How Technology is Changing Journalism

Earlier this year, some of my journalist colleagues and I participated in an informal strategy think tank in South Africa. The topic under consideration was how changing technology and increasingly quick take-up rates will affect journalism in the future. The goal was to come up with some key ideas about the next steps in developing the newsroom of the future, and to determine if there were any opportunities media-savvy or tech-savvy entrepreneurs could capitalise on.

It does not require much speculation to see how the likes of Facebook and Twitter are influencing journalism. Broadcasters from the BBC to Zee TV are already incorporating social media feeds into their programming. Whether it is displayed in a constant stream online or is read out by presenters, the presence of social media is easily felt. The question remains though, was how might this technology evolve and what would the impact be for both broadcasters as well as news consumers? Further, what are the other technology trends that are likely to affect journalism and how can newsroom prepare, if not pre-empt these changes?

Knight-Mozilla Logo imageThis is the first in a series of articles outlining the key categories in which we expect significant movement. If history is any indicator, it will be likely be a technology-driven change in newsrooms rather than a proactive, newsroom-driven one. Regardless, initiatives like the Knight-Mozilla Fellowships, are definitely steps in the right direction and it is encouraging to see the likes of BBC, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and The Guardian being part of the process to shape the way forward.


journalism and technology convergence photoIncreased affordability has led to a proliferation of devices on which to consume news and other media. Traditional consumption took place largely through television, print, radio and later personal computers. Over the last 5 years, mobile smart-phones, various types of e-readers, and tablet devices like the iPad have become ubiquitous.

Given the experience of mobile content, more specifically mobile TV, it is clear that most consumers will continue to maintain multiple devices. While the resolution and processing power may increase on these smaller devices, the user experience is quite different from watching a large screen television. Further as technology evolves, and the amount and quality of 3D programming increases on traditional TV broadcasts, this differentiation will be even greater.

Add this differentiation to the need for different device form factors and it is easy to see that complete device convergence is unlikely. Further, even for portable devices, most users will likely opt for having both a tablet device (as a convenient portable replacement for a PC) and a mobile phone. It is less a question of the capability of the device to do things, but rather one of user preference.

The opportunity on the convergence dimension lies more with the content producers. Media consumers are likely to want their content on the best available device at that particular time. So, for example, if Joe Bloggs is sitting on a train on the way to work, it might be most convenient for him to receive the news on his mobile phone. If he is already at work, his PC or tablet device might be more convenient. When he’s at home he might prefer his large screen TV etc. The content producers however currently need to tailor their content for each device – that means they effectively need to reproduce, usually with much effort, the content for TV, for proprietary tablet devices and mobile phones.

For newsrooms of the future to stop being the whipping boys of the latest technology trend, the challenge lies in establishing a versatile content distribution framework. Much like object oriented programming, the idea is to create content modules that can easily be pulled by devices. This includes everything from text articles and sounds clips to varying qualities of video content. The content creator would need to produce these modules to the standards specified and the idea is for new devices to be built with these universal standards in mind. Think of it as a type of XML standard for multi-device broadcast content.

From a device manufacturer point of view, convergence in terms of device capability is where there is much opportunity. If Joe Bloggs only has a television at his disposal at that moment, he should still be able to do much more than just watch TV. With the latest TVs already including internet capability it is now already possible to communicate over Skype and surf the net online on TV.

If one takes the convergence one step further to integrate with the broadcaster, the user experience could be phenomenal. Imagine reading an IMDB movie review on TV pulled from a programming schedule, or having immediate access to follow-up information via a Wiki article after an interesting how-to show. Even products and services can be more tightly integrated with content – for example linking to a life coaching website through an interactive ad with a broadcast of Dr Phil, or a documentary on decluttering. Or having a feature to buy lottery tickets online here when it is announced that the most recent US Powerball has just rolled over again. Not only will this result in new revenue streams for broadcasters, it will make it easier for consumers to access the services they need while they are still top-of-mind. More about this will be covered in a future article on advertising and newsroom revenue streams.

Other categories to be covered in future articles of the technology and journalism series include:

  1. Effectively using Citizen Journalism
  2. Future Advertising Models for Broadcasters
  3. Designing for Interactivity
  4. Content Sharing between Broadcasters
  5. The Power of Direct Consumer Access
  6. Organising Information – Indexing & Distribution

Stay tuned for the next episode of technology changing journalism as we explore citizen journalism: people-powered news.

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  1. Interesting article thanks – I notice that the Knights-Mozilla initiative has a fellowship application process that’s just begun and it’s available for entrants across the globe. If you’re interested in technology and journalism and the likes of this article it may be worth applying… you get to spend close to a year at one of the world’s leading news rooms.

  2. Steven Harris says:

    Did you guys think of a speculative timeframe for this type of convergence? … I think it might happen a lot sooner than people anticipate. If you look at how quick the mobile data revolution took place, the next steps for TV might be even more phenomenal given capacity to handle mass interaction.

    Steven Harris ( freelance journalist)

  3. Siboniso says:

    I agree people connect to the net using the best device they have at their disposal – if they’re on the move it’s more than likely mobile, at work their PCs and at home in the future it will likely be their TV depending on the level of integration.

    Convergence is probably a misnomer in this instance if you’re talking about device – I see more of a convergence in terms of utility and integration of offline services with broadcasts.

  4. Convergence is one thing but for me the biggest leap in terms of change will result from more effective interactivity between broadcasters and news consumers… it they get it right both citizen journalism and user engagement will be as relevant and powerful as it could be. I’m not just talking about being able to ‘like’ stories on facebook or voting on polls through your tv or mobile phone, I’m talking about being able to directly share user generated content that’s relevant to the topic at hand with the world. Of course, this would necessarily require serious redefinition of broadcasters and their current role as solely news generators and distributors… interesting times ahead!


  1. […] Africa. They were more future-focused and ranged from harnessing the opportunities brought about by technology changing journalism and interactivity, to how to manage a changing public demand for […]

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