One of the things I like about Northeastern’s journalism program is how up-to-date it is. One of the core goals of the program is to prepare students to not only function, but thrive in the current journalism landscape, which is constantly changing. One of the only certain things about the future of news is that it’s going to be entirely different from the past.
One way to process what’s happening in the world of journalism is to examine past examples of so-called “futuristic” media. One of the earliest news stories depicting digital news appeared in 1981 on KRON San Francisco, and described how one could download newspapers onto their home computer – a process that took more than two hours.
“The new tele-paper won’t be much competition for the 20 cent street edition,” the news anchor sneered. At that time, it was hard to predict the rapid rise of digital news, but in another ten years, the threat to traditional print journalism became much more clear.
By the mid-90’s, news organizations had fully embraced digital. Roger Fidler, director of American media company Knight-Ridder, believed that tablets were the answer to the decline of print. Believing that newspapers would soon disappear, Fidler starred in a video that introduced the “tablet newspaper” as a new, interactive reading experience.
“All human communication systems are undergoing a transformation from one form to another,” he said. As digital journalism has grown and many papers have restructured themselves to fit the digital model, there has certainly been a transformation. However, communication systems haven’t transitioned from one form to another, but rather from one form to many. Therefore while Roger Fidler was correct in predicting what he termed a “mediamorphism” due to emerging technologies, his idea that a single technological device would be the main source of news was flawed. Still, it was an exciting concept that showed just how much material there was to work with in a changing age.
Even though it’s hard to see the future of news when you’re standing in the present, it’s kind of fun to try. One video created in 2004 (and revised in 2005) by the Poynter Institute predicted a dystopian media future by 2015, where The New York Times goes under by 2014 and most people get their news from a highly personalized system called EPIC that allows public contribution. This isn’t exactly what today’s news landscape looks like, but a rise in citizen journalism (e.g. people taking footage of news on their iPhones as it happens), as well as a general digitization of information, has certainly occurred.
All of these examples underscore the uncertainty of the future of news, which existed in the 1980s and persists today. Though by now, reading news on computers and tablets has become mainstream, news organizations are continually adapting to the digital age, and many haven’t determined the exact way to proceed. We’re living in uncharted territory, but the journalism community is undoubtedly still populated with visionaries like Roger Fidler – hopefully with exciting ideas that just might work.