That’s News to Me (Or is it?) - The Future of News Consumption

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By Jacob Mickelsson - 13.06.2016

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Imagine sitting down with your morning newspaper and a coffee. For many, this thought is tinted with a certain nostalgia. It evokes an exclusive relationship between you and the newspaper, a situation where you are devoted to one particular activity: Reading. For current news consumers, this type of situation is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Why is this?

Our newsscapes are changing. ‘Newsscape’ refers to consumers’ landscapes of news provision, that is, newspapers, websites, newsfeeds etc. It has been argued that we are currently living in a post-channel media world, where traditional distribution channels are dissolving. In the past, technological restrictions led to clear and centralized channels for distributing news. If you wanted to distribute news, you needed to have your own printing press or TV-channel. If you wanted to consume news, you had to buy a newspaper or a TV-set. Now, this picture has broken down. We have moved beyond the world of separate, controlled channels: The channel is now the Internet, which belongs to no-one (so far, at least). The whole idea of “distribution” has changed. What consequences does this have, then, for news consumption?

The first thing to understand is, that the form of the technology guides the form of the service. What does this mean? ‘News’, as we used to understand it, was by and large a result of the emergence of the printing press. Printing made it possible to report on events from near and far on a mass scale, and people, being curious, bought and read the newspapers. Economies of scale (that is, printing more means lower costs per unit) and symbiosis with advertisers made the whole endeavor very profitable, as well as an industry for the few. And so the status quo reigned for many years. The papers had to be filled with stories, and people usually wanted to read them.

This has shaped our whole idea of what 'news' is. However, there is no platonic ideal of news – news is whatever people say it is, which is guided by practical and economic (and sometimes ethical or political) concerns. Moreover, the technology determines the form, and people try to make the best of it. Print, TV and radio provided certain boundaries for how news could be presented, which shaped the form of the news service. Digital technologies, however, have totally different characteristics, and a different ‘opportunity space’ compared to traditional technologies. Digital technology has set new boundaries for what the news service can be. As a result, news in the future will probably become something completely different from what we are used to.

Naturally, many news agencies still work with past conceptions of what news is, and what it does. Consequently, they are struggling to cope. Current digital strategies often consist of providing traditional content in digital form. So in that case, what will news be like in the future? In this blog we will talk about factors that are likely to shape tomorrow’s news consumption. This ranges from more obvious ones, like digital media's separation from time and space, to less obvious ones, like interactive interfaces.

In the next blog entry, we will talk about the consequences of news consumption’s separation from time and space. Traditional news consumption came with clearly defined places, activities and routines, like reading the newspaper in your kitchen in the morning. Digital news does not. What implications does this have for tomorrow’s news service?

 


The Consumer Newsscape Blog reports on the Consumer Newsscape Project. The project, conducted at Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki, studies how consumers integrate news into their everyday activities and experiences. This blog discusses factors behind news consumption, and makes some educated guesses about the future.