2
0
1
9

This is journalism’s do-or-die moment

“Putting Chartbeat and Google Analytics scripts on your site won’t get the job done anymore. In-house data scientists instrumenting the best conversion paths from user to subscriber will become as vital to the success of a newsroom as a metro reporter’s daily file from City Hall.”

I don’t need to tell you that disinformation is more rampant than ever, that digital advertising is a duopoly that continues to choke news organizations to death, that the news industry lags far behind the tech industry in digital competency, that our newsrooms look nothing like the communities we cover to the point of moral failure.

To deny the industry’s continued failures on these fronts is like denying climate change. These things are happening whether you like it or not. In 2019, news leadership has to make a choice. They can choose to take these challenges head on and chart a path to sustainability — or continue the status quo and fail.

The path to enlightenment is through the user

Smart newsrooms will fight their challenges by putting the user at the core of their business models. Rather than chasing scale in the face of declining advertising revenue, they will seek revenue directly from their readers, either through subscriptions or memberships. This sounds simple, but it actually requires radical changes to a newsroom’s internal goals.

With a business model focused on reader revenue, the entire company can set its sights on making the best journalism product possible for the reader. No more concessions in user experience for the sake of advertisements. No more poison-pill contracts with Facebook taking sugar-high money at the detriment of long-term audience development. Instead, these newsrooms will finally make the necessary investments in technology to make a product compelling enough for potential subscribers. Freed from the shackles of advertising, news websites can finally be rid of autoplaying videos, chumboxes, and splash screen ads. Homepages can serve a purpose beyond page-width takeover ads. Reporters can focus on stories that matter to their audiences rather than trolling for outrage clicks.

A user-centric business model means you need to know who your users are. Smart newsrooms will put real effort into creating robust analytics systems and audience research teams. Rather than focusing on vanity metrics like pageviews and time on page, they will focus on discovering the best ways to convert a user from a first-time reader to a loyal subscriber. Putting Chartbeat and Google Analytics scripts on your site won’t get the job done anymore. In-house data scientists instrumenting the best conversion paths from user to subscriber will become as vital to the success of a newsroom as a metro reporter’s daily file from City Hall.

The smartest of smart newsrooms will take one more step in their path to sustainability: They will become a trusted institution in their communities by respecting their users’ time, intelligence, and privacy.

Facebook, Google, Amazon, and all the other digital behemoths became the untrustworthy monsters they are today because of a ruthless focus on technology and data at the expense of respect for their users. Journalism cannot afford to make the same mistake. Newsrooms have an opportunity to create strong digital products that are still trustworthy digital citizens. By using anonymized metrics and refusing to sell user data to third parties, smart newsrooms will get the information they need to make the best product possible without betraying user trust.

Becoming a trusted part of a community is a bigger task than just respecting digital privacy. Newsrooms committed to a reader-revenue strategy will find they want to know more about what their audience wants. User research efforts will extend into editorial operations. Reporters will talk to members and subscribers for story ideas, and the relationship between consumer and journalist will become more of a two-way street.

Why none of this is going to happen

If that all sounds like a pipe dream, that’s because it is. Who are these smart newsrooms, so committed to user-centered design and process? I don’t know. Two years ago, University of Nebraska professor Matt Waite wrote one of these predictions, headlined “The people running the media are the problem.” It’s still true. My real prediction for 2019? Most newsrooms continue the status quo. More layoffs. More closures. More failure.

None of the problems described at the top of this are new. None of the solutions I predict are particularly new either. Yet by and large, news leadership has shown little desire to change its strategy. Digital startups keep chasing venture capital money, expecting to turn a profit on ad revenue. Corporate overlords of legacy newspapers lay off staff and strip the operation for parts. Why would anything change this year? After all, everyone at the top somehow keeps making money.

My hope is the fire burning all around the industry becomes too large to ignore. This is not fine.

Here’s what I do know. I know that we’re in this together as an industry. We have to share our knowledge. That means open-sourcing technology, sharing anonymized analytics when possible, and talking about what works and what doesn’t in the open. Only a few of us will ever get to run our own newsrooms, but if we work towards a more open community, we can build a better base of knowledge to convince our leaders that we need real change for journalism to survive.

Tyler Fisher is a senior news apps developer at Politico.

