Smarter than you’d think

Planet In Crisis : Jan. 20, 2017

People seem to enjoy laughing at legacy news media’s attempts to keep up with the changing news landscape, but in reality news organizations were not as blindsided by the digital age as it may appear.

In 1981 a KRON news report detailed how eight newspapers across the country were offering nearly all of their content to customers via home computer.

The model was too slow and expensive to make it remotely practical at the time, but the editors interviewed for the news segment were already thinking about how this experiment might lead to a day when people got all their news by home computer and how this seismic shift to the news landscape might change what it means to be a journalist.

Later in 1994, Roger Fiddler of the Knight-Ridder foundation predicted the evolution of news on the go through a portable tablet computer that would house the newspaper. He also predicted the rise of the multimedia news story that allows readers to interact with stories, through graphics, photo and video.

“We may still use computers to create information, but we will use the tablet to interact with information,” the 1994 report accurately predicted.

In 2007, Robin Sloan release an updated prediction for the future of media through the fictional Museum of Media History. Sloan’s video portrays a bleak future in which non-news organizations would come to dominate the news industry by algorithmically scrubbing the internet for information and assembling it into news articles. He also predicted that personalized news recommendations wouldcreate news bubbles – a buzz word we have all heard an awful lot lately.

Not that the news media predicted everything.

The Knight-Ridder Foundation thought that people would enjoy and interact with digital advertising – that it would be valuable, even.  In 2007, Sloan predicted that Google and Amazon would form one company and he completely underestimated the powerful role social media would play in what he dubbed the “news wars.”

But the point I am trying to make is that journalists are an innovative and forward thinking bunch. No one goes into journalism because they want a predictable job. Reporters and editors have been fantasizing about the digital future for decades and while nothing could have adequately prepared them for the blunt force of the internet’s punch, they were in the ring and ready to fight.