Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The technology that will stimulate journalism’s future is now here

By Caroline Little, NAA president & CEO

To say technology has changed the newspaper media industry is understating the obvious.
While much discussion focuses on how we read the news, technology is changing the way we report the news. The image of a reporter showing up to a scene with a pen and a pad is iconic but lost to the vestiges of time.

I am asked frequently about the future of newspapers and, in particular, what does a successful future look like. For journalists, to be successful is to command multiple technologies and share news with readers in new and exciting ways.

One example of what the future may hold for journalists lies with Google Glass and the likely explosion of wearable tech. Experts such as Robert Hernandez, Journalism Professor at the University of Southern California, suggest that technology is advancing so quickly it is only a matter of time before mobile is outdated and replaced by wearable.

Think about the unlimited potential that wearable technology would provide for journalists. Hernandez is preparing to teach a class at USC this fall, entitled Glass Journalism, which will focus solely on this potential. By focusing on wearable technology today and developing strategies for its use, newspapers are in the position to be trend-setters in using Glass to record interviews, take photos and publish content using a device that could become as ubiquitous as a cell phone.

We use technology in our daily lives to keep up with our social circles. Newspapers are using technology to ensure we can stay connected to the news, and thus, our community—whether local, national or global. In Missouri, The Columbia Daily Tribune is literally mapping out what happens every day thanks to data-mapping technology.
On its Neighborhoods site, the newspaper aggregates data from public and private sources to map it. The hyper-local website features arrest reports, coupons, event listings, information on activities of fire and police departments, news stories and restaurant inspections on a map. Thanks to its responsive design, the site is easy to navigate on laptops, smartphones and tablets. It is an example of a newspaper using technology to move its journalism forward for readers.

So will humans always be doing the writing or simply programming robots to do so?
That once-preposterous question is not so preposterous now. Automation technology has led to articles being created by machines instead of people. This issue first came to the forefront in March when the Los Angeles Times used a program to generate a story in seconds on an earthquake based on U.S. Geological Survey data.

In June, the Associated Press announced it would be using automation technology to produce corporate earnings stories based on financial data. With this new technology in place, Associated Press reporters are able to focus more on in-depth reporting while the “robots” deliver the story on numbers.

Not all of this technology will be immediately greeted with fanfare, such as the Federal Aviation Association’s recent ban on commercial drones. While the future of drone journalism remains up in the air, it speaks to the importance of newspapers and journalists to stay ahead of technology and develop strategies to implement those new technologies.

As I meet with newspaper executives from around the world, the word that continually pops up is innovation. What can we do that’s different? How can we use technology to further our industry? We are starting to see more and more newspaper companies adopting new forms of technology and the early results have been impressive. I expect these advancements to increase dramatically as our journalism students – those most likely to embrace new technologies – become our newspaper reporters and editors.

Technology will continue to develop and change how we operate – bringing with it new challenges and learning curves. What will not change is the public’s demand for news and information, the kind that helps them manage their personal lives and make decisions as educated citizens in the public realm.

Newspaper media will continue to satisfy this public demand using the tools of technological innovation. We will expand our audiences and engage them in novel and exciting ways.

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