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Tech will do for information overload what it did for mindfulness

“While there are a handful of very good digital reading tools (Pocket, Flipboard, Kindle), the next wave of products will be built to deliver a better news consumption experiences.”

More information curation. Not long ago, I would not have believed anyone would pay a monthly subscription for an app that coached them on how to sit still every day. I don’t need an app for that, thank you very much.

And yet, the top 10 mindfulness and meditation apps, which make up most of the “self-care” app category, reportedly brought in $27 million in worldwide revenue in the first quarter of 2018 alone. I have six meditation apps on my phone right now. And I predict that what tech has done for mindfulness, it will attempt to do for our information overload and misinformation problems.

While there are a handful of very good digital reading tools (Pocket, Flipboard, Kindle), the next wave of products will be built to deliver a better news consumption experiences. Some versions are already out there: the beta of the Kinzen app aims to”give every citizen a daily news experience that earns their trust”; I see ads for SmartNews wherever I go; and although Civil’s attempt at launching a crypto-economy for journalism failed, the startup plans to release a WordPress plugin that gives its vetted network of publications the option to archive their work on the Ethereum blockchain. I’ll save the debate over whether blockchain publishing is useful for another post, but some believe doing so can serve as a mark of quality, or indicator of a publication’s ethics and independence to the reader.

Impatience with paywalls. Meanwhile, as more and more newsrooms and apps charge subscription fees to make up for revenue lost to Facebook and Google, we’ll see password fatigue morph into paywall fatigue. Most of us are numb to the unending prompts to create new “safe” passwords, but the increasingly requests to “subscribe” every time we click to read an article will begin to wear on even the most dedicated and thoughtful news consumers. I would happily pay for a year’s bundled subscription to Wired, The Washington Post, and Medium, at a discounted rate with a single login. Similar to Tony Haile’s Scroll service (which bundles outlets into an ad-free experience), outlets will consider consolidating their offers for paid content in 2019. If not, Apple News will continue doing the best job of curating the news, while taking its cut of advertising dollars.

Cobbling it together. On the other end of the media spectrum, a number of homegrown publications will attempt to replicate the small-scale but impressive successes like those of the podcast collective Radiotopia and the crowdfunded newsroom De Correspondent. Both have proven that journalism doesn’t have to “scale” to survive, as long as the relationships they build with listeners and readers is long-term and heartfelt. I think we’ll see more of these independent journalism outlets lean on each other for resources, cross-promotion, and collaboration, just as ProPublica has done successfully and Julia Angwin says she’ll do with The Markup. Again, Civil’s blockchain promises remain unproven, but the group of journalists it recruited to found its “First Fleet” of newsrooms have thrived on relatively small grants.

Journalist as entrepreneur. Remember a decade ago when journalists were told they each needed to build a personal brand? This year, the message will also be that journalists need to become entrepreneurs. I recently launched my own mini-media company, so feel free to call me naive or overly optimistic.

But I’ve worked as a staffer, freelancer, on-contract, and now a founder; I’ve worked for government-funded media (the BBC), an international news service (Thomson Reuters), and listener-supported public radio (WNYC). Even in public radio, the message to producers is to create audio products that have multiple revenue streams: increase membership, spinoff products, sponsorship, live events, grants. They haven’t moved to the subscription model, yet but that’s likely coming very soon. As part of our new venture, Stable Genius Productions, my cofounder and I are cobbling those options together (hell, we even gave crypto a go) to support ourselves while owning our intellectual property and maintaining editorial control. We’re even documenting the process in our meta podcast ZigZag.

The Google/Facebook duopoly won’t convince most journalists to “move fast and break things,” but perhaps we need to get more comfortable with other trite startup terminology like “failing forward” and “pivoting.” As Joe Lubin, the founder of Consensys, told me, “We live in exponential times.” Experimentation may be the new business model.

Manoush Zomorodi is cofounder of Stable Genius Productions and cohost of ZigZag.

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