Think the Last 10 Years Have Disrupted Journalism? Wait Till You See the Next 10

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Photo via Pixabay

I have a way of looking at time that may seem strange. For example, if you tell me that the web browser was introduced 25 years ago, I’ll be tempted to tell you that 25 years before that was 1968, the year of the first manned Apollo mission, the assassinations of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy and the installation of the first automated teller machine. It’s my way of thinking about the passage of time, and the extent to which progress is accelerating or not. My wife makes fun of me.

So if I’m asked where digital media will be in 10 years — and how a journalist like me will have to adapt over that time — I look first to 10 years ago. Facebook had 100 million active monthly users at that time, compared with more than 2.2 billion today. The iPhone had just been introduced, ushering in the mobile-content era. Broadcast and cable TV advertising was still a much bigger business than digital, whereas today digital is bigger. The Rocky Mountain News, Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review were still being published.

Those and other changes have felt jarring to me. People now experience most of their digital content (news and otherwise) on mobile devices rather than computers. That alone has changed how newsrooms think about content delivery.

By that measure, the next 10 years are sure to be even more revolutionary for the news business. Virtual reality, augmented reality, 360-degree video and other immersive technologies are maturing to the point that big newsrooms are producing exceptionally high-quality content using them.

Once I experienced immersive journalism, I wondered how long it would be before conventional screens go away. Screens make no sense long term. They give us headaches and neck aches and eye problems and repetitive-strain injury. They’re also passive. Once we’re able to throw a hologram into our living room and experience a story — fiction or nonfiction — as a virtual participant, won’t a flatscreen monitor seem quaint?

The same goes for work. Instead of interacting with computer mice and monitors and keyboards, we’ll have a tactile relationship with data, using motion and voice commands and artificial intelligence to leads us to the information that is most relevant to us in that moment.

Any company that delivers news and data for a living will be disrupted by this. In turn, anyone who does the kind of work I do — sifting through court documents and other public records and then crafting stories using those documents — will be handling and delivering information in whole new ways.

We go where our audience goes. Twenty years ago, that was the web. Ten years ago it was social media. Ten years from now, there’s a good chance that it’ll be VR and AR.

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