Emergent Journalism

Reports from the front line of journalism instruction

A look back at the year in tech

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The week between Christmas and New Year’s is when journalists traditionally trot out year-end reviews, and I’ve seen a couple already rating and ranking the biggest news stories of the year. Tomorrow’s Sunday papers should have more.

And many of the technology-oriented sites I follow have been doing the same. Here are some of the common threads and my thoughts about them, drawing notably on posts about 2015 tech trends by Walt Mossberg on The Verge, Matthew Hussey at The Net Web, and Catalina Albaneau on Journalism.co.uk.

(I have started reading, but am only part of the way through, the list of more than 100 prognostications by noteworthy observers in Nieman Lab’s annual compilation. Ideally, some thoughts from that list should be reported here but the three I am drawing on are more retrospectives.)

Life Beyond the Screen

Although their opinions about these tools vary, both Mossberg and Hussey cite developments in wearable tech (smart watches, especially the Apple Watch, and the end of Google Glass [mentioned by Hussey though not Mossberg]) as well as emergence of the Internet of Things as top tech trends for 2015.

Mossberg also mentions driverless cars and drones as things that bear watching for the future. Clearly, networked interactivity is going to become increasingly important in the realm of “hard goods” that go beyond mere consumption of words, images, sound and video.

Journalistic impacts

Implications of technology developments on journalism appear in a few places on the observers’ lists. Hussey brings up the greater attention to news by organizations such as Apple (incorporating a news feed into iOS9), Facebook (Instant Articles) and Twitter (Moments), as well as the significance of social media reaction to news events such as the Paris attacks as some of the signature moments for tech in 2015.

Similarly, Albaneau notes the growth of 360-degree video, live streaming video (especially Periscope) and use of chat apps such as Whats App as newsgathering tools as signature 2015 trends likely to affect the future. Both she and Mossberg say that the toes-in-the-water use of virtual reality for journalism in 2015 could be a harbinger of more to come.

Routinization of mobile

But for me, perhaps the most significant trend for technology and journalism in 2015 is something that doesn’t stand out in bright colors like the introduction of some new products, tools or services sometimes do.

The overall theme of Mossberg’s piece is that 2015 didn’t bring us the next big thing, but rather more routine developments. His thoughts about mobile smartphones offer an interesting perspective that while the phone is “the most important computer in our lives now,” none of the major manufacturers had anything in the way of blockbuster changes to what have now become ubiquitous devices.

But in their very ubiquity, smart phones have essentially evolved into a whole new genre according to Albaneau (who quotes a good friend of mine on the topic, City University of London professor Jane Singer). Mobile, according to Singer, is significant “not just as an extension of the web but as a whole different beast.” News organizations are seeing it as a genre of its own for production and distribution of content.

Together, their comments reminded me of a talk by Clay Shirky at a conference a few years ago, in which he made the point that technology becomes socially interesting when it becomes technologically boring. In other words, when tech loses the “gee-whiz” factor and is no longer used only by the leading-edge adopters but by everyone in the routine course of their lives is when it can start to have real social impacts.

I think Mossberg’s observations coupled with Singer’s (via Albaneau) and Hussey’s (about journalism becoming relevant to tech companies) indicate that we have reached the point with mobile technology where it has become both simple and commonplace for journalists and their audiences. This could mean that content creation and sharing via mobile devices can start to take on some really interesting developments for how journalism operates in service of society. The developments along these line in 2015 will bear watching as the next year unfolds.



Author: Jack Rosenberry

Professor in the the Department of Media and Communication at St. John Fisher College in Rochester NY

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