If you thought journalism was changing rapidly, you've seen nothing yet

In 1987, journalists were just beginning to grapple with computers. There were no mobile phones, so stories were called in from a phonebox, and there was no email or access to the internet.

In the past 20 years, technology has transformed the way a journalist works, but if that seems remarkable, we can expect to see the same amount of change in a dizzying eight years.

This is the future according to Europe’s leading futurologist Ray Hammond. After starting out in journalism, Hammond began writing and speaking about how future trends will affect society and business. In 1984, he published the world’s first book exploring the commercial potential of the internet.

It is commonly held among futurologists that technology is developing at exponential rates, and that the speed with which level of increase is also reaching ever-faster rates.

In the media world, a process that started in the 15th century with the development of the printing press is speeding up and will continue to do so at an increasing pace.

‘When a large number of technological developments are changing, it becomes very noticeable,’says Hammond.

By 2030, computers will be as clever as we are, and within just a short space of time they will be twice as clever and then four times as clever as humans.

Hammond had sufficient prescience to recognise that Richard Desmond had the makings of a successful advertising manager, and set up a magazines business with him. He later sold his share to Desmond.

Now surveying the newspaper and magazine industry and how it has responded to the growth of multimedia, Hammond says the term ‘convergence’is no longer valid. We are now reaching a level of ‘complete merger”.

As newsrooms follow this path, further massive changes in the way news is consumed are also coming faster than many in the industry imagine, he says.

‘Within five years, people will be consuming all their media – sports, films, news on a device. The term ‘mobile phone’ is not adequate any more – and they won’t be thinking about how they are getting it,’says Hammond.

The driver of much of this change will be the development of the superweb, which will have ‘profound’implications for the providers of news and information.

‘Consumers will cease to respond to a newspaper as they have traditionally – they will respond to it as just another information resource,’says Hammond, who argues that there is ‘almost no future’for print.

The three-dimensional appeal of the superweb will leave the ‘two-dimensional’newspaper and book with relatively little appeal except to the elderly, people with spare time and certainly not the people who hold power and economic resources.

In the case of business to business titles, for example, they will cease to be print titles and the term magazine will cease to be appropriate as it on the merged superweb.

‘You will expect to see radio, video, hyperlinks to articles there,’says Hammond. ‘They will not be distinguishable from a TV or radio station.”

Hammond says the trend towards multi-skilling that started in the Nineties will continue, and is confident that journalists are sufficiently accustomed to learning to adapt to the new demands on them. The core aspects of being a journalist will remain unchanged, Hammond insists.

‘Journalism is a relatively pure profession,’he says. ‘Much of it – gathering, checking and analysing information – will remain the same, although you might not be delivering it in the same way.”

Some of the biggest changes Hammond foresees are in the consumption of news. Artificial intelligence is also on the horizon, he says – Google has announced its intent to create a global brain.

By 2040, Hammond predicts that the information we consume will be controlled by a chip placed in our ear.

Our personal intelligences will be able to source the news and information it anticipates we will want to read, and communicate with us about our choices. They will know where we like to get our news and information, but will also allow for some serendipity and our own desire to make our choices at times.

They will also ‘speak’to owners of information and resources and will negotiate payments with the ‘agents’of the suppliers.

The development of micropayments will be crucial to this, as it will enable small payments to be made that are very small to the consumer but worldwide could deliver a significant income, says Hammond.

On the superweb, the trend towards global and local will continue, with massive implications for how advertisers can reach consumers.

‘Motor racing in Bahrain might appeal to an enthusiast in Durham, so there is potential for getting local advertising as well as airlines who want to fly you to the next race,’says Hammond.

There will always be a market for quality journalism, Hammond believes. ‘If you look at the top end financial and learned journalism, the demand will be just as great,’says Hammond. There will always be a place for entertainment and pastime journalism, but the mid-market titles face a difficult future, he argues. ‘The mid-market is going to be the most difficult to hold on to, in either print or web form,’he says.

‘Titles in this area must have very strong branding and their success depends on how well they identify with a specific readership. They must have very clear reader values, as if they are serving a tribe, but even then, I think the future for them looks very poor.’

Hammond is sceptical about the currently popular trend of blogging and does not think it has a ‘massive future’for a practice so close to self-publishing. ‘The market will always offer a price to people who have something to say,’says Hammond. ‘Blogging is for people who can’t get published.”

The one area blogging where will continue to have impact is in its potential for allowing people in conflict zones and troubled areas to have a voice. Journalists in the West will learn to work with these, says Hammond

‘The internet has allowed people to act as if they are journalists, and many of them dislike and disregard journalists,’says Hammond. ‘But although there are some professionals, many of the people who express themselves in blogs are amateur whereas journalists provide something that is distinctive.”

But while there have been some predictions that journalism will in the future be under threat from outsourcing, Hammond believes there are aspects of journalism that ensures it some protection.

‘When it comes to in-house journalistic teams being broken up in favour of virtual teams, I would say that it is only possible for resources with a low quality standard,’he says. ‘The ‘team’ effect in journalistic quality is very important – cross checking facts, bouncing ideas, sharing contacts and leads – and can’t easily be replicated virtually.

‘Furthermore, journalism is very culture specific – you have to know the context of your stories and that requirement will ensure that most journalism remains domestic.”

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