Geetika Rudra   The year of actionable (local) journalism

Cory Bergman   Journalism as a technology service

John Garrett   You can’t raise prices forever

Reyhan Harmanci   Selling more stories to Hollywood

Mat Yurow   Content competition from the tech companies

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

Nico Gendron   Reaching Generation Z beyond the coasts

Adam Smith   Platforms will have to help rebuild trust in news

Mandy Velez   Putting the social back in social media

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   A long, slow slog, with no one coming to the rescue

Ole Reißmann   The rise of vertical storytelling

Darryl Holliday   Let’s talk about power (yours)

Candis Callison   Learn from Indigenous journalists on covering climate change

Renan Borelli   Developing loyalty means developing your talent

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

Eric Nuzum   The year of the DIY podcast network

Joe Amditis   Give the audience a seat at the table

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

M. Scott Havens   Time to swing for the fences

Heather Bryant   We are responsible for how we use our power

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

Ben Smith   The pendulum starts to swing back

Laura E. Davis   More access, but not that kind

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   Podcasting battles East Coast bias

Kainaz Amaria   We consider who’s behind the camera

Thomas Hanitzsch   The rise of tribal journalism

Hossein Derakhshan   The news is dying, but journalism will not — and should not

Libby Bawcombe   Haikus of the news

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

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

Alberto Cairo   A year of uncertainty and confidence

Emma Carew Grovum   The year of the loyal reader

Salem Solomon   Correcting our corrections

Stephanie Edgerly   It’s time to understand the un-audience

Stefanie Murray   Local news wakes up and starts collaborating

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

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

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

Hearken   Pivot to people

Seth C. Lewis   The gap between journalism and research is too wide

Kristen Muller   Local news fails — in a good way

Carl Bialik   Fatigued news consumers will pay more for less news

Matt Skibinski   Quality and reliability are the new currencies for publishers

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

John Saroff   The pivot to reader revenue’s unintended consequences

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

Raney Aronson-Rath   We learn “digital” doesn’t have to mean “short”

Kelsey Proud   Journalism becomes the escape

Seema Yasmin   We will create our own spaces

Almar Latour   Reported facts, weaponized in service of action

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

Jonas Kaiser   Catching up with “Neuland”

Francesco Zaffarano   Towards a rethinking of journalism on social media

Meredith Artley   Huge demand for…anything but politics

Craig Newmark   The end of “loudspeakers for liars”

Winny de Jong   Data journalism goes undercover

Bill Grueskin   Toward a symphony model for local news

Eric Ulken   The year you actually start to like your CMS

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

Victor Pickard   We will finally confront systemic market failure

Jesse Brown   Canada’s subsidy for news backfires

Rachel Davis Mersey   Local news goes minimalist

Dave Burdick   Seeing our blind spots

A.J. Bauer   The coming splintering of conservative media

Talia Stroud   Engaging people across lines of difference

Christa Scharfenberg and Vickie Baranetsky   The year of the lawsuit

Rodney Gibbs   A bright — and young — year for audio

Jeremy Gilbert   AI finally becomes helpful

Mariana Moura Santos   From pageviews to impact

Rick Berke   The year of loyalty

Steve Henn   Smart speakers get smarter

Mandy Jenkins   Fight the urge to run away from social media

james Wahutu   Think 2018 was bad? Wait until you see 2019

Brian Moritz   The subscription-pocalypse is about to hit

Elva Ramirez   News — but make it cinematic

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

Borja Bergareche Sainz de los Terreros   Entering a more balanced era

Sue Robinson   Reporters go on the offensive

Cherian George   Fake news wins in Asia

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

Moreno Cruz Osório   Damaged credibility and a new threat in Brazil

Zainab Khan   Publishers whose products can stand up to social media giants will win

Justin Kosslyn   Text hits a tipping point

Elite Truong   What do we owe the next generation?

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

John Biewen   Podcasts keep getting better

Robert Hernandez   Racists and sexists get replaced

Heba Aly   The rise of international nonprofit news

P. Kim Bui   The misfits become the bosses

Jeff Chin   We detox from Chartbeat

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

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

Joel Konopo   Influencers become the new liberated power in Africa

Jake Shapiro   Podcasting is media’s slow food movement

Frank Chimero   Leave the phone at home and put news on your wrist

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

Matthew Pressman   The battle over objectivity intensifies

Nikki Usher   Three ways national media will further undermine trust

Marie Shanahan   Newsrooms take the comments sections back from platforms

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

Shalabh Upadhyay   A culture clash on India’s growing Internet

Ruth Palmer and Benjamin Toff   From news fatigue to news avoidance

Logan Molyneux   Seeing social media for what it is

Zizi Papacharissi   Old interface, say hello to the new interface

Francesco Marconi   The year of iterative journalism

Rishad Patel   A design system for responsible publishing

Monique Judge   Committing to the truth, calling out lies

Peter Bale   Venture capital runs out of patience

Tamar Charney   Seriously: What do you do for people?

