, and a more stable tax-supported future. The other has a lot of eager people (employed and laid off) with skills and desire to generate new information and be of service to their communities.

In 2019, we’ll start to see more collaborations like this one between The Dallas Morning News and the Dallas Public Library and this one between The Kansas City Star and the Kansas City Public Library that pave the way for actual mergers of functions, resources, talent, and service.

Thanks to Darryl Holliday from City Bureau and Simon Galperin from GroundSource and Community Information Cooperative for the conference lobby brainstorm session on this library-newsroom baby idea.

Journalists will look to and learn from other sectors for evolutionary answers

Beyond news outlets and libraries, what other institutions are responsible for providing trustworthy information to the public so they can make informed choices? All of them. The education, healthcare, policy, and financial sectors (to name a few) are wrestling with the same struggle: going from largely closed and autocratic decision-making systems to being more participatory and democratized. What might journalism learn from what’s working in these other fields? We’ll only find out if we start to ask those questions and intentionally co-mingle. We predict 2019 will bring at least one new interdisciplinary gathering.

Investors and news startups will stop trying to emulate “unicorn” models and turn to “zebras”

With the recent collapse of Mic, layoffs at Vox Media, and countless other examples of news startups raising huge and missing marks, the intrepid entrepreneurs building the next generation of media companies will think twice when considering venture capital models and promising billion-dollar unicorn exits. Instead, they’ll align the investment dollars with the service values their companies espouse and turn to zebras. They’ll seek to balance profit and purpose, and like the actual zebra, will have competitive advantages not through being an outlier, but through cooperation. Instead of using “maximize shareholder revenue” as their north star, they’ll more creatively organize their companies to be able to pursue a double bottom line. Likewise, newly activated investors will look to support media companies working in this way. We’ll start to see philanthropy and others invest in revenue-based financing that supports the 81 percent of undercapitalized entrepreneurs.

Illustration by Arthur Jones courtesy Zebras Unite.

So those were a lot of predictions. And we’re going to be working toward making all of them come true. As can be gleaned from the fact this was a collaborative post, we love collaborating. So don’t be shy if you feel like creating this future together.

This prediction was written by Hearken staffers Jennifer Brandel, Julia Haslanger, Krystina Martinez, and Bridget Thoreson.

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Rick Berke   The year of loyalty

Tim Carmody   Unlocking the commons

Reyhan Harmanci   Selling more stories to Hollywood

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Simon Rogers   Data journalism becomes a global field

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Jonas Kaiser   Catching up with “Neuland”

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Kevin D. Grant   A year to embrace journalism as public service

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Mike Rispoli and Craig Aaron   Government funds local news — and that’s a good thing

Millie Tran   There is no magic — you’ve got this

Eric Ulken   The year you actually start to like your CMS

Jeff Chin   We detox from Chartbeat

Mike Caulfield   Ditch the media literacy cynicism and get to work

Logan Molyneux   Seeing social media for what it is

Nikki Usher   Three ways national media will further undermine trust

Jesse Holcomb   We’ll get better at making the case for local journalism

Zizi Papacharissi   Old interface, say hello to the new interface

Angilee Shah   The year news orgs say “yes” to real leaders

Dave Burdick   Seeing our blind spots

Meredith Artley   Huge demand for…anything but politics

M. Scott Havens   Time to swing for the fences

Elizabeth Bramson-Boudreau   A more sincere definition of “community”

John Garrett   You can’t raise prices forever

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Jeremy Gilbert   AI finally becomes helpful

Carrie Brown-Smith   Advocating a healthy civic life is no journalistic crime

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Whitney Phillips   Our information systems aren’t broken — they’re working as intended

Jake Shapiro   Podcasting is media’s slow food movement

Rodney Gibbs   A bright — and young — year for audio

Adam Thomas   In Europe, foundations invest in news

Heba Aly   The rise of international nonprofit news

Adam B. Ellick   Video forensic reporting goes mainstream — and local

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Jesse Brown   Canada’s subsidy for news backfires

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Colleen Shalby   Representation becomes more than a talking point

Rishad Patel   A design system for responsible publishing

Charo Henríquez   Pivot to journalism

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Catalina Albeanu   Being responsible for what we don’t know

Callie Schweitzer   The rise of the conveners

Claire Wardle   Forget deepfakes: Misinformation is showing up in our most personal online spaces

Linda Solomon Wood   The year of the climate reporter

Masuma Ahuja   Make foreign coverage less foreign

Victor Pickard   We will finally confront systemic market failure

Michael Rain   The year of the culturally relevant curator

Jenée Desmond-Harris   It finally sinks in that some people aren’t white

Rachel Davis Mersey   Local news goes minimalist

Sarah Stonbely   Mapping the local news ecosystem — with scale but detail

Brian Moritz   The subscription-pocalypse is about to hit

Becca Aaronson   From bridge roles to product thinkers

Mariana Moura Santos   From pageviews to impact

Alberto Cairo   A year of uncertainty and confidence

Christa Scharfenberg and Vickie Baranetsky   The year of the lawsuit

Joanne McNeil   Building a digital hospice

Cindy Royal   For journalism curriculum to change, its faculty needs disruption

Soo Oh   Just showing our work isn’t enough

Robin Kwong   Tech shouldn’t be the only field pollinating “news nerds”

Ståle Grut   A new dawn for 3D tech in journalism

Tyler Fisher   This is journalism’s do-or-die moment

Rachel Glickhouse   Newsrooms will prioritize audience needs

Johannes Klingebiel   We all grow hooves

Moreno Cruz Osório   Damaged credibility and a new threat in Brazil

Matt Karolian   Publishers come to terms with being Facebook’s enablers

Seema Yasmin   We will create our own spaces

Betsy O'Donovan and Melody Kramer   The most beautiful sentence in 2019 is “No.”

