Preparing for 10 years down the road

What were you doing professionally in 1993? That's what Karen F. Brown Dunlap, president of The Poynter Institute, asked conference participants. Then she asked them to consider how technology has changed their work life in the decade since. Editors quickly came up with laptops, personal computers, pagination and the proliferation of cell phones. Such technology not only has made it nearly impossible to clock out of the office, as one editor said, but also has changed the way news is gathered and processed.

Now consider newsgathering in 2013.

Dunlap's fellow panelists suggested that in the next 10 years, the news business would change just as dramatically. As immediate as today's news is, the news cycle will grow more intense, suggested Janet Weaver, who was dean of the Poynter faculty at the time of the conference and is now managing editor of the Tampa Tribune.

"The 24-hour news cycle will be something we don't even think about any more," Weaver said. "In a lot of newsrooms it's already here, and it will be in a newsroom near you very soon if it isn't already."

Newsrooms will become more collaborative, producing news and information instead of producing pages, she said. The lines dividing print, online and television staffs are already "starting to blur," she said. "In a lot of operations, the walls are going to fall."

Julie Moos, Poynter Online news editor, suggested change would come to news consumers, not just newsrooms.

"Loyalty is going to change," she said, suggesting that as their lifestyles evolve, news consumers increasingly will turn to alternative sources of information. Specific news from specialized sources will matter more to them than the generic brand of a newspaper or television station.

Print operations aren't the only news organizations looking for a broad delivery system. Mike Cutler, news director of News Channel 5 (WTVF) in Nashville, said his company owns the local cable news outlet as well as a Web site. "Our goal ultimately would be wherever you look for news, you'll run into News Channel 5," he said.

Conference participants had their own predictions:

  • Wireless delivery could replace newspapers and televisions as access expands to the nearest computer.
  • Reporters will carry cell phone-size cameras as news cycles disappear. News will be reported instantly by journalists who can serve all media.
  • Staffing will be flexible, "morphing" into whatever team is needed for the story of the hour. Another approach driven by economics might see a two-member team - a word reporter and a visual reporter - covering a story for all news platforms in a company.
Committing financial resources to technological development is difficult, Moos said, when no one knows which technology will be needed in 10 years. Dunlap raised another question: If news is instantaneous, how do we maintain quality? Weaver agreed that despite "an ocean of information," much of it can't be trusted.

"The ability to provide credible information is part of our franchise," she said, and newsrooms always will rely on editing. Newsrooms may have to modify the workflow and reallocate the workforce, she said, but journalists don't have to "throw away our good judgment and journalistic values as we move into this age."

Dunlap read a prediction by Steve Outing from the textbook she wrote with Jane Harrigan, "The Editorial Eye":

"As communications technology marches forward, consumers are getting their news in a variety of new ways. It will be the copy editor's job to keep the content flowing in all those directions ... Copy editing always has been a vital, if underappreciated, role in a news organization. In the coming decade the copy editor's importance - and I daresay, stature - will rise."

Moos hoped that Outing is right because much online content is not edited.

"The Internet part of the industry is maturing," Moos said. "In its infancy, people weren't surprised to see typos, and they didn't necessarily point them out or consider them notable. Over the years, we saw more and more emails from people who were disturbed because a name was misspelled or because there was a grammatical error or because there was another mistake."

Few online operations have corrections policies, but Moos predicted that as reader expectations mature and online journalists become more professionally involved, such standards would be developed.

The panelists and participants agreed that training is key to bringing copy editors along as newsgathering and editing change. Sites such as poynter.org offer a great deal of content aimed at copy editors. The copy desk role is changing, and it's important that news organizations plan for it and not just let it happen to copy editors.

"We all know how critical copy editors are to our industry's survival," Dori J. Maynard said during the conference wrap-up, "so I hope as we move forward, we can work together to remind the industry of that."