The Future of Journalism: The Web 3.0 Newsroom (Update)

(Update: This new post is an edited piece of an earlier post. Special thanks to journalist and journalism teacher Mindy McAdams for her comments and suggestions. Check out her site here.)

The future of the newsroom will be quite different than the one we are used to today.

The journalists working in the Web 3.0 future will find themselves less like the Woodward and Bernstein of yore, and more like traffic cops helping direct the flow of digital traffic. They will help people make sense of the world around them, giving them the information they need to function, in any form they want it. The concept of the newsroom – journalists working side-by-side to write stories and direct content will be replaced by a “virtual” newsroom of chats, emails and conference calls. It’s already begun to happen.

Max Chafkin writes on that the rapid advances in technology have made telecommunication less costly and less complicated and that “today, thanks to the widespread availability of free, easy-to-use communications technologies, a lot of telecommuting consultants are out of business — and most virtual companies end up without offices not as a result of some heated planning meeting, but simply by accident.”

With wireless Internet in abundance and the advent of powerful laptops and mobile phones, journalists can write stories, take photos and video, and upload all of it to the web with little or no trouble at all. The communication, give-and-take and collaboration that traditionally took place in newsrooms would be replaced with chat rooms, phone calls and sampling the opinions of the crowd.

The loss of a concrete journalism cage would evolve parallel to a more decentralized management and collaboration structure. Gone will be the one reporter who turns in an extensive story on his own. This will be replaced by a culture of mutual collaboration and a return of the “rewrite” desk made up of people who will take the chunks and bits of information from the crowd and from journalists and will help shape multimedia stories and reports.

Each person involved in this chain will have experience on multiple platforms, and will know what it takes to maximize impact on each.

This will result in a broad range of content across numerous platforms, meaning that the newsroom of the future “will deliver the news in whatever way the community craves and is economically feasible, including online video, audio, print, online, mobile, TV or radio. Each locality will decide what’s necessary to meet their needs,” according to Mark Glaser from MediaShift.

The organization of the news room will be less linear, and input will flow from more than just one direction. Journalists, freelancers and citizens will all contribute to projects, and journalists and management in turn will include citizens in discussions about future coverage and potential projects.

But not all stories can be given the proper context on human voices alone, which means another key segment of the newsroom of the future has to be based on the hum of computers and the imaginary sound of numbers crunching.

It’s because Americans and other urban, free societies live in a world of data. We are surrounded by countless polls, studies, research articles and surveys, and for a long time those results were published in a story format with a bar graph, or perhaps a pie chart.

Typical stories drew the determinations for the reader, and presented the information in a much-simplified format. But as the Internet begins to put pressure on organizations and governments to release more and more data, the future of the newsroom will be in taking the data and making it easily available and linked to other sets of data.

It is no longer enough to tell someone that cases of swine flu are on the rise – the future of journalism will be in allowing people to personalize the data in ways that are meaningful to them, with just the click of a few buttons. The Centers for Disease Control data on swine flu could be linked with the National Institutes for Health to paint a more complete picture.

That same data can be linked with government spending on flu awareness and education to see the impact of government funding on the rates of swine flu across the country.

As the mass audience of television and newspapers are replaced by the countless niche audiences of the online world, the use of linked data and contextualized data will help strengthen the personal link between the news and the user.

A guest author at ReadWriteWeb writes that all of these comparisons “lead to new insight and all of these things happen only when the walls around an institution become porous.” The future newsroom will be a more of a weigh station for data than a final destination. Journalists will use the data to power their own stories, and give people the tools to apply these numbers to their own lives, or for their own interests.

The future newsroom will be funded in a myriad of ways, with no one approach dominating the industry, such as display advertising had once done. Instead, publications will pursue a sort of “breadbasket” of options, including some display advertising and sponsorships, payment for special convenience in the form of apps or programs, and user-supported journalism. (For more info about payment method possibilities, see the Pew research on the subject.)

Nothing will be off the table; even limited chances for merchandising will be part of the larger occasion. Much like American dependence on fossil fuels, alternative energies encompass a wide variety of solutions; the financing of journalism will follow the same route.

Edward Wasserman, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Professor of Journalism Ethics at Washington and Lee University in Lexington agrees, saying on his blog that news organizations “have to get hungry and get busy, developing new money streams from micropayments, online ads of all kinds, premium news spinoffs sold to targeted audiences, branded online offerings, special live events, social media mini-networks, custom publishing, snazzy sponsorships for specialized one-off publications, handouts from philanthropists or the general public—whatever jingles in the till.”

For too long journalism had existed on an unstable foundation, and without a diversified approach, the future will be shaky indeed.

But most important of all, the future newsroom will no longer be dependent on others to point the way toward new technology. Newsrooms will be proactive in identifying emerging technologies and programs and incorporating them into their journalism portfolio.

News companies will no longer be blindsided by rapid advances in technology. Instead, news companies will embrace and adapt to the constantly shifting digital landscape and the public’s sometimes fickle adoption of different programs.

In the ideal future newsroom, organizations will lead the push for better, more flexible technologies and programs as part of a larger mission of serving the public and its population of cooperating citizens.

In this future newsroom, journalism will serve not as the gatekeepers of information, but as a guide to understanding and as part of the ebb and flow of the Internet conversation.