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.

The smart newsletter and a return to the curated web

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A few years ago, it seemed that email was on a slow and irreversible decline. Beset by high levels of spam and cookie-cutter email marketing, email looked to be taken over by social networks and go the way of the pager and other outdated technologies.

These days, however, email is back and stronger than ever. With there being too many websites to remember, it seems almost quaint to type in a website address and go to a “home page” instead of arriving at through a link. Rather, we seem to be returning to the curated web of the early days, when Yahoo was just a set of links that Jerry and  David liked.

This has given rise to a whole slew of “smart newsletters” that have the potential to eliminate mindless web surfing by providing both a summary of key news of the day, as well as a set of curated links to interesting articles elsewhere. Most days, I could read just these and their links, and still get very close to a full picture of what’s going on.

If we look at the providers of these, Slate was a pioneer, with its beloved Today’s Papers. It was unfortunately replaced by its successor, The Slatest, which unsuccessfully tries to update the format. However, a number of the new media outlets produce fantastic smart newsletters. Quartz might be the best one, with its Daily Brief, which manages to both distill the key news, as well as provide links to interesting, more peripheral stories. Vox recently launched its Sentences, which aims to do the same thing. FT Alphaville was another early mover, and the power of the model can be seen in that they’ve now relaunched this as FT First.

A number of other publications have launched their own, which are all decent, even if they don’t reach the level of Quartz and Vox. These include QED from the New Republic, The Morning Email from the Huffington PostBloomberg View, and Mic. The NYT is jumping on the trend by separating the news roundup from the links to curated content into two separate emails. This still works pretty well, however, with the latter email called What we’re reading.

This trend might be a response to the social news that we thought would take over news delivery, but with Twitter now putting in more and more sponsored stories that I don’t want to read, and Facebook endlessly tweaking its algorithm, but still not showing anything interesting, I think the smart newsletters show that we still need curation from actual journalists.