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.

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

Bill Adair   Another year fighting Trump’s falsehoods

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

Annie Rudd   A more intimate aesthetic of politics — on Insta

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

Jean Friedman Rudovsky   Cross-newsroom collaborations strengthen communities

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

Heba Aly   The rise of international nonprofit news

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

Julia Rubin   Meeting people where they are

John Garrett   You can’t raise prices forever

John Biewen   Podcasts keep getting better

Sarah Marshall   A return to destination journalism

Hearken   Pivot to people

Josh Schwartz   A pullback from platforms and a focus on product

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

Nicholas Jackson   More transparency around newsroom decisions

Thomas Hanitzsch   The rise of tribal journalism

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

Jonathan Gill   Publishers build a common tech platform together

Candis Callison   Learn from Indigenous journalists on covering climate change

Renan Borelli   Developing loyalty means developing your talent

Ståle Grut   A new dawn for 3D tech in journalism

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

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

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

Jeremy Gilbert   AI finally becomes helpful

Nisha Chittal   The homepage makes a comeback

Kawandeep Virdee   Media wants to take care of you

Sue Robinson   Reporters go on the offensive

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

Brian Moritz   The subscription-pocalypse is about to hit

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

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

Libby Bawcombe   Haikus of the news

LaToya Drake   Listen up: New stories, new storytellers

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

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

Robert Hernandez   Racists and sexists get replaced

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

Patrick Butler   Measuring impact will increase audience trust

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

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

Colleen Shalby   Representation becomes more than a talking point

Carolina Guerrero   Spanish-language audio blows up

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

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

Mariana Moura Santos   From pageviews to impact

Heather Bryant   We are responsible for how we use our power

Linda Solomon Wood   The year of the climate reporter

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

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

Elva Ramirez   News — but make it cinematic

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

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

Jesse Brown   Canada’s subsidy for news backfires

Ben Smith   The pendulum starts to swing back

Nathalie Malinarich   Video — yes, video

Matthew Pressman   The battle over objectivity intensifies

Alberto Cairo   A year of uncertainty and confidence

Jack Riley   Facebook refugees, from ad revenue to news habits

Marie Shanahan   Newsrooms take the comments sections back from platforms

Nico Gendron   Reaching Generation Z beyond the coasts

Zuzanna Ziomecka   News leadership gets an overdue upgrade

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

Talia Stroud   Engaging people across lines of difference

Simon Rogers   Data journalism becomes a global field

Rebecca Searles   From silos to Swiss Army knife teams

Cherian George   Fake news wins in Asia

Kate Myers   Journalism continues to be bad for democracy

Peter Bale   Venture capital runs out of patience

Ariel Zirulnick   Participation gets professional

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

Justin Kosslyn   Text hits a tipping point

Moreno Cruz Osório   Damaged credibility and a new threat in Brazil

Steve Henn   Smart speakers get smarter

Dheerja Kaur   A focus on problems, not platforms

Johannes Klingebiel   We all grow hooves

Mandy Velez   Putting the social back in social media

Pablo Boczkowski   Reimagining the media for post-institutional times

Jeff Chin   We detox from Chartbeat

Andrew Donohue   Voting rights becomes the new climate change

Eric Ulken   The year you actually start to like your CMS

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   Podcasting battles East Coast bias

