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Business News/ Industry / Key trends from Nieman Lab’s predictions for 2016
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Key trends from Nieman Lab’s predictions for 2016

The predictions include an eclectic mix of newsroom disruption, content strategy, platforms, product management and monetization techniques

Facebook, Google and Twitter may already have loyal audiences who swear by them, but the key will be to illustrate the power of having them. Photo: ReutersPremium
Facebook, Google and Twitter may already have loyal audiences who swear by them, but the key will be to illustrate the power of having them. Photo: Reuters

The Nieman Journalism Lab, part of Harvard University’s journalism institution Nieman Foundation, has come up with its annual list of predictions for 2016. The list, put together with inputs from the “smartest people in journalism and digital media", is primarily a preview of “what they think is coming in the next 12 months".

This time around, the predictions include an eclectic mix of newsroom disruption, content strategy, platforms, product management and monetization techniques (like distributed content) to be adopted by newsrooms not just in the US, but across the world.

Here are the key takeaways from the predictions:

Podcasting

Over the past two years, podcasts as both content creation and content distribution platforms have seen substantial adoption. The success of This American Life serial, now in its second season, has played a significant role in making podcasting a mainstream media phenomenon. Here are some numbers, courtesy Vox, a news site. “As of March this year, the show’s first season’s 12 episodes had been downloaded a total of 75 million times."

And it only threatens to get bigger, in a good way.

Rex Sorgatz, creative technologist at Kinda Sorta Media, in his predictions for 2016, writes, “Media companies will continue adapting their franchises to podcasts, agencies will empower brands to create new shows, podcasting networks will devise new aural experiments and even more independents will pop up from unexpected places."

Nicholas Quah, head of audience development at podcasting company Panoply, is more “guarded, sceptical and focused". He writes, “2016 is going to be the year when the professionalizing podcast industry finds out if it’s able to earn its place in the big media leagues, not only as the true successor to broadcast radio, but as a formidable and dynamic media channel able to hold its own against music, video, games, and soon, virtual reality."

Clickbait

The rise of clickbait is among the more prominent trends in journalism and content strategy over the past four-five years. A more aggressive approach to creating viral content, with headlines that inevitably drive the readers to click has created several content farms, given rise to new media empires and in its own way, forced even the old horses to adapt, and adopt.

However, Mark S. Luckie, former manager of news at Twitter, believes that all this could end next year. Or at least take the first steps towards the same. He writes, “A hastily written article may net a few hundred or a few thousand clicks (if you are lucky)—maybe more if it gains traction. But digital natives have wised up: They are less likely to share after they read these articles because of their lack of heft." In other words, “Newsrooms who employ this tactic immediately lose the trust of users, who don’t return for more."

This could also mean an added emphasis on quality over quantity. As M. Scott Havens, the global head of Bloomberg Media, writes, “We will see the content pendulum swing back from quantity to quality, and we will begin to feel the related financial impact reverberate across the marketplace. A profound side-effect of this pendulum swing, I predict, will be the quickening decline of the new media business models and the unworldly valuations that accompany them. Many, not all, of these digital publishers rely on an endless stream of unsubstantial viral debris, a model that is beginning to falter, and their valuations will begin their reversion to the mean."

Reporting over hot takes

Another key element of a newsroom’s content strategy in 2016 could well see the good old “shoe-leather reporting" make a comeback and take centrestage. S. Mitra Kalita, managing editor for editorial strategy at The Los Angeles Times, writes, “In 2016, let the reporting revolution begin. After years of ‘hot takes’ on everything from the blue/gold dress to Cecil the Lion, audience fatigue with the echo chamber has set in. And algorithmic changes in both search and social mean the stories rising to the top are often those with robots fueling them—not the best journalists."

She adds, “Shoe-leather reporting is rewarded because it represents the best of the Internet: authenticity, intimacy, access and an emotional connection. It ensures that the mission will endure—and, in ever-crowded and exhausting landscapes, distinguish us."

Besides shoe-leather reporting, 2016 could also be the year when, to quote the cliche, the revolution (if any) will be livestreamed. Livestreaming platforms like Meerkat and Periscope have seen a noticeable adoption surge in 2015, and Facebook’s entry could well turn out as the game-changer. Ole Reißmann, managing editor of bento.de, writes, “2016 will be the year of livestreaming video for journalism. Its rise started in 2015 with Meerkat and then Twitter’s Periscope. It was just the right moment for live video: faster mobile networks, better smartphones with great cameras, and easy-to-use apps made all the difference. Even more important: Twitter brought its user base along with its Periscope purchase."

Product management

This is an interesting prediction, given that product management is fast emerging as an important newsroom role. Cindy Royal, associate professor at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Texas State University, writes, “In 2016, media organizations and journalism schools will begin to comprehend and define product management and embrace it as a relevant and critical career path. Shouldn’t people in these roles be trained to have the storytelling, ethical, and legal mindset of a media professional?"

She continues, “For example, the simple decision of providing social sharing icons on one’s website requires someone who understands the specific functionality, can decide which sites to represent, knows what the user will be able to do on each site and can plan the organization’s interaction with the content. Analytics associated with this feature need to be gathered and comprehended, and the role of this activity needs to be incorporated into the organization’s broader social media strategy."

Monetization

What then happens to monetization, the very ability to generate revenue through content (news, video or otherwise). According to Reuters TV and Reuters.com executive editor Dan Colarusso, 2016 is going to be the year of “monetizing dangerously". Why? He argues that it’s ultimately about survival. “In a market where the audience is irreparably fragmented and new entrants are cripplingly overvalued, publishers and broadcasters will need to start to assemble the tribes that will help win the long war."

Essentially, everyone will be trying to win over and monetize their loyal base of customers. Colarusso further explains that despite great traffic from native Facebook videos or valued customers who will come back repeatedly, “there has to be more gold at the end of these rainbows". He adds, “We want them not only to come back to us but look for us across platforms and in their emails."

Facebook, Google and Twitter may already have loyal audiences who swear by them, but the key will be to illustrate the power of having them. He cites the example of website, Upworthy, that is looking to measure “attention minutes". While at Reuters TV, the company is hunting monthly active users.

Colarusso writes, “In the past few years, we have all gotten accustomed to talking about engaging with readers; 2016 will be the year publishers fall over themselves to get engaged to readers—and to make sure the relationship lasts."

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Updated: 21 Dec 2015, 04:04 PM IST
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