(This blog first appeared here)
The spread of the internet meant only one thing for the old advertising model that supported traditional newspapers – death. As advertising inventory went from scarce to infinite, suddenly there was an explosion in content and a thinning out of revenue.
Having spent a lot of time over the past year working with publishers and thinking about where they should go next, I started to think beyond the ongoing disruption of news and more about the next big disruption.
The Rise of the Robots
Looking at current journalism (or to put it more accurately – looking at content) there is a huge amount of work that is nothing more than aggregation and repackaging. Taking funny stories from Reddit or pictures from a celebrity’s Instagram and turning it into an article. Rewriting a Reuters report with some added commentary.
It’s not hard to imagine this all becoming automated. Facebook and Google’s algorithms already spend all their time sorting and aggregating content. Siri, Google Now, Cortana represent the next step – artificial intelligence that can predict what we want to read, aggregate the content and even explain it to us.
Currently the product publishers offer online is not all that different to what was in an actual newspaper – articles of similar length, heavily reliant on text, little interactivity. Even digital natives like Buzzfeed and Vice are simply replicating the old model – with better data tracking and branding. AI, however, would completely change the way news is delivered in the same way television did.
Imagine not just consuming the news, but being able to have a personalised conversation with your phone or wearable that can relay news tailored to you. Sat in your self-driving car Siri slowly explains the current refugee crisis, stopping to elaborate on points you don’t understand or fill in gaps in your knowledge.
This would completely revolutionize the creation, delivery and monetization of content like never before.
The Human Resistance
Much like the manufacturing industry was disrupted by automation, taking the human element out of simple repetitive tasks, publishing is ripe for similar changes. So if the future is indeed ‘robojournalism’, what does this mean for humans?
The manufacturing revolution led to was a migration towards the ideas economy. Value not from tasks, but from creativity and strategy. Similarly the qualities that will survive any future disruption of the news will be qualities that technology cannot replicate.
Emotion, authenticity, investigation, imagination, values – all of these things are quintessentially human and therefore have the greatest resistance to disruption. Most likely you have several writers or publications that you seek out and will always read. Why? Probably because they display those qualities listed above.
You can see this in success stories like the Financial Times, The Spectator and The Economist – all behind paywalls – a strategy that has had mixed success for general news, but who all have niche audiences who are willing to pay for quality content with a voice. The Guardian remains free to read, but through diversified revenue streams and an investment in innovation and quality it has gone from small circulation newspaper to an online traffic powerhouse.
As things stand it’s often tempting to measure the success of online publishing in clicks and page views – like a spider counting the flies caught in its web. But as is often the case, those that have gone against the grain have seen the most success. Focusing on what happens after someone clicks, rather than before is a much better way of preparing for a world where clicks no longer exist.
The Future of News
No-one can accurately predict the future. If they could then the concept of disruption would not exist. But, whatever the next big disruption of the news is – wearables, AI or a technology yet to be invented – it still seems clear that the best way to prepare for it is to double down on those values that are not so easily replaced by technology.
Invest in the things that cannot be scaled; invest in quality, in creativity and in humanity.
Joe is a content strategist at gro. We offer a dedicated programme to help you deliver bumper growth in 100 days using topical hub pages. Our next available slot is on 15 October 2015.
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