With the recent news that Snapchat would like to go public and launched its Discover feature, offering access to content from brands like CNN, ESPN and Vice, one clear message has emerged: The future of media is mobile.
But mobile is a beginning not an end.
Clearly, mobile will continue to grow as one of the primary ways we’ll be getting our news. But there is a more broad suggestion at play here. In the future, we’ll be getting our news in more ways, not fewer than we do today.
That’s good for the news audience because it means more choice. It’s also benefits the news media because more choice means more options for delivering their product.
Consider this: Pew Research Center’s State of the News Media report recently found that a majority of the top 50 digital news websites – a list that includes legacy media like The Washington Post and digital-only products like Gawker –are getting more traffic from mobile than from desktop computers.
Yet, for the most part, desktop visitors spent more time on the news sites than those who visited via a mobile device, the report found. Meanwhile, digital and mobile developments have led to increases in audio and podcasts, and television news saw a slight bump in viewers. So as mobile’s dominance increases, its technology also boosts some forms of media that we may think of as more old school.
What this means is the future of news is platform choice, not just mobile.
We won’t abandon one format, such as reading news from our Twitter feeds, and favor a new one. Instead, we will embrace an every-growing list of new platforms that we’ll use at different times to fill varying needs.
For instance, today you might consume news in print when drinking your coffee at breakfast, through an app on my phone during a bus ride to work, and then via a podcast while making dinner at home.
In a few years – or perhaps sooner – a wearable computing device might wake you in time for work, based on traffic and weather news it monitors. Then the personalized device will handpick top stories for you to listen to. Later, as you relax playing a video game, the console will keep you updated on that night’s televised political debate through short-form snippets of news.
This may seem like science fiction, but it’s not as far off as you’d think. Some early efforts at immersive virtual journalism were unveiled at the recent International Symposium on Online Journalism. More practical applications of this idea are sure to follow.
At the same time, changes in how we use our existing platforms – like social media and mobile apps – will continue to evolve.
Earlier this year, Facebook announced experimenting with hosting content for news outlets within its site, rather than having news organizations direct their audiences back to their own websites.
And again, Snapchat, the mobile app darling of the tween-and-teen set, recently launched its Discover feature. News organizations as varied as National Public Radio and Mashable are experimenting with Snapchat for news.
The takeaway from all this isn’t that one platform is the future of news. It’s that the future of news will be more diverse than we can imagine. This is good news for journalists who will have more tools to tell stories and serve their readers. It’s also a boon to the consumer, who can access news and information more easily.
The goal for the news media isn’t to create an app and say: Phew, look how innovative we are? It’s to create an app, experiment with social news, gaming news and virtual news, and then stand on the precipice of the future asking: What’s next? It is anyone’s guess, but one thing is clear: The future of the media is mobile.
Gina Masullo Chen is an assistant professor of journalism at The University of Texas at Austin who spent more than 20 years as a news reporter and editor.
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