Trends in digital journalism for 2012

Crédit: Flickr/CC/Nathan Wells

Digital journalism is expected to undergo major changes in the coming year.

>> Lire cet article en français >>

  • “There will be blood” on the Net

In France, the number of pure players (i.e. websites with no print counterparts) per person is higher than anywhere else – kind of a “French exception” in the European media landscape. Atlantico, Le Plus, Newsring, Quoi.info were all launched in 2011 and the French version of the Huffington Post is due in the coming weeks. The trend is gaining momentum with the presidential election drawing near (when better to launch a news website than in such an exciting period newswise?).

According to Nicola Bruno, a journalist currently co-writing a research on pure players in France, Germany and Italy to be published next year by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, this French dynamism is visible on three levels: “1. the number of pure players in France (I counted 12 of them, all resulting from independent initiatives), 2. their maturity (France saw the first pure players in Europe, such as Agoravox in 2005, followed by Rue89, Médiapart and Slate.fr) 3. their diversity in terms of both editorial orientation (focus on data, investigation, niche markets, community sites) and economic models (subscription-based, free…)”.

So, are there too many actors on too small a market? For Julien Jacob, head of Newsring, “there will be blood”. Nicola Bruno says that “there is no definite answer to that question. At the moment, no European pure player seems able to achieve high profits, as it is happening in the US  with Huffington Post and Politico. The reason is simple: audiences in France and the rest of Europe are much smaller than in the US, and advertising markets are not mature enough to sustain purely web-based projects”.

Is it a lost cause then? “Not quite, Nicola Bruno says. History showed that profitability is not always the main goal of these journalistic projects”. History also showed that small entities are sometimes absorbed by much bigger ones, as were the Huffington Post by AOL, the Daily Beast by Newsweek, and… Rue 89 by Le Nouvel Observateur.

  • Later reading

Which contents do you read at once? Which ones do you post on Twitter? Which ones do you share on Facebook? Which ones do you save for later reading using tools such as Instapaper or Read It Later? Users now act like human algorithms and keep sorting and classifying contents. However, the criteria they use to do so are not clear.

Do we read “later” long contents, as this presentation would suggest? Not necessarily. According to a ranking by Read It Later, which was quoted in Frédéric Filloux’s Monday Note, most saved contents (mainly editorials and new technologies-related contents) are less that 500-word long (about 2,700 signs). “No doubt that people find these tools useful, whatever the length of the article”, the Nieman Lab adds. This approach to news could change the way journalists produce information, because each article can now have two “lives”. It can be all consumed right away – in real time, but also later on when the reader has more time to enjoy it without hurrying.

  • Voice-controlled navigation

“You can now talk TO your phone rather than INTO your phone”, said Nikesh Arora, from Google, at the Monaco Media Forum. And for Pete Cashmore, from Mashable, the use of voice for controlling contents will be a must in 2012.

That is already the case with the Dragon Dictation application, which allows to dictate SMS to your cell-phone or to pronounce a key word for your phone to automatically run a Google search. Siri, on the iPhone 4S, is also a kind of assistant obeying your oral commands. What next? Human voice should soon be used as a remote control, for example with Apple’s television.

  • Texting

In its blog about new technologies, the New York Times posted a story titled Cellphones Are the New Junk Food. In the US, teenagers spend less and less time talking on the phone (685 minutes per month on average last year as opposed to 572 minutes in 2011), but they send more and more text messages (SMS and MMS): 13-to-17-year-old Americans send and receive 3,417 messages a month and around 7 messages an hour in daytime.

Source: Nielsen

The same trend is observed in France, according to a study by Pew Research focused on the behavior of phone users in various countries. With the Internet being extensively used and phones appearing as very promising, news publishers tend to create contents readily usable on mobile phones.

  • Data visualization

The amount of digital data in the world is expected to reach 2.7 zettabits in 2012. For those who feel a bit lost between bits, terabits and zettabits, that is a lot of data (find more about these units here).

France is at the forefront of this massive data production. In early December 2011, the public data website data.gouv.fr was launched: an incredible amount of numerical data, very difficult to understand (if you can understand them at all) for most people. It is precisely the job of a data journalist to free these figure from their Excel spreadsheets and to make “information immediately understandable”, as stated in a former WIP. Not all journalistic topics are based on figures but that’s an effective approach when dealing with the State’s budget for 2012 or the sharing out of resources according to budget items. Just to give you an idea, the file downloaded from data.gouv.fr looks like this:

Crédit: data.gouv.fr

And this is the visualization of this budget created by Elsa Fayner on her blog «Et voilà le travail»:

Crédit: Elsa Fayner

  • Live-addiction

The death of Muammar Gaddhafi, the G-20 meeting in Cannes, soccer games, political debates… Live blogging the news, allowing to report on a event in real time using texts, pictures, videos, contents from social networks and interaction with the public, are irresistibly appealing to readers. Just two facts to prove that point: 1. Live news attract an estimated 30% of the whole traffic on a generalist news website. 2. Live news are an important engagement factor as people spend much more time on this type of contents.

>> Read this WIP about live news (again)>>

  • Real-time fact checking

With the presidential election drawing closer, most French editorial offices are getting ready to fact check in (quasi) real time (a journalistic technique widely used in the Anglo-Saxon media to assess politicians’ credibility). One of the best examples is the American website Politifact.com, which launched a tool called “truth-o-meter” and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the holy grail of the journalistic world.

>> Read this WIP about fact checking (again)>>

  • Journalistic honesty?

In its list of 10 things every journalist should know in 2012, the journalism.co.uk website predicts that, after the closure of News of the World and the phone-hacking scandal in England, intellectual honesty will prevail. “Journalists need to be sure that the means really do justify the ends for a story and must be crystal clear about the legalities of their actions. And they need to be more transparent about the sources of stories, where the source will not be compromised. If a story originates from a press release, acknowledge it.”

>> Read the WIP about the use of anonymous sources again>>

Other important trends:

  • The use of 2 screens, which Mike Proulx referred to as “social television” in his speech at the conférence sur les nouvelles pratiques du journalisme (conference about new practices in journalism): People now watch the same program both on their TV and their computer, laptop or cell phone so that they can comment and react via Twitter and Facebook.
  • People spend increasingly more time on social networks, especially Facebook (800 million members worldwide and 23 million in France), which accounts for 95% of the time spent on community sites, according to the Comscore institute. Editors now absolutely must know what a “facebookable” content is because, as Vadim Lavrusik, of Facebook, puts it “if content is king, distribution is queen” in 2012.

What trend do you expect to prevail in 2012? Merry Christmas and best wishes to all of you for 2012.

Alice Antheaume

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Journaliste, responsable de la prospective et du développement international à l'école de journalisme de Sciences Po, Alice Antheaume a été rédactrice en chef adjointe à 20minutes.fr après être passée par lemonde.fr puis Télérama.
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