What will make the futures of journalism? GEN supports Amy Webb in finding out
The Future Today Institute has launched a global survey to try and assess how journalism’s future — or, more accurately, multiple futures — are thought of and prepared for within newsrooms and news organisations for the evolution of the industry in five, 10 ,20 or 30 years into the future.
The Future Today Institute also hopes to be able to understand how this ongoing work and thought-process compares with strategies in place today within news organisations.
The Global Editors Network proudly supports Amy Webb, CEO and founder of the Future Today Institute in this endeavour, and invites you to answer this short survey before Wednesday 30 August 5pm EDT. Click here to take the survey now.
Amy Webb took the time to answer a few of our questions regarding the survey, demographics and their effect on innovation, bots, AI and AR in the newsroom, and blockchains, for some quick insights into the near future of news.
GEN: The Future Today Institute is conducting a global survey to try and learn how news organisations are apprehending the future. What do you specifically wish to understand with this survey?
Amy Webb: We hope to understand how those working within journalism think about the future. Journalists cover various topics related to the future — geopolitics, artificial intelligence, self-driving cars, gene editing — but we are turning the lens onto news organisations and asking everyone working within journalism to think about what’s on their own horizon. We are asking questions about how often journalists engage futures thinking. We’re also hoping to learn how the active — or lack of — futures thinking correlates to current and planned business models, investments, staff organisation, cross-industry partnerships and bigger newsroom projects. We will compile all of the results and release a report in October.
Who within news organisations are you interested to hear from?
This survey really is for everyone who is currently or has very recently worked within a news organisation, and we don’t just want to hear from reporters. We’re actively seeking the opinions of editors, those people working on the business side, and executive leadership.
In your opinion, do people above 50 understand what changes and consequences are brought on by social media platforms and video? Does this particular demographic slow down the news industry in an innovative capacity?
Our research has shown that age does not necessarily indicate how well someone understands the promise or pitfalls of social media, video and other advanced technologies. Anecdotally, I know plenty of very tech-savvy, smart people who are over 50 and who have a clear understanding of social and interactive platforms. So no, I wouldn’t necessarily say that an older demographic is getting in the way of younger newsroom leaders trying to push the industry forward. Conversely, a much younger, digital native won’t have institutional knowledge or experience in news and might be motivated to invest in certain technologies without the context of the past to drive their strategic thinking.
At the GEN Summit in June in Vienna, bots were hailed as a revolution, but ended up carrying less impact than expected. What has not been working? Are we still going to see a deployment of very effective bots for news?
Well, it’s only been two months. What we do know is that voice-based interfaces are coming. The models we’ve built at FTI reveal that in industrialized nations, 50% of human interactions with computers will be done with our voices by the year 2023. We are acclimating to conversational interfaces, and bots are just the beginning. I’d prefer to see news organizations enter a phase of experimentation, where they take a bit of time to learn and adjust their training datasets and their machine learning models. One key issue is how conversational interfaces will further erode the traditional business models in news. So while editorial and tech teams are working on bots, those on the business side should be simultaneously building out a strategy to monetize the conversational products.
You pointed out that news organisations are not engaging much with AR, AI or object recognition, when Google, Facebook, Apple and Snap are working heavily with them, what do news providers need to understand about these technologies and their impact on predicted influence on consumers?
Very recently, University of Washington faculty showed how artificial intelligence could be used to find audio files, convert them into convincing-looking mouth movements, and then transplant those videos onto an existing video of someone — in this case, President Barack Obama. For those who were at the GEN Summit this summer, you’ll remember me talking about this very technology and showing a series of videos that were created from still images. News organisations should take notice of this development for a number of reasons. First, editors must learn how to authenticate video, especially if it’s provided as a Secure Drop from an anonymous source. This hasn’t been a problem yet, but it will be soon. Next, facial, biometric, object, voice and video recognition will help to usher in a more automated workflow for reporters and editors alike. But again, they must consider the ethical implications, and they must be transparent about the systems and processes that were used. Although the technology is clever, we know that bias still plays a role. Finally, we know that companies like Snap and Google are working on monetisation strategies for object-based ads. It would be wise for news leaders to develop scenarios for object-based advertising to test now.
How do you foresee the impact of blockchain to be on news and media? What could be the first implementations for micro-payments and personalisation?
One possible promise for blockchain could be verification and encryption, to make it easier for newsrooms to solicit and receive sensitive information from whistleblowers. It could theoretically be used to guarantee the authenticity of sources, images and videos. It would be interesting to think of a future public ledger for news — a network system that would exchange authentic news and parse out fake news. As a micropayment gateway, sure, blockchain could be an option for transactions. However at the moment, the transaction method itself doesn’t seem to be the reason for our collective reluctance to pay for news. Blockchain on its own won’t engender a behavioral or attitudinal shift for news consumers, who have been habituated to the idea that digital news should be free.
About Amy Webb
Amy Webb is an author, futurist and founder of the Future Today Institute, a leading future forecasting and strategy firm that researches technology and answers “What’s the future of X?” for a global client base. She is on the adjunct faculty at the NYU Stern School of Business, where she teaches an MBA course on futures forecasting. She was a 2014–15 Visiting Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and is a 2017–18 Fellow in the United States-Japan Leadership Program. Amy is the author of The Signals Are Talking: Why Today’s Fringe Is Tomorrow’s Mainstream, which explains how to predict and manage technological change. It won a Gold Axiom Medal, was selected as one of Fast Company’s Best Books of 2016, was an Amazon’s best book of December 2016 and was a #1 Bestseller. Amy was recently named to the Thinkers50 Radar list of the 30 management thinkers most likely to shape the future of how organisations are managed and led.