With the release of The Future Today Institute’s first ever report on technology and trends for the future of journalism, it is time for us to look at what we need to know going into 2018. This almost 100-page report looks at a wide range of AI future trends, from machine learning to drones, so we’re saving you time by distilling the key points you need to be aware of.
How AI will impact newsrooms in 2018
We’ve mentioned it a lot, but its importance cannot be overstated. Artificial intelligence, analytics, robot journalism, these are all buzzwords representing the same message: data is key for the future of news. Artificial intelligence itself is too broad of a category to be a technology or trend in 2018, but an understanding of it is important to be ready for future opportunities. For more reading on this topic, look at our 7 key essentials for newsrooms in the AI age or our report on how the industry is talking about AI.
Transition from text-based bots to voice interfaces
Facebook messenger bots are one of the most common examples of bots in news organizations recently, now numbering over 30,000 with newsrooms such as BuzzFeed, Mic, and Los Angeles Times having experimented with them. Going forward, bots will transition from text-based to voice interfaces. Busy readers can benefit from news bulletins from voice-controlled personal assistants, such as n-tv’s project for Amazon Echo.
Talking to machines, rather than typing on them, isn’t some temporary gimmick. Humans talking to machines — and eventually, machines talking to each other — represents the next major shift in our news information ecosystem. Voice is the next big threat for journalism.
Amy Webb, Futurist
Natural Language understanding and generation
Natural Language is the unstructured text generated by humans, as opposed to by AI. By being able to use AI to understand it, news organizations can go through large documents and gain insights much quicker than human reporters working by themselves could.
AI can also be used to generate Natural Language, with many newsrooms already using such technology to turn big data into readable stories. The Washington Post’s robot, Heliograf, published 850 articles in its first year. This technology allows newsrooms to produce more stories on topics that they might not have been able to cover before, while also allowing journalists to focus more on high-value work. This goes back to the Tow Center for Digital Journalism’s report released last month which found that artificial intelligence helps reporters find and tell stories that were previously out of reach or impractical.
Natural Language Generation can also be used to allow publishers to grow internationally or reach new audiences. A single story, such as a report on a company’s quarterly earnings, can be rendered for multiple audiences, such as for finance professionals, high school economics classes, or MBA students in non-English speaking countries.
Real-time machine learning
Machine learning, the application of AI to a system of automatically learning and improving from experience, can be used to match visitors to a news site to the right content or to re-write content for readers based on their individual preferences.
There is the risk however of this hyper-focused personalisation leading to news bubbles, with one participant in Tow Center for Digital Journalism‘s report on AI’s implications for journalism cautioning:
The first stage of personalization is recommending articles. The next step is using Natural Language Processing to shape an article to exactly the way you want to read it. Tone, political stance, and many other things. At that point, journalism becomes marketing.
Trends that will continue in 2018
The battle for the lockscreen
We’ve seen how push notifications are an important avenue for attracting reader attention, but it seems everyone has learned this lesson as well. Lock screens are now filling up quicker and quicker with notifications from all types of sources: social media, weather apps, games, government emergency services… The amount of notifications have more than tripled in the past 3 years in many countries.
How can publishers rise above this noise to be heard? This will be the question that needs to be answered in 2018. AI will undoubtedly be useful when creating hyper personalised notifications to trigger readers.
Pivot to video?
We’ve discussed before how videos can drive engagement of editions before, but going forward it will be important to understand who the audience for video is. The older generations, 50+, are more likely to prefer watching the news than reading it, while younger generations are more evenly split, with a slight preference for reading.
Video is also the biggest area of investment for publishers, according to a recent survey from WAN-IFRA.
New story formats
The most common form of online news currently is the 800-word article, seemingly a legacy from print editions. But this can be dangerous, with the Quartz curve (named after the digital news site that researched it) showing that articles in between 500 and 800 words are the least engaging because they are neither short and finishable nor long enough to have a real pay-off for readers.
To better understand these new story formats, Tristan Ferne from BBC categorised 12 new digital formats:
- Short & vertical video: often with captions, pioneered by AJ+ and NowThis
- Horizontal Stories: swipeable cards like Snapchat Stories and its clones
- Longform scrollytelling: evolved from the original NY Times Snowfall
- Structured news: like the original Circa or the reusable cards at Vox.com
- Live blogs: frequently used for big events
- Listicles: like Buzzfeed
- Newsletters and briefings: seem to be on trend right now
- Timelines: not as common as expected
- Bots and chat: like the chat-styled Qz app or delivering news within chat apps
- Personalised: used to filter the choice of stories, rather than the story
- Data visualisation: from graphs to interactives
- VR and AR
This last format, virtual reality and augmented reality, shows another emerging trend for 2018: publishers creating stories built specifically for immersive environments. Leaders in this field include The New York Times with their dedicated VR app “NYT VR” and The Guardian with their VR project “The Party” giving viewers an insight into living with autism.
For publishers going forward, it will be important to understand the needs and interests of audiences for each platforms, as well as the platform-specific capabilities that can be utilised.
While data is key for newsrooms in this digital age, it is also important that we think about what data is collected, how it is stored, and what it is used for. In Europe, the General Data Protection Regulation and the Privacy Directive will come into effect in May 2018, which will prevent brands from using data without that person’s explicit permission to do so.
In Germany, this has prompted a trend of cross-industry alliances that prioritise consumer data privacy and allow smaller companies to compete with the duopoly of Facebook and Google. Axel Springer is part of one such alliance, along with 8 other members, including insurance company Allianz, airline Lufthansa, and IT security company Bundesdruckerei. Within this alliance, customers have a single login that complies with the new regulations.
Implementing digital innovation
With the biggest concern facing news executives being “reluctance to innovate”, wanting a digitally innovative newsroom is one thing, while actually fostering an innovative culture in your newsroom is another. Being aware of future technology and trends that will affect your media organisation is the first step in fostering the innovative culture needed to succeed in the digital age.
This article was written by Mary-Katharine Phillips, Media Innovation Analyst at Twipe from 2017 – 2021.