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Fathm Predictions for 2021

2020 has seen widespread uncertainty and disruption to newsrooms, but also momentous innovation and adaptation.

We invited Fathm’s team of expert Associates to offer their insights into what might be next for news and journalism. Here they share their predictions for misinformation and fact checking, audience engagement, news as a service, direct publishing, and the newsroom of the future.

Misinformation and Fact Checking

John Crowley, Fathm Associate, Editor, and Consultant, @mrjohncrowley

“The disinformation battle of 2021 will be waged around Covid vaccines. The anti-vax movement could undermine the roll-out of any future vaccine, particularly if there are problems with how governments administer them and their efficacy. Journalism showed during the first lockdown what a crucial role the industry can play to provide the general public with clear and concise medical information.

Both newsroom leaders and ‘rank-and-file’ journalists would do well to acquaint themselves with the online methods and techniques anti-vaccine advocates employ. They should also think hard about how to report this issue — by actually covering some of the false claims, they could also be giving publicity to conspiracy theories and misleading claims. Fathm has done some great work in this area…”

Pamposh Raina, Fathm Associate and Writer, Reporter, and Editor

“In 2021 we will, hopefully, get a COVID-19 vaccine. That will bring about a spike in the misinformation and disinformation around the access to the vaccine. In countries with ethnic and religious diversity such as India, there are likely to be conspiracy theories about which religious group receives the vaccine first and such a scenario has the potential to stir up sectarian discord, which could lead to violence.

Independent fact-checkers and newsrooms will find themselves investing more time and resources towards debunking vaccine-related misinformation.”

Eoghan Sweeney, Fathm Associate, Trainer, and Founder of OSINT Essentials, @buileshuibhne

“In terms of the overall information landscape, it’s going to be worth watching the US media following what we assume will be the transfer of power in January. In the four years since the debut of “alternative facts”, we’ve seen the highest office in the land relentlessly push the idea of the media as “enemy of the people”. The holder of that office, meanwhile, issued a prodigious stream of easily disprovable claims, any one of which would likely have left his predecessors with major credibility problems.

President-elect Biden will almost certainly enjoy a honeymoon period with the press. But will the majority of the media simply react with relief that it’s back to “business as usual”, or will there be a recognition that things have changed irrevocably? If the latter is the case, will we see clear changes in how facts are gathered and reported?”

Audience

Yusof Abdul-Rahman, Fathm Associate, Journalist, and Consultant

“Covid-19 has laid bare the inadequacies of future casting in 5 year time frames. Media companies will look to invest more in analytics that provide meaningful customer insights and improve their CRM strategy while Adtech looks at developing robust solutions to bridge the identifier and personalisation gap created by the phasing out of third-party cookies.”

Penny Riordan, Fathm Associate and Audience Engagement Consultant, @PennyRiordan1

“As the U.S. Media continues to grapple with the racial reckoning moment and the decline of traditional metro print-based newspapers, audience-driven news organisations will become even more important. News organisations will triple down on reader listening and engagement tactics, and new news organisations that are entirely audience driven will start to launch. These efforts will be fuelled primarily by the nonprofit and fund-raising model.”

News as Service

Laura Oliver, Fathm Associate and Freelance Journalist, @lauraoliver

“How to engage audiences and better serve them has been a common theme to the numerous talks, webinars and online conferences I’ve attended this year.

COVID-19 has brought the role of service journalism coupled with audience engagement initiatives to the fore.

While this is not the first way of audience-centric journalism, I’m hopeful that 2021 will see an increase in recognition, support and development of existing audience teams (in all their shapes and sizes). Greater use of design thinking principles to guide and create editorial teams and products, the creation of audience needs frameworks (such as those used by the BBC World Service and Conde Nast) and the lessons to be learned from the experiences of newsrooms serving their audiences during the extremes of a pandemic could create exciting new opportunities for this field and journalism next year.”

Laurens Vreekamp, Fathm Associate, Journalism Trainer, and Design Thinker, @campodipace

“One of the things news consumers / citizens need most is much easier tools, especially when facing uncertainty and misinformation, as intuitive in its use as we’ve come to expect from our most precious apps. In contrast to being an end-product the content of an article, regardless of its shape and form- becomes a means to these end-goals: helping users inform themselves, guard them, and have them helping journalists to investigate even better, be watchdogs, holding companies and governments to account.”