Callie Schweitzer   The rise of the conveners

John Saroff   The pivot to reader revenue’s unintended consequences

Meredith Artley   Huge demand for…anything but politics

Elizabeth Jensen   Going where the Acela can’t take you

Mat Yurow   Content competition from the tech companies

Ruth Palmer and Benjamin Toff   From news fatigue to news avoidance

Kyra Darnton   A shift to depth in video

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

Dave Burdick   Seeing our blind spots

Rodney Gibbs   A bright — and young — year for audio

Ben Werdmuller   The platform tide is turning

Gabriel Snyder   Journalism doesn’t fit well in a funnel

Shannon McGregor   More bogus embedded tweets in our stories

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

Michael Grant   More newsrooms experiment their way to success

Carl Bialik   Fatigued news consumers will pay more for less news

Jim Friedlich   Meet Citizen Kane 2.0

Winny de Jong   Data journalism goes undercover

A.J. Bauer   The coming splintering of conservative media

Chase Davis   We can acknowledge what we don’t know

Kristen Muller   Local news fails — in a good way

Masuma Ahuja   Make foreign coverage less foreign

Eric Nuzum   The year of the DIY podcast network

Rubina Madan Fillion   Fighting the reality of deepfakes

Andrea Faye Hart   Doing less harm, not just more good

Rick Berke   The year of loyalty

Sarah Alvarez   Simplify and redistribute

Rishad Patel   A design system for responsible publishing

Becca Aaronson   From bridge roles to product thinkers

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

Shalabh Upadhyay   A culture clash on India’s growing Internet

Knight Foundation   A year of local collaboration

Sue Cross   Return of the water cooler

Angèle Christin   Algorithms and the reflexive turn

Salem Solomon   Correcting our corrections

Geetika Rudra   The year of actionable (local) journalism

Stefanie Murray   Local news wakes up and starts collaborating

Francesco Marconi   The year of iterative journalism

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

Michael Rain   The year of the culturally relevant curator

Greg Emerson   Power to the user

Alexandra Svokos   Good luck convincing us millennials to pay

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

Renée Kaplan   Our future could lie within our own organizations

Cory Bergman   Journalism as a technology service

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

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

Almar Latour   Reported facts, weaponized in service of action

Lauren Katz   Community becomes a core newsroom value

Peter Cunliffe-Jones   The focus of misinformation debates shifts south

Rachel Davis Mersey   Local news goes minimalist

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

Mario García   The rise of content “pilots”

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

Elite Truong   What do we owe the next generation?

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

Andrew Ramsammy   The great re-pivot to audio

P. Kim Bui   The misfits become the bosses

Reyhan Harmanci   Selling more stories to Hollywood

Joe Amditis   Give the audience a seat at the table

Don Day   Timewalls and other reader revenue experiments

Logan Molyneux   Seeing social media for what it is

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

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

Victor Pickard   We will finally confront systemic market failure

Darryl Holliday   Let’s talk about power (yours)

M. Scott Havens   Time to swing for the fences

Joel Konopo   Influencers become the new liberated power in Africa

Kainaz Amaria   We consider who’s behind the camera

Bill Grueskin   Toward a symphony model for local news

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

Celeste LeCompte   Local news needs local conversation to survive

Zizi Papacharissi   Old interface, say hello to the new interface

Jonas Kaiser   Catching up with “Neuland”

Alexis Lloyd & Matt Boggie   The year product leads media

Seema Yasmin   We will create our own spaces

Charo Henríquez   Pivot to journalism

Nikki Usher   Three ways national media will further undermine trust

Joshua Darr   The nationalization of political news will accelerate

Christa Scharfenberg and Vickie Baranetsky   The year of the lawsuit

Soo Oh   Just showing our work isn’t enough

Steve Grove   A reckoning for tech’s work with news

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

Taylor Lorenz   Personal branding is more powerful than ever

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

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

Dan Shanoff   Bet on sports gambling

Laura E. Davis   More access, but not that kind

Monique Judge   Committing to the truth, calling out lies

Jared Newman   AI-generated fakes launch a software arms race

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

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

Rachel Glickhouse   Newsrooms will prioritize audience needs

Errin Haines Whack   Say it with me: Racism

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

Adam Smith   Platforms will have to help rebuild trust in news

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

Gideon Lichfield   Goodbye attention economy, we’ll miss you

Kevin Douglas Grant   A year to embrace journalism as public service

Jake Shapiro   Podcasting is media’s slow food movement

Joanne McNeil   Building a digital hospice

Kelsey Proud   Journalism becomes the escape

Adam Thomas   In Europe, foundations invest in news

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

Ole Reißmann   The rise of vertical storytelling

Elizabeth Dunbar   Local reporters reflect on what’s not important

Cătălina Albeanu   Being responsible for what we don’t know

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Readers are only getting started

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

Emma Carew Grovum   The year of the loyal reader

Julie Posetti   The year of the fight back

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

Craig Newmark   The end of “loudspeakers for liars”

Matt Skibinski   Quality and reliability are the new currencies for publishers

Mandy Jenkins   Fight the urge to run away from social media

Borja Bergareche Sainz de los Terreros   Entering a more balanced era

Mike Caulfield   Ditch the media literacy cynicism and get to work

Ernie Smith   The year we step back from the platform

Tamar Charney   Seriously: What do you do for people?

Francesco Zaffarano   Towards a rethinking of journalism on social media

Tim Carmody   Unlocking the commons