Where Do You Fit in the Future of Journalism?

April 9, 2018 | Jessica Ogilvie

Going to college for journalism is a complicated endeavor. On one hand, if you know that’s the field you want to enter, why waste time studying something else? On the other hand, the best way to learn how to report stories is often on the ground — you know, reporting stories.

That doesn’t mean that young would-be journos should skip school entirely, but it’s certainly worth thinking carefully about how they might use that degree. To that end, a recent study conducted by the Press Association of Madrid in Spain revealed that, among respondents (all professionally trained journalists), approximately 33 percent were working in journalism, 33 percent were working in communications (advertising or PR), and the remaining 33 percent were retired or semi-retired.

Meanwhile, the good folks at Harvard’s Neiman Lab have collected dozens of predictions from thought leaders and professionals in the field focusing on the future of journalism, in 2018 and beyond. For those wondering whether and how to pursue the profession, here are some of the themes that emerged from the Lab’s predictions.

Women Will Rule the Media

If there was one message that beat out all others, it was that women are about to start running things. These predictions suggest that the downfalls of sexual predators in dozens of industries and the refusal of women to stop speaking to reporters about these topics — critically, including women working in media — will create a fundamental shift.

“Across the news industry, and the culture at large, leaders continue to be exposed and terminated for inappropriate sexual conduct,” wrote Debra Adams Simmons, the executive editor for culture at National Geographic. “The tumult will contribute to a power shift in news leadership in 2018 and a redefined relationship with the audience.”

“In the aftermath of the scandals of 2017, women’s voices will take center stage in 2018,” adds Vanessa K. Deluca, editor-in-chief of Essence. “More room will be made to discuss topics such as women’s political aspirations, leadership abilities, feminism and intersectionality, reproductive rights, fight for equal pay and battles against sexual harassment, with less bias and more nuance.”

Thou Shan’t Ignore the Power of Strong Visuals

Between the normalization of video calls, the mass adaptation of Snapchat and Instagram stories, and the major strides in streaming content including highly intelligent news programming, video and visuals will be the word of the day. The printed word still holds value, but know that your stories will have much more impact if accompanied by something the audience can watch.

“The Internet used to be something you read,” writes journalist and analyst Hossein Derakhshan. “In 2018, it will officially be something you watch… Not only is there a lot more investment into video journalism, television’s business models, broadcast or cable, are also dominating: from video ads before or in the middle of a clip, product placement, and monthly subscriptions. This is while digital or analogue ads for text-based media are plummeting.

Writing about how memes are used to spread misinformation, An Xiao Mina, the director of product at Meedan, notes that memes could also be re-appropriated by journalists wishing to spread factual, reported information. “Memes, of course, don’t just have a role in misinformation; they are increasingly a part of our general media landscape,” she writes. “In 2018, journalists will be paying more attention to them, whether as tools of media manipulation, advocacy and amplification, and, yes, even journalism.”

The Tech Monster Grows

Technology is the monster in your closet that you can either ignore at your peril or confront right now and defeat. According to the Neiman contributors, you will be much better served by the latter. John Keefe, a developer in the Quartz Bot Studio, writes that savvy journalists are already using artificial intelligence to increase the quality, specificity, and nuance of their reporting; if you don’t get on board, he writes, you are likely to be scooped.

“In the months ahead, some [journalists] will break big stories using machine learning,” he writes. “These will be important truths and facts invisible to humans alone.”

Rachel Davis Mersey, an associate professor of journalism at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, adds that AI will become so ubiquitous that it will cease to feel intrusive or strange, and come to feel comforting and helpful — the digital personal assistant it was always meant to be.

“Your digital footprint contains your calendar and therefore, with an excellent level of predictive accuracy, artificial intelligence knows your good days and your bad ones,” she writes. “Convenience, it turns out, is more comforting than privacy.”

Some of these predictions might be exciting, some of them might be terrifying, and some of them might be ideas you’d never thought of before. But if this is your chosen field, they should all open your eyes to what your future might hold — and how you can harness it, rather than hide from it and be left behind.