Direct Publishing

Fergus Bell, Fathm CEO and Co-founder, @Fathmco

“2021 is going to be the year when publishers are able to realise the opportunities that direct publishing at-scale can offer. This new and exciting format for journalism — two way communication with audiences via chat apps or other rich messaging formats — will be able to truly shine in an industry that will finally have the technical capability to implement it and the right story formats to make it work.

Direct Publishing means that news organisations will be able to serve rich content to audiences both at scale and outside of an algorithm that someone else controls, while at the same time retaining that instant-access feel that works so well on social networks. It doesn’t stop at storytelling, Direct Publishing will create new opportunities for newsgathering, advertising and subscriptions as well.”

Newsroom of the Future

Laurens Vreekamp, Fathm Associate, Journalism Trainer, and Design Thinker, @campodipace

“Expect to see the maturing of the self-reflective capacity of our industry. This is much needed in order to stop doing what is demonstrably not working. We’ll see more newsrooms looking to take best practices and lessons learned from other industries, experienced during this pandemic, and apply them to the infodemic (and the other items on the never-ending list of challenges for journalism).”

Andrew Mills, Fathm Associate, Jumpline Co-founder, and Journalism Educator, @andmills

“2020 has forced journalism educators to transform the way they teach, proving it is possible for journalists and journalism students to effectively learn in a distributed environment. At some point in 2021, journalism students will hopefully return to classrooms, but the benefits of distributed learning will endure.

The continuation of online learning will enable journalists around the world to join training opportunities virtually, eliminating previous attendance barriers like time and money.

Some newsrooms will continue to offer distributed internships, enabling journalism students from a diverse range of backgrounds to participate in top training programs, without having to relocate.

Small group discussions, like those that take place inside Zoom break-out rooms, will be replicated across journalism education leading to more engaged, active learning.”

Eoghan Sweeney, Fathm Associate, Trainer, and Founder of OSINT Essentials, @buileshuibhne

“While machine learning promises mouthwatering advances, expect simple tools — a halfway house between good old-fashioned journalism and full automation — to be with us for some time.

The utility of such tools has been recognised by the likes of the Knight Foundation and Google in their support for non-commercial versions of some of the most useful ones for image-checking, archiving and other key tasks.

This is a trend that I would like to see accelerate — such support could ensure essential tools and services are effective, secure and long-lasting. At the same time, it is important to be wary of the danger of supplanting the offerings of small innovators.”

Laurens Vreekamp, Fathm Associate, Journalism Trainer, and Design Thinker, @campodipace

“We will see more unusual collaborations. New collaborations across borders; between journalists and experts from other disciplines, NGO’s and other industries; between rivalling newsrooms; between companies (remember Apple and Google teaming up to aid contact tracing) and unusual partnerships between publishers and platforms.”

Tom Trewinnard, Fathm COO and Co-founder, @fathmco

“2020 started with business as usual for many newsrooms, who had to then quickly adapt to lockdowns and work from home orders that pushed them to reconfigure as distributed operations. 2021 is the year of the hybrid newsroom — where distributed operations run alongside physical newsrooms in a symbiotic relationship. This will pose new challenges, primarily — how can a hybrid team innovate, experiment, and design and launch the products that will be crucial to future sustainability?

But the hybrid newsroom also brings the benefits of distributed working: improved flexibility, so if more lockdowns are imposed, the transition to distributed teams can be more seamless and less painful; the ability to hire a more diverse staff, who can contribute value from wherever they are and don’t necessarily have to relocate to expensive urban centres; and generating important cost savings on expensive physical offices, through downsizing of in-person office space. Hybrid newsrooms will need to focus on building a new working culture, creating a supportive environment for all team members, and ensuring professional training programmes are available online as well as in-person.”

Perhaps you have your own ideas about what we will see in 2021; we’d love to hear them so please do share them in the comments. If your vision of 2021 involves working with Fathm then get in touch.

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