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Shaping the news in 2020: Predictions for journalism

nasa space lights stars

NASA tells a story of the stars with this image comprised of more than 200 photos taken during a 6-minute interval by a NASA astronaut traveling from Namibia toward the Red Sea while aboard the International Space Station. Credit: earthobservatory.nasa.gov

By David Pendered

Editor’s Note: This is the first of four stories this week that look at topics and trends likely to appear on devices and news platforms in metro Atlanta in 2020.

Journalism that appears this year in metro Atlanta on screens small and large, on radio and in print, will inform and engage with elements that will be like fresh air to some readers – including more diversity in voices in stories, more podcasts, more visual stories, and more stories that percolate up from neighborhoods, according to a collection of predictions gathered by an affiliate of Harvard College.

nasa space lights stars

NASA tells a story of the stars with this image comprised of more than 200 photos taken during a 6-minute interval by a NASA astronaut traveling from Namibia toward the Red Sea while aboard the International Space Station. Credit: earthobservatory.nasa.gov

These thoughts on the future of journalism are gathered from journalists every year by NiemanLab, part of Harvard’s Nieman Foundation.

These reports tends to be trend setting, given the foundation’s heavyweight stature. As such, news stories created in the Atlanta area, and those from elsewhere, are likely to reflect some of the ideas captured by the NiemanLab’s Predictions for Journalism 2020.

The page says new predictions are added daily; they appear in no particular order.

The following collection is drawn directly from the predictions. Headlines are followed by the author’s bio statement and a few snippets from each column. The collection begins with the first entry on the page Monday morning:

The neutrality vs. objectivity game ends

Tonya Mosley, co-host of NPR’s midday news show, Here & Now

  • “Trust me – every person of color in your newsroom has a story about how a manager questioned either their news judgment, their diction, or whether they could be neutral or objective….
  • “Some news organizations, like National Geographic, have begun to examine how racist ideology has shaped their journalism. It’s an attempt to slowly chip away at this larger idea. But the truth is it’ll take real work to break down the systems that have led to the news coverage we see today.”
video, noaa, jellyfish

NOAA turns to vidcasts to tell the story of organisms that live deep beneath the water’s surface. This Halicreatid Jellyfish was recorded 1,200 meters deep in the water column in the Central Pacific Basin. Credit: oceanexplorer.noaa.gov

Get out of the office and talk to people

Alexandra Borchardt, senior research associate with the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford

  • “In the year to come, journalism will rediscover the communities it’s meant to serve. Several factors will contribute to this. One is the ever more urgent need for media organizations to engage with real people in the real world….
  • “The future of journalism will be in unique quality reporting and research. A generation of young journalists was raised in front of computer screens, copying and pasting stories for quick successes in clicks and reach. Now many are savvy in SEO and a variety of storytelling formats. But this prevented them from learning the ropes of doing in-depth investigations. Those require patience, persistence, and communication skills, because they’re about building trust with sources.”

The dawning audio web

Steve Henn, content strategy lead for audio news at Google

  • “We’re at the beginning of an effort to make the audio web as relevant and as useful as the text web has become….
  • “Audio isn’t yet interactive, personally relevant, or intelligent. It isn’t easily shareable…. At Google, we’ve taken the first steps to understanding audio and making it searchable and discoverable online. Today, we are indexing and transcribing every story in audio news. This allows us to share audio stories about events that are changing the world right at this moment.”
magazine rack, drug store

Magazines that once were profitable enough to warrant entire shelves at local pharmacies now take a fraction of the space and, this week, focus on the shenanigans of royals, weight loss, desert recipes, and movies. Credit: David Pendered

Climate change storytelling gets multidimensional

Sonali Prasad, Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT

  • “Climate change is so far-reaching that it’s taken the form of a giant kraken, piercing its tentacles into our politics, economics, health, food, and culture. Gone are the days of a siloed climate desk. Now reporters are blending across beats to tell important and comprehensive stories….
  • “For instance, the Financial Times has experimented with an audience-based game that explores the tensions in climate change discussions and decision-making. Another good example is Pop-Up Magazine, a live show where storytellers perform their stories on stage. In a show at the Sundance Festival, Vann R. Newkirk II, a politics and policy writer for The Atlantic, wrote and performed a popup piece called “The Tar River Refugees,” which covered the climate change refugee crisis occurring on the United States’ Atlantic coastline.”

AI can’t conjure up an Errol Morris

Hossein Derakhshan, London-based media researcher and a former fellow at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center

  • “When it comes to journalism … AI technologies are now capable of doing almost every aspect of the news practice with a fraction of the costs in the long term…. It’s true that AI technologies are being used to generate non-newsy journalism in areas such as travel, fashion, culture, and the arts. Media startups are working hard to take massive amounts of user-generated content and turn it into journalistic products to then monetize.
  • “But if AI can now generate news reports or travel reviews, it’s difficult to imagine it producing convincing factual drama…. AI is set out to kill most of the remaining newsroom jobs. But it can never replace how Errol Morris, Bob Woodward, or Michael Barbaro construct long-form affective narratives – which is the future of journalism.

Editor’s note – This series includes: Monday – Shaping the News in 2020: Predictions for journalism; Tuesday – Atlanta’s internal audits in 2020: Expect to be surprised; Wednesday – Water war to end in 2020: Supreme Court to issue ruling; Thursday – Mobility in 2020: Region’s long-range plan, Atlanta’s Vision Zero


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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