The digital future of journalism

What does the future hold for journalists in an ever evolving digital world?

“Print media is dying,” is the refrain you often hear when someone talks about the digital media revolution. But while it is obvious that this digital revolution has changed the journalism industry dramatically, what exactly are the consequences for prospective, budding, and veteran journalists?

We pay for free news with our attention
Why buy a newspaper reporting day-old news, when you can get the news as it happens for free online? Most news agencies now have websites where you can read their articles for free. Not only that, but with apps, tweets, Facebook updates, and e-mail subscriptions, we don’t even have to go looking for the free news stories anymore!

This change in journalism and media has one aim: to secure a bigger audience for news agencies.

The more people visit a news agency’s website per day, the more that news agency can charge advertisers for advertising on its website. This means that although readers don’t pay for the news with money, they pay with their attention and with their clicks.

What does this mean for journalists? 
The bigger a journalist’s online following is, the more people he or she can bring to a specific news site. This means that journalists need to cultivate their social following and public image in order to build their careers.

Another important aspect for journalists is the number of times their articles are shared, liked, or retweeted.

This means that journalism has changed in the following two ways:
1. Journalists have to be PR representatives as well. They need to promote their own content online. They also have to be active on social media, and they have to be social media-conscious when writing their articles.

2. Writing techniques have changed to increase the ‘virality’ of articles (how often they will be shared on social media sites). Buzzfeed has become so powerful due to their social media popularity that they are now regarded as one of the most influential companies in online publishing. Consequently, even reputable news agencies are now starting to mimic their style, publishing sensationalistic articles, listicles, and click-bait headlines.

The lines between journalism and blogging have become very blurred!

While articles are free, good articles are still going to cost you
If there is an app for something, we download it—and there is literally an app for almost everything! While advertising is a prime source of revenue for app publishers (as it is with online news sites), there is also another more profitable model that app publishers have perfected: the freemium model.

Freemium means that while the core app is free, you have to pay a premium to unlock certain features, or to be rid of annoying advertisements.

Many of the most respectable news sites, such as The New York Times, follow a sort of freemium model for making money online. Though you might have free access to a certain number of articles, for example, you have to subscribe, and pay a fee, to have full access to all their articles. Other reputable news sites, like Wired, allow you to browse for free, but require you to pay a fee if you don’t want to see any ads while browsing their website.

What does this mean for journalists?
While news sites might be trying to bump up audience numbers by offering free articles and imitating Buzzfeed, newspapers like The New York Times have shown that people are still willing to pay good money for quality content online. This means that journalists don’t necessarily have to write sensationalist or ‘viral’ content. There is still room for serious investigative journalism and good articles online.

Print media might be dying, but you can’t say the same of quality writing. Online platforms are merely giving readers a new and easier way to access the newspapers that they’ve come to trust for their journalistic standards and integrity.

Mobile revolution
Our love of apps is largely due to the mobile revolution that has taken the world by storm. Even desktop computers are falling out of fashion as more and more people access the internet using their smart devices. It has even come to the point where our addiction to mobile phones has been given a medical name: “nomophobia”.

What does this mean for journalists? 
A phone is a completely different platform than a folded newspaper—or even a computer screen, for that matter. Mobile readers have a completely different ‘user experience’ when reading news on their phones, which is something that journalists increasingly have to take into consideration when writing.

Article length is a big issue. A mobile user does not want to read a 1000-word essay on their small screen. Scannability is also a crucial factor. When we read on our phones, we don’t read everything from top to bottom. Rather, we scan articles for the information we are looking for (the use of subheadings, bullet-points, and other emphasis techniques have thus become very important).

Another change, though this one is not limited to mobile devices, is interlinking. Journalists have to write with the whole news site in mind, as each article should link to other articles on the site to keep readers constantly cycling through the website, rather than clicking away to another domain.

Getting into journalism
The ‘death’ of traditional journalism also means that traditional career paths for journalists have changed. The rise of the blogger has demonstrated that a good writer, who can build up a big online following, often wields much more power than a qualified journalist. A staff writer at BuzzFeed, for example, might even earn more than a highly qualified journalist for a reputable news site.

How this will help you to get into journalism:
You don’t have to have a Bachelor’s degree to start writing for or interning at a news agency anymore. There are other ways to get into this profession. Blogging is a great way to start your career in new media journalism, for example. And in the end, the number of Twitter followers you have might be as important as—if not more important than—your CV.

However, even the best self-made writers will admit that they needed some guidance to get started. This is why it might be beneficial to get some journalistic training while you start building your career. A great way to do this is by taking a distance learning course in journalism.

A distance learning course will mean that you study your journalism course part-time, from home, while you keep working. What do you have to lose?