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Expect more bite-sized news, ‘click-baiting’, and reporting that has a very distinct personality. Attention — the one-size-fits-all approach is long dead. These are just some of the predictions from author and journalist Azad Essa, who is also founder of local online news channel, The Daily Vox.
Future By Design asked Essa what the future of news is going to look like; these are his answers.
FBD: How has technology changed news?
Azad Essa: Technology has shifted how news is consumed — so much so, that technology is as important as the story. One cannot think about ‘the story’ without considering how it will be consumed.
This means considering that stories need to be tailored for mobile devices, be they phones or tablets; so they can’t be too graphics-heavy for readers with poor bandwidth. Also, video that works for TV doesn’t work for web, and so there are new audiences, and they need to be treated differently.
But technology has also changed the types of stories we can report on: we have access to areas and places and people through social media, which has made journalism exciting but also sketchy. The pool of storytellers has increased, which means verification is a bigger issue than before.
FBD: Has news become commoditised?
AE: Completely. It is a product like any other in the information superhighway. This has given way to the ‘click-bait’ phenomenon. It’s not enough to sell a story for its thorough research, or importance. Readers want to be entertained, bewitched, and consume stories as they would a fast-food drive-through. They want it instantly, and are mostly not interested in what goes on behind the scenes.
Even the big brands like Time Magazine, NYT and Guardian have been forced to compete, offering lighter pieces, and being more open to a wider audience with different needs. There is so much noise on the internet, that news has to join the stream, or watch from the sidelines.
Consider that our newsfeeds are already curated on Facebook and Twitter and this has made us very lazy and also dependent on our online friendships and communities; essentially, the ‘crowd’ we surround ourselves with pretty much dictates the kind of news product we consume as well.
FBD: How can news organisations differentiate themselves?
AE: I am a big believer in ‘voice’. It is not a case of establishing a polarised approach to news, like, say, Fox News does, because it can be so alienating and self-defeating. But you want to be able to create a brand that pushes the envelope, creates a unique style.
Truth can be very subjective, so creating credibility is probably the most crucial ingredient to standing out from the rest. I don’t think many people believe that there is such a thing as ‘unbiased’ news, but once readers are able to relate to a ‘voice’, it becomes easier for them to decide for themselves on the merits of the story.
FBD: What does the future of news look like?
AE: The future of news is a mess. More bites and less size, depth or context. Of course, the different forms of ‘news’ will remain: the newspaper, the website, the TV — but there will be all types of other gimmicks competing and posing as news.
The basics of news won’t alter dramatically, and there will always be a select number of journalists who will make sure that long-form, impactful storytelling continues. But how we can create and consume news will continue to shift.
For instance, real-time news will involve rolling, flexible editorial discussion and action that will have to dip into zeitgeist (for lack of a better phrase) in order to remain relevant. More stories have a shorter shelf-life. Also, stories have to consider ‘tone’ and ‘voice’ and their audience more than ever before.
FBD: What news brands are pioneering news?
AE: Buzzfeed and Vice are certainly playing with our minds; on one hand they have frivolous, even sensational content, while dabbling in very serious topics in between. This is pioneering work because they are able to attract readers of all types, and appeal to our different sensibilities.
As readers, we are schizophrenic when it comes to content. And being able to provide a complete human experience is part of the challenge.
There is also Vox.com which often takes storytelling to another level of aesthetic.
Of course, Al Jazeera has long been an innovator in news and the channel AJ+ is quickly reshaping how we consume, share and talk about stories that affect us.
FBD: Why did you start The Daily Vox?
AE: Khadija Patel and I started The Daily Vox because we believed there was a space in the South African mediascape for stories about people, especially young South Africans. We have found that, although we have some splendid publications in the country, few speak to (or for) young people.
So the idea was to go back to the basics of journalism: hold leaders to account, amplify citizens’ voices, tell stories in the public interest with some spunk and imagination. And that meant working with young people starting out in journalism, training them, working with them and learning from them about the stories that mattered to their generation.
But our idea is not to sit on the sidelines; we want to be the heartbeat of a young, changing South Africa.