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The Future Today Institute (formerly Webbmedia Group) has published its annual Tech Trends report today, outlining 159 technology trends to watch in 2017 and their potential impact for different industries, including journalism.

It features almost double the amount of trends compared to last year, with some technological advances making an appearance for the first time. In the report, trends are defined as 'new manifestations of sustained change within an industry sector' as opposed to one-off occurrences that prove more popular in a given year.

Amy Webb, founder of Future Today Institute, said artificial intelligence (AI) in its different forms is one of the trends publishers should be aware of over the next 12 months.

"This isn't to say that every single journalist needs to become a coder overnight, but I do think it's important that news organisations understand what AI can and cannot do.

"I see a fairly big disconnect right now, with some organisations thinking that AI will eliminate all the reporters and others thinking that it will somehow magically allow them to write millions of stories."

Here are five other trends from the report that could have a significant impact on journalism and the media industry in the coming year.

Digital frailty

Identified in the report as "the phenomenon in which those digital assets published to a news organisation's website are impermanent or easily broken", this trend concerns both traditional publishers who are moving to online-only and digital-native outlets.

News organisations currently do not have a central repository for the digital content they are producing, and their work could be easily broken or lost if it is not archived properly.

Determining how and if social media posts and materials should be preserved into the public record, and what happens if they are removed, is also a concern, as this type of information is often used in reporting as a source or to hold individuals accountable.

"We've started to see an acceleration of news organisations going completely dark and not only do they stop publishing or broadcasting, but as they get sold or they go away, their archives are gone."

"If you're doing journalism in the public interest, that really is not in the interest of the public that's being served.

"I think this is something that is hard to think about now, because we're talking about a reality that will be here in 10,15, 20 years from now, but what are the safeguards that can be put in place today?"

Nutritional labels for news

As news organisations increasingly rely on algorithms and data for reporting, the report predicts readers will soon expect to know how exactly stories were built and what technologies and databases were used.

This information could be provided in a label format or by including a few sentences below each story.

"Within the realm of fake news, that we are talking about so much now, it's better to be transparent and to explain, because what we're really talking about here is the erosion of public trust.

"Now I'm not saying that if you typed the story on an Apple computer using Microsoft Word, you necessarily need to disclose the type of computer and make and model, it's more about 'this is the database we used and these were the basic tools'.

"When everybody starts doing this, we will more clearly see whether or not we do have problems with bias in our databases."


Crowdlearning is a process through which news organisations can learn more about their audience through their readers' passive data, such as information about their online activity, public health records or locations.

Webb explained this concept comes from the health industry, where anonymised patient data can help research scientists solve challenging cases and draw patterns.

"In the US, more and more health information is becoming publicly available, even though it is anonymised, so what can we learn from people and their data that we don't currently know because it's not being packaged and reported in a particular way?

"Within certain parameters, if a bunch of people get sick even though they're all sick in different ways, as a journalist, wouldn't that raise a question?"

For example in June, data from Google Trends showed what people in the UK had been Googling in the run up to the referendum vote, including 'what is the EU?' and other questions about the European Union.

Looking at what people were searching for at the time might have given journalists an idea of what readers did not know about the topic, or which aspects of the referendum could have been covered in more depth.

Journalism as a service

With 'software as a service' (SaaS) as an example, a licensing model where users pay for a software on a subscription basis, news organisations could use their archives and databases to provide value to other companies, public businesses and universities.

This would enable them to develop new revenue streams for the longer term, and to "become part of that invisible information layer that powers everybody's days". Some examples provided in the report include creating new products such as vetted and fact-checked mini-biographies for other sites, searchable databases of people and organisations, or an AI-powered service that generates a list of opinions and expert quotes on a particular subject.

"One of the common threats going into the next year, and this is not new, is that the existing revenue models don't work as well as they could or they need to," said Webb, "so is there some other way that news organisations can derive value out of what they do?"

"If you think of a news organisation providing journalism as a service, then suddenly we have some very interesting new opportunities, and I think it's a trend that we're all moving towards whether or not everybody realises it."

Webb said a news organisation which seems to be taking steps in that direction is The Information, a subscriber-only technology publication which, aside from its online presence, runs a Slack channel and monthly conference calls with its paying members where they can talk to reporters and get access to materials that perhaps didn't make it online.

Limited-edition news products

"There's been a shift in how people consume content and what their expectations of it are, so one of the things we've observed is that there's been some experimentation around news products that aren't meant to live indefinitely."

These limited-edition news products, such as The New York Times' experiment with SMS to send readers behind the scenes updates about the Olympic Games, or the Serial podcast, have definite life spans and are created to cover a specific topic or event, after which they can be repurposed or not.

According to the report, more temporary podcasts, newsletters and chatbots will appear in 2017, and they can act as a "revenue and outreach opportunity" for publishers.

"I think these limited edition series and pieces of content really do match the tempo and speed of today and the devices that we consume content on," Webb said.

Other trends mentioned in the report include conversational interfaces, mixed reality (virtual reality, augmented reality, 360-degree video), leaks and streaming social video. The full 2017 Tech Trends report is available here.

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