“Back to the Future” Day arrived this year when Marty McFly traveled 30 years into the future from 1985 to 2015. In the movie, McFly encountered futuristic technology like flying cars, auto-adjusting and auto-drying jackets, hoverboards, power-lacing sneakers, and video telephones. McFly also reads a print copy of USA TODAY to get his news. Imagine that—in his world of flying cars and automatic dog walkers, 17-year-old McFly is reading a newspaper. In our 2015 reality, would a teenager even know where to find one? But we shouldn’t despair. We don’t have a flying car parked in our garage and hoverboards haven’t taken off yet, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t seeing innovation happening.
Our 2015 has smartphones, Twitter, Facebook, iTunes, tablets, and connected cars equipped with Internet access—and all of that sounds just as exciting as the world the “Back to the Future” movies depicted.
As we head into 2016 and leave behind Marty McFly’s “future,” what can we expect to see now? Well, for one thing, newspapers will still be around in print, just like in McFly’s 2015. Although print readership and advertising is on the decline, publishers are still big believers of the product. But they also shouldn’t be afraid to embrace new digital technologies.
In May, Facebook introduced Instant Articles, a new mobile experience for publishers to “create fast, interactive articles” on the social media platform. “Instant Articles makes the reading experience as much as ten times faster than standard mobile Web articles,” the company announced. At the time of the launch, Facebook was working with nine media partners including The New York Times, The Guardian, NBC, and BuzzFeed.
Next year and beyond, newspapers will continue to experiment with virtual reality. Right now, Wall Street Journal readers (bit.ly/1RvX5rZ) can watch VR and 360° video directly on their mobile devices, on their computers or with a headset. The Los Angeles Times launched their first VR project in October (bit.ly/1k5jSjk), allowing readers to “fly around another planet” (in this case, Mars) on their phones. I expect more newspapers to follow in their experimentation.
Ezra Eeman, founder of Journalism Tools, also recently published a series called “Is Your Newsroom Future Proof?” (bit.ly/1Q5OoHm), where he provided 12 trends and 40 questions aimed at helping newsrooms and journalists prepare for what’s ahead, from citizen journalism to the rising importance of analytics and metrics. Questions like “Who is controlling what the audience will see? You or an algorithm?” and “How do you position yourself outside your traditional and/or digital channels…in real life?” should be on every journalist’s mind. The two-part series is a helpful guide, but it should only be treated as that—just a guide. As the “Back to the Future” movies showed us, we can’t predict the future, but we can get ready for it. And many newspapers are already doing so.
In this month’s issue, we recognize the 2015 EPPY Award winners. For 20 years, E&P has honored the best media-affiliated websites, and over these two decades, we’ve seen much advancement. Check out our list of winners (bit.ly/1jRJBfK), and you will find stunning graphics, videos, photographs and blogs that show us we are definitely heading toward the future.