A Meditation on the Journalism of the Future

bendable phone


In a scene from the 2002 science-fiction thriller “Minority Report,” a subway passenger reads constantly updated news on a small, thin, flexible sheet he could shove in his pocket. When cop John Anderton, played by Tom Cruise, strolls in another scene, human holograms serve him ads based on his preferences and location.

It turns out that the moviemakers foresaw trends in journalism years before they emerged. While iPad isn’t quite flexible, it grows closer with every iteration. The proliferation of Wi-Fi hotspots combined with digital-first news publishing make frequent mobile updates a way of life.  And the geolocation abilities of smartphones and tablets will make it easy to serve proximity-based advertising within a year or two, experts say.

And the filmmakers couldn’t have known that current hardware trends would help make their vision reality: The number of adults in the U.S. who own a smartphone has doubled from 30 to 60 percent in the last three years; more than one-third of adults in the U.S. own a tablet; laptop and desktop sales are cratering.

The trend is clear: Mobile rules the journalism of the future.

On the production end, savvy reporters are already using the same tools to gather news as their readers employ to consume it, using smartphones to tape broadcast interviews and create podcasts, create and edit videos, shoot and edit photo packages, write stories and posts and file them all on the fly. In the next 10 years this trend will accelerate at legacy news organizations as managers continue to squeeze their staffs in response to advertising declines.

Meanwhile, adoption of a mobile-first ethos will be key to the success of all news organizations, and to the very survival of legacy organizations, some of which are still struggling to be digital first – the journalistic equivalent of fighting the last war.

Being mobile first means reorganizing reporters and desks to focus on mobile customers and the mobile experience. It means streamlining workflows so updates, posts and stories go up instantly; it means adoption of responsive design and possibly discrete mobile design; and it means focusing ad departments on where the money rather than on where it’s been.

And news organizations soon will have a new technology to cope with: wearable computers such a Google Glass, smartphone watches such as the Samsung Galaxy Gear, the rumored iWatch and more sophisticated versions of the Nike Fuelband and its analogs.

The nearly always-on nature of these devices (as opposed to those that are frequently pocketed) and their tiny size pose new challenges to news organizations. Lightning fast updates are even more important for a nearly always-on device. Because of their size and/or design, reading text on them will be even more tedious than on smartphones, so successful organizations will need to focus even more on visual journalism, tight editing and thoughtful design.

Finally, Google Glass in particular brings a final conceit of “Minority Report” within reach. The device’s nearly always-on nature makes the idea of proximity-based advertising almost as powerful as it is onscreen when John Anderton is being shown ads as he walks. And the speaking holograms that serve the ads? Well, it’s a lot easier and cheaper to create one on an LCD screen than it is in three-dimensional space.

In other words, it can’t be far off.