As the Media Landscape Changes Online, What Digital Trends Can Publishers Expect to See in 2019?

Nowadays, with so much technology available to us (and in the works), it seems like we are closer than ever to living the futuristic life the Jetsons once portrayed on TV—and this year will certainly follow suit as we see new technology trends gain traction or perhaps see old trends make a second appearance.

It is important for newspaper publishers to stay on top of these trends and use them to reach wider audiences and engage readers. To assist them, E&P has put together a list of digital trends to watch as we move further into 2019.

1. The Pivot from Video to Audio

In 2018, the rise of the voice assistant continued to gain traction from the previous year, with more than one in 10 U.S. adults regularly using a smart speaker, equating to about 34 million people or 17 million homes, according to the Reuters report “The Future of Voice and the Implications for News.”

Last year, we saw more tech companies hopping on the bandwagon and others already in the race releasing more smart devices: the Google Assistant, Apple’s HomePod, Amazon’s 12 new smart devices, including the Auto Echo, and Facebook’s Portal.

While Amazon already includes several news organizations on its news briefing feature called “Flash Briefing,” there are still a few wrinkles to iron out if more newspapers are to hop on board and create personalized content for the platform. The Reuters report found that news publishers lack things, such as a clear path to monetization and data to guide development.

However, Google announced last December it would be developing an open audio news standard for the Assistant and partner with several media companies like CNBC, the New York Times and the Washington Post. It is also putting out a call in hopes of recruiting other English-language publishers. Using the same technology behind the artificial intelligence on Google News, the Assistant will generate a playlist of stories based on the listener’s interests.

With the rise of the smart speaker in the home, it is not surprising that news publishers have taken an interest in voice. With other legacy media companies guiding the way, it shouldn’t be long until others follow their lead.

2. Tracking the Impact of Stories

Patrick Butler, vice president of programs for the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), said recently in Nieman Lab, “News organizations have gotten very good at measuring things like impressions, reach, and engagement…What we don’t do well is measure why our content matters.”

In April 2018, ICFJ Knight Fellow and Brazilian journalist Pedro Burgos was already formulating an answer. In Sao Paulo, Brazil, he launched a public version of Impacto, a project backed by Google News Initiative that aims to help newsrooms and journalists track, understand and demonstrate the impact of their reporting on communities and society. Essentially, instead of news organizations searching manually for mentions of their work or combing through social platforms, blogs and new sites, journalists can search the database for impact measurement and analysis of a story.

For Impacto, the premise is that tracking the impact of a story will inevitably aid in winning the battle of trust in the media, which became a much bigger theme in 2018.

Since providing communities with local journalism was also a constant theme throughout the year, news organizations may begin to look at the impact that this shift in focus has had on their communities.

With the kind of artificial intelligence being developed today, the use and creation of tracking tools, such as Impacto, can be expected to increase this year.

Last year, the Pew Research Center discovered that one in five U.S. adults receive their news via social media. (Shutterstuck image)

3. Misinformation Moves to Smaller Platforms

Social media has been under fire for some time, and following the 2016 presidential election, companies like Facebook and Twitter have taken steps to combat the spread of fake news and misinformation on its platforms.

These changes continued to occur in 2018. For example, when Facebook engineers discovered suspicious evidence that Russian activity was linked to the platform, the company announced major changes to the news algorithm, which prioritized content from friends and family. Both Facebook and Twitter put systems in place to prevent the spread of fake news prior to the 2018 midterm elections as well.

This crackdown on monitoring news in turn has led to various misinformers getting banned from these platforms. In turn, we can expect fake news and misinformation to make the shift to smaller and/or ephemeral platforms.

According to Daniel Funke, who covers fact-checking and online misformation for Poynter, misinformers around the world are already “migrating to private groups, chats and fringe sites to avoid detection by journalists and tech companies.”

As such, we can expect many new fact-checking tools to pop up.

Podcast listeners have increased in the last year by 9 percent, and as a result, podcasters continue to create new content to satisfy demand. (Shutterstock image)

4. Podcasting Continues to Grow

The shift in focus and resources to podcasting is sure to become more apparent this year. Edison Research’s annual Infinite Dial report discovered the number of monthly podcast listeners increased about 9 percent between 2017 and 2018. Streaming platforms like Pandora and Spotify joined the podcast market last year, helping with its popularity by reaching a wider audience.

This wider audience also happens to be diverse. VoxNest’s “The State of the Podcast Universe” report noted “podcasts (can no longer be) seen as by-white-male, for white-male medium.” The report also stated that 2018 “marked the year when the demographics of podcasts audiences nearly mirrored the demographics of the United States overall, at least for gender and ethnicity.”