Ståle Grut   A new dawn for 3D tech in journalism

Gabriel Snyder   Journalism doesn’t fit well in a funnel

Alexandra Svokos   Good luck convincing us millennials to pay

Errin Haines Whack   Say it with me: Racism

Dan Shanoff   Bet on sports gambling

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

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

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

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

Joshua Darr   The nationalization of political news will accelerate

Carolina Guerrero   Spanish-language audio blows up

Masuma Ahuja   Make foreign coverage less foreign

Kevin Douglas Grant   A year to embrace journalism as public service

Zuzanna Ziomecka   News leadership gets an overdue upgrade

Michael Grant   More newsrooms experiment their way to success

Julia Rubin   Meeting people where they are

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

Patrick Butler   Measuring impact will increase audience trust

Adam Thomas   In Europe, foundations invest in news

Joanne McNeil   Building a digital hospice

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

Simon Rogers   Data journalism becomes a global field

Jared Newman   AI-generated fakes launch a software arms race

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

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

Nisha Chittal   The homepage makes a comeback

Steve Myers   From trying to cover it all to covering what matters

Greg Emerson   Power to the user

Pablo Boczkowski   Reimagining the media for post-institutional times

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

Peter Cunliffe-Jones   The focus of misinformation debates shifts south

Knight Foundation   A year of local collaboration

Soo Oh   Just showing our work isn’t enough

Ariel Zirulnick   Participation gets professional

Sarah Marshall   A return to destination journalism

Don Day   Timewalls and other reader revenue experiments

Cătălina Albeanu   Being responsible for what we don’t know

Annie Rudd   A more intimate aesthetic of politics — on Insta

Becca Aaronson   From bridge roles to product thinkers

Elizabeth Jensen   Going where the Acela can’t take you

Kyra Darnton   A shift to depth in video

Andrew Donohue   Voting rights becomes the new climate change

Gideon Lichfield   Goodbye attention economy, we’ll miss you

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

Celeste LeCompte   Local news needs local conversation to survive

Ben Werdmuller   The platform tide is turning

Steve Grove   A reckoning for tech’s work with news

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

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

Renée Kaplan   Our future could lie within our own organizations

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

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

Andrew Ramsammy   The great re-pivot to audio

Mike Caulfield   Ditch the media literacy cynicism and get to work

Callie Schweitzer   The rise of the conveners

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

Nathalie Malinarich   Video — yes, video

Taylor Lorenz   Personal branding is more powerful than ever

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Readers are only getting started

Jack Riley   Facebook refugees, from ad revenue to news habits

Ernie Smith   The year we step back from the platform

Jean Friedman Rudovsky   Cross-newsroom collaborations strengthen communities

Chase Davis   We can acknowledge what we don’t know

Rubina Madan Fillion   Fighting the reality of deepfakes

Lauren Katz   Community becomes a core newsroom value

Andrea Faye Hart   Doing less harm, not just more good

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

Charo Henríquez   Pivot to journalism

Michael Rain   The year of the culturally relevant curator

Bill Adair   Another year fighting Trump’s falsehoods

Alyssa Zeisler   We expand what (and how and who) we serve

Nicholas Jackson   More transparency around newsroom decisions

Julie Posetti   The year of the fight back

Shannon McGregor   More bogus embedded tweets in our stories

Kawandeep Virdee   Media wants to take care of you

Colleen Shalby   Representation becomes more than a talking point

Mario García   The rise of content “pilots”

Elizabeth Dunbar   Local reporters reflect on what’s not important

Linda Solomon Wood   The year of the climate reporter

Josh Schwartz   A pullback from platforms and a focus on product

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

Sarah Alvarez   Simplify and redistribute

Kate Myers   Journalism continues to be bad for democracy

Angèle Christin   Algorithms and the reflexive turn

Amy Schmitz Weiss   Local news isn’t where you thought it was

An Xiao Mina   The death of consensus, not the death of truth

Rachel Glickhouse   Newsrooms will prioritize audience needs

Jonathan Gill   Publishers build a common tech platform together

LaToya Drake   Listen up: New stories, new storytellers

Johannes Klingebiel   We all grow hooves

Alexis Lloyd & Matt Boggie   The year product leads media

Dheerja Kaur   A focus on problems, not platforms

Rebecca Searles   From silos to Swiss Army knife teams

Jim Friedlich   Meet Citizen Kane 2.0

Sue Cross   Return of the water cooler

Tim Carmody   Unlocking the commons