Last week an idea making the rounds was that news publishers should have someone on staff dedicated to covering 4chan, since much of what we now call ‘fake news’ originates from the imageboard. It’s a good idea, one that speaks to the changing nature of information gathering and dissemination in our digital age.
It also demonstrates the changing nature of the editorial beat, where digital journalists are much more likely to be generalists than have a specialised area, to the detriment of the industry as a whole. The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal has previously spoken to TheMediaBriefing about just that, using a particularly colourful example:
“I came up in the science writing world. There’s always some new dinosaur controversy, most of the people writing that story now don’t know shit about that. They don’t have any contacts in dinosaur research world and they wouldn’t know that maybe there was a long history of that debate going back and forth.”
While having a dedicated dinosaur desk is probably beyond the reach of cash-strapped publishers who are having to face the realities of digital publishing (unfortunately), there are a few areas publishers should be considering having a dedicated reporter to cover. In compiling this list, we’ve been strict with ourselves and have narrowed those areas down to six publishing areas that we think are going to be central to public discourse or have opportunities for revenue generation over the next few years. No dinosaurs here either, unfortunately.
It’s also very possible that some publishers already have reporters dedicated to these specific beats, in which case – congratulations! We think you’re ahead of the curve.
Esports are thriving and, a few examples of people unable to resist cheap shots at outdated stereotypes aside, they’re gaining significant traction in wider culture.
Manchester United, who I’m told are one of the biggest football teams in the world, have been interested in esports for some time, for instance. Last year ESPN began taking the phenomenon seriously, and this VentureBeat article from the time explains why:
“The LCS (League Championship Series) had an average concurrent viewership of 4.2 million through its final event. That peaked at 14 million at one point. These are massive numbers that compare favorably to the playoffs for traditional sports like NCAA basketball, Major League Baseball, and the National Basketball Association.”
Statista estimates that well over a billion people will be aware of esports by 2019, and Newzoo’s estimates of the global revenue generated by esports by 2020 demonstrates that this isn’t a flash-in-the-pan sensation.
What’s not often mentioned is that the sheer variety of games included in esports tournaments essentially means that there should be more than one reporter on the esports desk, each with the required knowledge of that game and its teams to provide genuinely in-depth analysis. Otherwise, it would be like taking a lifelong cricket commentator and expecting them to write about football, darts, dressage etc.
Esports are going to be an increasingly lucrative area, and for publishers with one eye on becoming the destination for its coverage, it’s high time they invested in an esports desk.
In the run-up to the UK’s unnecessary general election 2017, one key issue has been that much of the rhetoric around data security espoused by the Conservative party suggests that they, um, actually don’t know all that much about the purpose and practices of data encryption. That’s especially worrisome given the following things.
- Encryption is vital for the health of the free press, particularly at a time when press freedom is being curbed so thoroughly around the world
- The general public appears to be as ill-informed about exactly how integral encryption is to their lives as the government is
A dedicated data security reporter, with the knowledge and skills required to get across how utterly vital data security is, would be an asset to any publisher looking to speak truth to power. As Gorac Arora writes for IDG’s contributor network, educating the public more widely about data security would be universally beneficial:
“The importance of an adequate cybersecurity strategy cannot be exaggerated enough, with recent research revealing that almost seven in ten consumers will happily take their businesses elsewhere in the event of a data breach. Additionally, an educated population of consumers will help encourage other businesses to improve their cybersecurity, ultimately leading to a more secure environment for both companies and individuals to do business.”
Publishers as large as the Guardian and BuzzFeed and as targeted as The Memo are already writing about data security and the Tories’ tech illiteracy, but a dedicated reporter at each major publisher who can highlight these issues could be central to journalism’s mission over the next couple of years.
(n.b. in the meantime just encourage everyone to follow Swift on Security)
Let’s face it, if your newsroom doesn’t already have a dedicated Brexit desk, it will. This car crash isn’t going to stop any time soon.
— Paul McClean (@PSMcClean) May 30, 2017
And if The New European can make Brexit its focus and succeed beyond the expectations of many industry commentators, then that’s proof enough there’s an appetite for a dedicated Brexit desk.
No, not really.
But there is value in having a desk purely to explain the whys and wherefores of pop culture phenomena like the rapid and completely inexplicable rise of fidget spinners. At the moment the responsibility – such as it is – of doing so falls mainly to specialist YouTube channels… and that’s where publishers can capitalise.
Nothing enflames the public’s excitement quite like these acerbic, authoratative pop history videos. Well, apart from cats and wardrobe malfunctions. Publishers, for whom growth in video is a priority, should be looking to trade off their expertise and brand recognition and launch video series along these lines. VICE, for instance, already has a good line in just that.
The Oddly Satisfying, Strangely Soothing World of Sand Slicing Videos https://t.co/gmeM5qAnih
— Jennifer Ouellette (@JenLucPiquant) May 30, 2017
And hey, maybe we could even fit some dinosaurs in here too.
Artificial intelligence, underpinned by some developments in machine learning, is the future of the internet. It has widespread applications, from chatbots through to changing the way ecommerce and audience acquisitions occur. If you truly want to keep your audience informed about how they’ll be interacting with the world, you need to get a dedicated machine learning reporter on the staff roll.
— James Vincent (@jjvincent) May 30, 2017
Take chatbots, for instance, which are already ubiquitous in Asia and predicted to enjoy similar penetration in the West very soon:
“Juniper forecasts that the number of chatbots on mobile devices will exceed 2 billion globally by 2021, as western players aim to emulate the success of chatbots in China. Popular names, such as Amazon and eBay, will play a vital role in building trust in the technology.”
But, as Benedict Evans has predicted, AI is likely to have a significant destabilising effect on the established methods of ecommerce and acquisition to which we’ve become accustomed:
“What happens if you tell Google now ‘I need more soap powder’, what are you going to have to pay to be the top soap powder choice in Alexa? This is a relatively conventional product in the grand scheme of things. I think the thing that applies to both these things is that as we took media online it changed what got read… this is about making decisions about what you’re going to buy, and as we layer AI on top of that, [all those buying decisions are going to be made differently].”
Bear with us on this one, because it’s broad.
Initially we wanted to have a ‘fake news’ desk included in this article – but we didn’t want to be yelled at. Of course, all publishers would already claim that they have a fact-checking desk or to, would, in fact, say that all their desks are dedicated to fact-checking. And there are already dedicated sites set up to debunk fake news as it spreads (Snopes deserves more credit for beind ahead of the curve in this respect).
— Craig Silverman (@CraigSilverman) May 29, 2017
Instead, we’ve gone for a Duopoly desk, which would have the remit of explaining to consumers exactly how Google and Facebook impacts their lives. It’s broad enough that it can take on the fake news phenomenon, and particularly the complicity of the duopoly of allowing that, and more importantly help combat the digital illiteracy that has let fake news run rampant. While universities can do a lot to combat that, the onus of explaining the wider digital ecosystem rests with publishers.
But you DON’T need a Minecraft desk
This one might seem contradictory – after all, if esports prove there’s an appetite for video game content and there’s huge potential in pop history videos, why shouldn’t publishers have a desk dedicated to one of the most celebrated gaming success stories of the past few years?
Well, for one thing, that market is somewhat saturated. Many Let’s Players have made their living from Minecraft, and it’s these video creators who are seen as the authority on the subject. Dennis Publishing in the UK has not one but two magazines dedicated to the subject, which demonstrates there is an appetite for it – but they’ve also managed to corner that market in print, a different medium. It would be extremely difficult to break into this market now – no matter how tempting it is to have someone writing about blocks full time.