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What to look ahead for news media in 2022

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Key themes from NiemanLab’s predictions on technological innovation

2021 has been an interesting year for the news media – full of exciting technological innovation, but also marked by pandemic-induced uncertainty and continually-deteriorating press freedom. 

What should we expect as we meet 2022? Every year, NiemanLab asks top thinkers in the news media industry to try and predict what’s coming for journalism in the coming year. We picked key themes from the experts’ predictions focusing on technological innovation.

Emerging technological challenges – voice search and AI assistants

Over the past several decades, technological development disrupted many of the traditional news media models. Now, voice search and AI assistants might pose a challenge to the paywall model.

“The confluence of new search algorithms based on natural language models and consumer adoption of wearable devices” might undermine the reader revenue models many outlets have come to rely on recently, WNYC’s Sam Guzik warns.

New search models strive to answer users’ questions directly, summarising information from various sources, rather than pointing users to external resources. News media should plan how to respond, adapting to the changing consumer habits, Guzik argues.

Web3 as an opportunity for news publishers

At the same time, new technologies might also offer brand-new advantages to publishers – at least those willing to adapt quickly. Daniel Eilemberg writes about the coming rise of Web3, which envisions a decentralised internet. 

“Web3 offers new ways of monetizing archives and IP, creating patronage, rewarding readers, and funding startups,” Eilemberg notes. A low-hanging fruit would be NFTs of historical photographs owned by big news outlets; a more complex one – funding local newspapers as DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations).

While there are reasons for caution – Web3-powered community funding might further boost polarisation – Eilemberg believes “the good outweighs the bad, and 2022 will be an extraordinary year for those who learn how to harbor the power of the upcoming revolution.”

Improving user experience – daily passes, better accessibility 

Apart from broad technological waves, in 2022 we are likely to see smaller, yet important innovations where technology will make life easier for news consumers. Journalism researcher Brian Moritz predicts that next year you’ll be able to purchase a daily pass for reading a paywalled news outlet.

This development makes sense, Moritz argues – there is a clear demand for having an equivalent of purchasing a paper without buying a yearly subscription, and the technology required is already here. 

In the meanwhile, Joe Amditis is hopeful that, after almost two years of the pandemic, 2022 will see more newsrooms experimenting with technologies enabling accessibility, such as launching voiceovers and closed captioning. 

Evolving models of consumption 

Several predictions focus on the evolution in media consumption models we’re likely to see next year. 

The rise of newsletters and podcasts is hardly news to The Fix readers and everyone else in the news industry, but NPR’s Tamar Charney argues that one of their advantages is the growing move to the “finite forms of news” as ways to cope with a constant barrage of news and tweets, a trends that’s likely to continue into 2022.

The next year will also see the news further sliding into readers’ private messages with the growth of direct publishing. Tom Trewinnard reminds that users across the world increasingly get news from WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram, and other messaging apps. They offer a big opportunity for publishers – one that the news outlets should employ more actively.

Anton Protsiuk

This piece was originally published in The Fix and is re-published with permission.