News organizations took notice of the increasing popularity of podcasts and several released new podcasts. Although the Washington Post already produces a library of 14 audio shows, 2018 saw its most ambitious show yet—“The Post Reports,” a 20-minute daily news podcast. Similarly, the Guardian also released a 20-minute podcast titled “Today in Focus.”

According to the VoxNest report, there are currently 619,000 podcasts on Apple Podcasts alone—the demand for podcasts has steadily been rising and the supply will surely follow.

5. Developing Blockchain Journalism

Despite the quick rise and fall of Civil, the industry can expect more of blockchain technology in the months to come. In the words of WAN-IFRA’s director of insights Dean Roper: “There appears to be widespread agreement that blockchain is well-suited to intellectual property (IP) protection.”

Civil, one of the better known projects aiming to master blockchain, is a media platform and community–owned journalism network that uses blockchain tech to “ensure every newsroom and journalist has public, immutable and permanent proof to ensure total ownership and control of their data and content,” according to its website.

Civil is meant to function off their cryptocurrency, which allows buyers to become shareholds. In September 2018, the company held a token sale, but fell short of its minimum number of tokens it aimed to sell by more than $6 million, according to the New York Times.

The trouble seems to be that no one really had a complete understanding of the technology or the how Civil worked. So while there is widespread interest in the technology, there is also agreement that it is complex and underdeveloped.

However, this isn’t stopping the company or ConsenSys (the company’s main investor). In fact, it gave Civil an additional $3.5 million for funding to try again. Meanwhile, Larry Ryckman, editor of the Colorado Sun, an online news site founded by former Denver Post staffers and a Civil-funded newsroom, told alt-weekly newspaper Westword, Civil’s failure to sell tokens didn’t affect their future.

“It’s really not a huge event for us one way or the other,” he said. “Subscriptions are a much more stable source of funding for any organization, and we realize that’s where our future is—in serving subscribers.”

Only time will tell if Civil will succeed the second time around (which is set to launch sometime this month), but one thing is for sure, if they do succeed, our industry can expect to see a lot more of blockchain-based publishing.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg discusses the company’s 10-year road map at the F8 conference in May 2018. Facebook came under heavy scrutiny in 2018 for privacy and data issues. (Facebook image)

6. The Media and GDPR

Hands-down, one of 2018’s most talked about subjects was the implementation of the GDPR, a regulation meant to protect the people’s data and impose strict rules on the processing of personally identifiable information.

This new regulation could affect a multitude of things and companies; however, big tech giants have every reason to be wary. The regulation requires that companies processing data have appropriate security and must notify their data protection authority within 72 hours of a breach as well as reserve the right to fine companies 4 percent of global revenue or 20 million euros (whichever is larger).

In an article by The Next Web, the head of communications for the Irish Data Protection Commission, Graham Doyle said it’s clear that the new regulation has already had an impact as breech notifications and complaints have doubled since last year.

One company that has shown initiative in adapting to the GDPR is Mozilla. The company developed the Firefox Public Data Report, an anti-tracking browser feature.

According to The Next Web article, Data Protection Acts are doubling their staff, thus enforcing the new regulations that are sure to come. We can soon expect to see tech companies adapt—perhaps by creating new tools to comply, or else they will reap the consequences.

7. The Battle for News Consumers

In the last decade or so, social media companies have treated news as only an add-on feature for consumers. The Pew Research Center reported that in 2018, one in five U.S. adults received their news via social media, compared to the 16 percent that got their news from print newspapers.

In a recent article for the New York Times, columnist Jim Rutenberg reflected on the convergence of technology with media. “As newspapers fall, leaving important local issues uncovered, the social media companies contributing to their deaths are helping to fill the content void with unverified, and at worst patently false, information. Solutions are not coming fast, though smart people are working on it.”

Though that may be true, will it be necessary? Pew also reported that adult Facebook users have either taken a break from checking the platform for a period of several weeks or more (42 percent), or have deleted the Facebook app entirely from their phone (67 percent).

Recent headlines such as “How to Delete Facebook” and “Why You Should Delete Facebook” have cropped up. This seems to be the reaction to the number of issues the platform is fielding, including privacy concerns and the spreading of misinformation.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reported that the company hit more than 3 million paid digital-only subscribers and more than 4 million subscribers total in 2018.

As more news consumers seek out truth and facts, it seems that the unruly and wild nature of social media is driving them into the arms of trusted news organizations. Will digital subscriptions continue to rise for media companies, and how will it affect the social media platforms that depend on their content and their audiences? It should be interesting to find out.

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