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February 5, 2021

When news reporters of a national newspaper sought to give the news update in the form of a 5-10 minute video capsule, the writing perhaps was on the wall as to the future of journalism. At the vanguard of change, lay digitalization and the pandemic, the great leveler that it was, forced even the journalism and media industry globally to realign and adapt to the new norms. By leveraging new-age technology solutions, media companies sought to evolve their publishing business models to become more resilient in future.

Even before the pandemic raised its ugly head, the future of journalism was clear, i.e. the digitalization of print media being the way forward and since then the trend has only accelerated. Consequently, many publishing houses chose to suspend or even stop print editions. Tribune Publishing, with its large network of local and regional news outlets, saw a 293 per cent increase in digital subscription sales in March 2020. Traffic to the San Francisco Chronicle is up 150%, the Seattle Times is up over 120% and the Boston Globe is up nearly 100%. Compounding the gloom was falling advertising revenues. PWC’s Global Entertainment and Media Outlook report for 2020-2024 forecasts that global newspaper advertising (print and online) will fall from $49.2bn in 2019 to $36bn in 2024, a decline of more than a quarter (27%) over five years. Also, global circulation and subscriber revenue is expected to fall from $58.7bn in 2019 to $50.4bn in 2024.

Not only the shift, even the ways of consuming news online has changed with many preferring to get their news via podcasts. The New York Times, for instance, produces audio podcasts, which can be heard on radio stations through a smart speaker, and video series, which can be seen on a cable TV network through a streaming device.

Across the range of platforms and sources for consuming news on smartphones or news specific apps, the newsfeed interface kept up a steady and constant stream of news.

Journalism’s key to survival: Standing apart

As the economy starts to bounce back, there is likely to be a definite impact on news gathering, analysis, and publishing. Journalism may well shift to technology-enabled business models and technological innovation aided by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).

Value chain transformation

Now, instead of the newspaper, people tend to start their day with laptops and smartphones in hand, the latter enabling them access to news online. This has fueled the transition of the news publishing industry from a predominantly print to a hybrid model (print and digital), followed by web first, to a likely web only scenario soon.

Another lesson that emerged from the pandemic is that the media industry has been too reliant on revenues from advertisement, and so naturally anything that upset this well-established business apple cart spelled trouble with a capital T. That's why, the Indian media seems to be moving away from a solely advertisement-driven model to a subscription-driven revenue model. Increasing subscription rates for newspapers will keep advertisement revenues kosher as well as create investment and attachment from the consumers' side.

Journalism post-COVID-19 has become an entirely different ball game. Many publishing houses have adopted digital journalism like setting up a hybrid newsroom, training journalists to create digital content and fact-checking with digital verification tools. However, there is still a long way to go when it comes to fully embracing all relevant digital platforms. The need of the hour is unity and collaboration among the publishing community and virtual newsrooms leveraging online collaborative platforms. Distributed processes with feedback loops on the cloud which offer secure access from remote workplaces will significantly reduce the cost of operations.

Newsrooms too felt the impact. For instance, they are no longer limited to widely used analytics like page views. Thanks to digital enablement, the level of content exposure among the reading community can also be tracked. This helps measure the performance of individual reporters based on the popularity of their stories. Content analytics can detect events from articles, sentiment scores, generate alerts and so much more.

Working as a distributed team in borderless workspaces, aided by advanced analytics, will make organizations more accessible to diverse talent. Organizations will benefit from the work of field reporters, data journalists and specialists who they otherwise cannot afford on their payroll.

To sum it up

The bells have long tolled for the journalism of yore and as we move into journalism in the digital age, heralding new ecosystems and by that new collaborations and the like, there seems to be an imperative need for accelerated acceptance of digitalization. Media organisations, it appears, will continue to operate in a more distributed fashion with hybrid newsrooms becoming the norm, with the ka-ching coming perhaps from a different revenue source.

Debasish Datta leads the Content and Product Engineering Practice within TCS’ Communications, Media and Information Services (CMI) business unit. He has over 25 years of experience with building software products and leading technology transformations for news media publishing, broadcasters and software product companies. Datta heads the TCS Cognitive Content Lab that conducts research on using AI applications on content and media monetization.

Anjan Dutta is the Principal AI Architect of Cognitive Content Lab for TCS’ Communications, Media and Information Services business group. With industry experience of 28 years, he provides architectural leadership for intelligent technology transformation towards data-driven organization using natural language processing, computer vision, speech processing and machine learning. He is a Gold Medalist - ME from BITS Pilani and BTech from IIT Kharagpur, and has authored a patent on ‘Systems and Methods for Event Profiling’.

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