As 2015 draws to an end, we looked back at some of the trends that have made their mark on digital media this year to see what they could mean for publishers in 2016.

We asked three industry experts to reflect on the changes they have noticed in newsrooms in 2015, and to explain how these might shape newsgathering and distribution in the next year.

You can also listen to their take in our latest podcast.

The rise of 360-degree video

This year, news organisations have released a host of virtual reality projects and immersive videos,
from one-off experiments to declaring a commitment to the medium by building dedicated VR apps.

And as more social networks have started to support 360-degree videos on their platforms, the format has become one to watch for publishers looking to innovate in their video news coverage.

Inga Thordar, editorial and programming director, CNN Digital International, says media outlets may look to build their own 360-degree players to avoid relying on Facebook or YouTube too much.

"360-videos are becoming pretty mainstream now. A lot of organisations don't have 360-video players on their platform so I think in 2016 we're going to see more organisations moving into that.

"They're a very engaging experience and they really straddle three points that I think for 2015 were the highlights that we'll take into 2016: they're a very mobile-friendly product, they're a social product and they take you to the place [of a story], which is what people want from digital journalism, to really feel like they're part of the story."

It's really hard to predict how it's going to go because it really is an extremely different experience to what people are used toGlen Mulcahy, RTE
But Glen Mulcahy, innovation lead at the Irish public broadcaster RTE, is not so sure audiences are really interested in the format.

"We still don't know how the audience will ultimately respond to this. I had a great quote the other day – we did one of our first 360-degree projects about two weeks ago and someone sent me a tweet saying 'why did you shoot the floor' and it took me about two minutes to register what exactly did that message mean.

"When I thought about it, I realised they were watching the video on their phone and obviously the position they were holding their phone in meant that the phone was pointing at the ground, so in the 360-degree video they were looking at another virtual ground."

He thinks there's not enough public awareness about the platform and the experiences it can deliver. To try to change that, RTE may give out Google Cardboard virtual reality viewers with the release of its next big 360-degree video project in the new year. The New York Times also took a similar approach in November, when it offered Google Cardboard viewers alongside the print newspaper after the launch of its VR app.

"It's really hard to predict how it's going to go because it really is an extremely different experience to what people are used to," said Mulcahy. "And if 3D and the evolution of that was anything to go by, sometimes the technology world can get extremely exercised about new technology and the audience, they just don't get it."

Here's how to get started with 360-degree video.

Mobile is no longer just an extension of the web

In the UK, over half of the audience of five national newspapers is now mobile-only. While producing mobile-friendly stories and products has been a point of focus for news publishers for a few years already, the mobile-first mindset came into its own in 2015.

"When we were looking at our pie chart of where people were consuming," explained Thordar, "mobile was always sort of skirting the 50 per cent mark in the previous year. But in 2015 it really went past that line and it started growing and maintaining that growth. It always changes your mindset when you start seeing a substantial growth like that, and a consistent growth."

Jane Singer, professor of journalism innovation at City University London, believes 2015 is the year media organisations have started thinking of mobile "not just as an extension of the web but as a whole different beast".

"Which is very much how they first thought about the internet. First it was just an extension of the newspaper or a way to put the scripts from a TV programme online. And after a while, longer than you might have thought, journalists really began to think about what it can do on its own, and I think that's where we are with mobile.

"They've been doing mobile for a while but they've been doing it as an extension of the web and [now] there's a growing creativity in thinking about it as its own creature." has covered many mobile apps launched by news outlets in the past few years – this year we've seen, among others, the BuzzFeed News app with its own dedicated editorial team (and an openness towards emoji in news reports), and more recently WSJ City, the mobile-only London news product from The Wall Street Journal.

How news organisations are adapting to mobile-only audiences:

Live streams as eyewitness media

With Periscope injecting a social aspect to livestreaming by allowing viewers to send questions and other comments to the broadcaster in real time, livestreaming's popularity as a way of sharing images and moments online has been growing.

But it has also become an important source of eyewitness media from breaking news events, explains Mark Frankel, social media editor, BBC News.

During the Paris terror attacks and in their aftermath, many turned to Periscope to share what they were seeing.

"We witnessed well over a dozen very usable slices of video through Periscope," said Frankel. "We were able to get very close to some of the drama and some of the mayhem as it unfolded and use that in a contextualised way alongside our journalism to try to make sense of what was going on.

"The way in which people are using livestreaming, particularly Periscope and Facebook Mentions, together with the willingness of broadcasters and news organisations to take it more seriously within the ecosystem of their own journalism, has definitely been a trend."

More about Periscope:

Chat apps as a newsgathering tool

Other apps that have made an impact on newsgathering in the past year have been private messaging apps. Publishers have long been thinking about ways of using WhatsApp and other chat apps as a distribution channel for their own stories, but this year Frankel says he has seen these apps become a useful tool for gathering user-generated content and even receiving tips from the public.

"With the Nepal earthquake earlier this year, we found that a huge number of people came to us with relevant text messages, video and photographs as eyewitnesses to what was going on.

"And a lot of that content we were able to surface very quickly into our live blogs and that was hugely beneficial to us."

He said the BBC has had similar experiences during the Paris attacks, the bombing in Bangkok, and the terror attack in Tunisia.

"Chat apps have played a very big part in our storytelling on those particular events as they unfolded, almost irrespective of what part of the world it has happened in.

"For example, one of the first alerts that we've had to the crash at Alton Towers earlier this year was via somebody on WhatsApp several minutes before we actually saw and read anything on the newswires," he added.

For more on chat apps, check out our recent podcast:

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