Top 10 Media Trends of the Year

  1. Recycle Journalism – This was the year that recycle journalism came to the fore. It’s been a trend for a long time, already when I was writing for the magazine Space in the 90’s, I was experimenting with it, and Sweden’s Nojesguiden had a fun tradition of creating interviews using questions from other magazines’ interviews, but this year, it was everywhere. New media outlets such as Buzzfeed, Business Insider and Gawker are in large parts based on recycling and reshuffling material, but this year even more traditional magazines such as Bloomberg Businessweek had pieces which were made up of lists of articles from other outlets, such as their year-end jealousy list. Slate capped the year by doing a list of (social) media outrages for each day of the year. This trend is perhaps inevitable given the vast and increasing amount of content creation, which means that not all of it can be original content (as with this article itself!). Perhaps it can even be useful given the impossibility of keeping up with everything (unless you’re Jason Hirschhorn of Media Redef who seems to have 25 hours in his day!)
  2. Snowdenification – One of the outcomes from the NSA leaks has been the rise of apps that promise anonymity or not storing data. Two of the most talked about apps of the year were Secret and Whisper, which lets users share sentiments anonymously. Snapchat, with its self-destructing photos, continued to gain in popularity, and recently, we saw the launch of Confide, which lets users send self-destructing text messages.
  3. Long tail in analog – The creation of digital content was supposed to enable the long tail, i.e. with a distribution cost of zero, we could all enjoy whatever niche content we wanted. That ended up not being the case, with mainstream music/films/videos still dominating digital. Instead, it’s in the analog space that we are seeing extremely niche products, with the success of magazines like Brot (a German magazine dedicated only to bread!) and Modern Farmer (which I can only imagine is, as its name suggests, for modern farmers). Likewise, we saw Serial blow up and reach mass audiences that podcasts earlier could only dream of.
  4. Fights for digital distribution and pricing rights – Taylor Swift picked a fight with Spotify, and Hachette picked a fight with Amazon, and all over, music labels, artists and film studios were worrying about how to price their products for digital distribution and how to maintain control.
  5. Algorithms beats curation – Another highly visible fight this year took place between Spotify, the reigning master in the algorithm corner, and Beats Music, the newcomer in the curation corner. We’ll have to see how much focus is given to curation when Beats is relaunched by Apple next year, but for now Spotify has the lead, with steadily improving algorithms.
  6. Corporate Content – Benetton has long had its own magazine, Colors, which received praise this year for its World Cup issue, but this year, corporate content has become one of the main trends. One aspect of this is native advertising, which has become the buzzword du jour in digital advertising. Other advertisers took it even further and launched their own magazines with quite limited branding, such as GE.
  7. Data journalism – Big data is making its mark on all industries, and the news industry is no exception. The launch of Nate Silver’s 538 heralded an onslaught of data journalism, and there were suddenly infographics wherever you looked. The belief in data as the ultimate objective source was quickly questioned, however, and it turned out that data journalism has biases just like regular journalism, it just has more graphs to back it up with. That’s not to say that some of it wasn’t great, though, NYT’s The Upshot did great work around the US midterm elections.
  8. Explanatory journalism. The other surprising trend this year was explanatory journalism. Alain de Botton published his book News: A Manual, where he called for news to be kinder to the reader and function more like an oracle helping the reader navigate life. Whether or not as a response to Alain, Ezra Klein this year left Washington Post and launched Vox, which became the torch-bearer for explanatory journalism. Again, it was a worthwhile aim, and some of the pieces served to provide much-needed background, but in order to maintain the 24/7 flow of a digital news site, some explanations proved a bit silly, and “Vox explains” could seemingly be attached to anything from ISIS to Easter Eggs.
  9. Drone journalism – The rise of affordable drones and cameras provided journalists, and especially photographers, with a fantastic new tool to investigate and report. There are still many question marks, not least around FAA regulations, but this is clearly something that will only grow. A related phenomenon is the launch of mini-satellites which can be used to provide high-definition images in close to real-time.
  10. Google’s Right to be Forgotten – A scary trend in Europe was for Google to remove links to websites under the court ruling dubbed “Right to be forgotten”. This could potentially be admissible for individual websites that are defamatory, or simply out-of-date, but it was applied to stories on many news sites, such as BBC stories about specific CEOs, etc, where it has no right at all. That is called editing history, and has no place in a modern society.

India dreaming

In his speech at Rice in 1962, President Kennedy said: We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon[…], not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard. It set off a dream of space exploration that spurred on American science and technology innovation for almost 50 years.

This week, India sent off its first mission to Mars. This was also the first Mars mission from a developing country. Like the efforts of the US, in the middle of its Cold War with the Soviet Union, this is one of the starting shots in a space and technology war between India and China. But despite the political justifications, it is likely to have hugely beneficial effects for the country.

Many commentators, in and outside of India said that this is money that could be better spent on the many Indian poor. Even if India’s space program operates on a budget that would fund one day of NASA’s, it can course sometimes be hard to see how you can justify space exploration trips, lasting many years and with uncertain payoffs, when you have people starving in the country’s here and now.

But it is likely to be money well-spent. In the West, all the “dreaming” budgets, of space exploration, and of large-scale science fiction-style projects are largely being slashed and being put on the back burner. Stian Westlake argued in the FT recently that we need Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, and large, dream-like projects like it to spur on our collective imagination. With a few exceptions, such as the Hyperloop, a few space Kickstarter and Indiegogo projects, the US has stopped dreaming, which is having huge ramifications on the level of science and technology being developed. I wrote earlier here about how Google is one of the few institutions that have the imperative (and resources) to push for moonshot projects.

Judith Shulevitz, in the New Republic, argued recently that the classic American liberal arts has driven many of the scientific advances. For example, the tablet computer was envisioned in Star Trek, and cyberspace was first suggested by C W. That is another one of the “dreaming” budgets being cut, as money is spent on educating engineers who will make only incremental innovations rather than revolutionary ones. She argues that the current decline of liberal arts education means that we will face decades of less innovation.

There is clearly a case to be made for these kind of dreaming projects. I am happy to see India take the step to dream, despite all of its day-to-day issues. Like Indian economist Amartya Sen said, development is freedom. And space exploration is a huge driver for development, by letting a generation of Indians dream.

Image from NASA Earth Observatory

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Key learnings from last week – August 17

Regular reminder of our tininess in the universe – part 2

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In the category of posts on the Alain de Botton-inspired idea of replacing religion in our secular world with other examples of contemplating something bigger than ourselves:

Beautiful picture of a spiral-formed galaxy on Space.com, taken with the Hubble Space Telescope.

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Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt 

Hero of the day 2: Chris Hadfield

Chris Hadfield. Recently announced he’d be retiring. Worth mentioning for being as much as popularizer of space as Asimov was back in the day (or probably more). You can find some of his tweeted pictures here. Also, for being a Bowie fan (although it seems everyone is these days).

 

Interviews from the past – The World’s Best Ever

I love the concept of interviews from the past, as exemplified here: Interviews from the past – The World’s Best Ever: design, fashion, art, music, photography, lifestyle,.

It reminds me of the interviews Nojesguiden used to run, and that I tried to copy in SPACE magazine – recycled interviews. Where all the questions come from earlier interviews with other people, in other magazines.

There is less of this meta, non-technical innovations in magazines these days.