Elisabeth Goodridge   Yes, they signed up — but our job’s not over

Almar Latour   Reported facts, weaponized in service of action

Kainaz Amaria   We consider who’s behind the camera

Bill Grueskin   Toward a symphony model for local news

Manoush Zomorodi   Tech will do for information overload what it did for mindfulness

Marie Shanahan   Newsrooms take the comments sections back from platforms

Annie Rudd   A more intimate aesthetic of politics — on Insta

Glyn Mottershead and Martin Chorley   When a tech company pulls the plug on your story

Thomas Hanitzsch   The rise of tribal journalism

Pia Frey   You can’t solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis

Steve Grove   A reckoning for tech’s work with news

Shalabh Upadhyay   A culture clash on India’s growing Internet

Jack Riley   Facebook refugees, from ad revenue to news habits

Greg Emerson   Power to the user

Errin Haines   Say it with me: Racism

Jennifer Dargan   You don’t build diversity through one-off training sessions

Elizabeth Jensen   Going where the Acela can’t take you

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Heather Bryant   We are responsible for how we use our power

Andrew Ramsammy   The great re-pivot to audio

Amy King   We should listen to the kids (especially on Instagram)

Rebecca Lee Sanchez   We are all actors in the running rampant of political theater

John Saroff   The pivot to reader revenue’s unintended consequences

Jonathan Stray   More algorithmic accountability reporting, and a lot of it will be meh

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Cherian George   Fake news wins in Asia

Andrew Donohue   Voting rights becomes the new climate change

Joel Konopo   Influencers become the new liberated power in Africa

Elite Truong   What do we owe the next generation?

John Biewen   Podcasts keep getting better

Mike Isaac   The old exit doors for digital media companies are closing

Joe Amditis   Give the audience a seat at the table

Sue Cross   Return of the water cooler

Mandy Jenkins   Fight the urge to run away from social media

Simon Galperin   After capitalism’s fire, journalism’s secondary succession

Ariel Zirulnick   Participation gets professional

Sue Robinson   Reporters go on the offensive

Matt Waite   “I went to Node.js because I wished to live deliberately”

Kelsey Proud   Journalism becomes the escape

Francesco Marconi   The year of iterative journalism

Talia Stroud   Engaging people across lines of difference

Cristi Hegranes   A year to invest in the security of local journalists

Ole Reißmann   The rise of vertical storytelling

Tushar Banerjee   Interactive ads will be the new face of display advertising

Andrea Faye Hart   Doing less harm, not just more good

Juleyka Lantigua   Podcasting battles East Coast bias

Rubina Madan Fillion   Fighting the reality of deepfakes

Taylor Lorenz   Personal branding is more powerful than ever

Jonathan Gill   Publishers build a common tech platform together

Michael Grant   More newsrooms experiment their way to success

Salem Solomon   Correcting our corrections

Tamar Charney   Seriously: What do you do for people?

Lauren Katz   Community becomes a core newsroom value

Renan Borelli   Developing loyalty means developing your talent

Peter Bale   Venture capital runs out of patience

Nathalie Malinarich   Video — yes, video

Dheerja Kaur   A focus on problems, not platforms

Alexandra Svokos   Good luck convincing us millennials to pay

Matt Skibinski   Quality and reliability are the new currencies for publishers

Eric Nuzum   The year of the DIY podcast network

Adam Smith   Platforms will have to help rebuild trust in news

Bill Adair   Another year fighting Trump’s falsehoods

A.J. Bauer   The coming splintering of conservative media

Knight Foundation   A year of local collaboration

Tshepo Tshabalala   Ahead of African elections, unlock partnerships with fact-checkers

Kjerstin Thorson   Time to get mad about information inequality (again)

Emma Carew Grovum   The year of the loyal reader

Axie Navas   The traffic hunt, CMS battle, and magazine identity crises loom

Don Day   Timewalls and other reader revenue experiments

Geetika Rudra   The year of actionable (local) journalism

Heather Chaplin   Agree we’re partisan — for the democratic system

Kawandeep Virdee   Media wants to take care of you

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J. Siguru Wahutu   Think 2018 was bad? Wait until you see 2019

Umbreen Bhatti   The story doesn’t end for the people we quote

Steve Henn   Smart speakers get smarter

Cory Bergman   Journalism as a technology service

Robert Hernandez   Racists and sexists get replaced

Gabriel Snyder   Journalism doesn’t fit well in a funnel

Dan Shanoff   Bet on sports gambling

Mat Yurow   Content competition from the tech companies

Chase Davis   We can acknowledge what we don’t know

Frank Mungeam   Tonight at 11: News, sports, and climate change

Gideon Lichfield   Goodbye attention economy, we’ll miss you

Craig Newmark   The end of “loudspeakers for liars”

Elva Ramirez   News — but make it cinematic

Monique Judge   Committing to the truth, calling out lies

Joshua P. Darr   The nationalization of political news will accelerate

Mario García   The rise of content “pilots”

Julia Rubin   Meeting people where they are

Sarah Marshall   A return to destination journalism

Ben Smith   The pendulum starts to swing back

Jared Newman   AI-generated fakes launch a software arms race

Efrat Nechushtai   Journalism wants to be your friend, not your teacher

Celeste LeCompte   Local news needs local conversation to survive

Alexandra Borchardt   Newsrooms need to build trust with their journalists, not just the audience

Kyra Darnton   A shift to depth in video

Nico Gendron   Reaching Generation Z beyond the coasts

Hearken   Pivot to people

Angèle Christin   Algorithms and the reflexive turn

Ben Werdmuller   The platform tide is turning

Francesco Zaffarano   Towards a rethinking of journalism on social media