In the future, consumers will not make a distinction between their television, phone or computer screens. The only difference will be the size of each screen, its placement and, therefore, what you most likely do with it.
But one will not call the handheld-sized screen their “mobile phone.” That you might use it to make phone calls will be happenstance. You will just as easily make a call on the 15-inch screen at your desk or the 40-inch screen in the living room.
Let’s call this future moment the “Screenularity.” It is the moment in the future when, as a consumer, there’s no distinction in functionality between the various screens we interact with. Much like Matt Thompson’s “Speakularity,” this will be a watershed moment for how we consume information and, therefore, journalism.
THE DEATH KNELL OF TELEVISION
For the entire television industry as we know it, this will be a back-breaking moment. It’s not a question of “if” but “when.” We see early signs of it in Netflix and Hulu, but the cracks in the dam haven’t even started to show. For national broadcast journalism organizations like CNN, Fox and MSNBC, it will create a lot of disruption. For local broadcast journalism, it will leave them utterly decimated.
Local broadcast journalism simply has no added value when compared with the wealth of information on the Internet. They rely on personality-less hosts that talk at you (not with you). Combine this with high overhead to do local reporting about topics many people simply don’t care about, and you can start to see how this looks bleak for local broadcast affiliates. Breaking news is broken. Local broadcast websites are offensively bad and nowhere near competing on the open web. Their continued existence relies on the fact that the majority of people still get their news from television. But once the Screenularity hits, that will no longer be the case. There won’t be a “television” just various screens. People will get their “lean back” information from the same screen they can engage with. Dogs and cats living together … mass hysteria!
THEY’RE NOT HAVING THIS CONVERSATION
Whether you love or hate the “future of news“ crowd, we should admit that it’s painfully devoid of broadcast journalism. I am not 100 percent sure why. I’ve heard Jay Rosen give a decent explanation, and it can be summarized as: “They just don’t care, it’s not in their interest.”
I’m not saying there aren’t any folks within broadcast who are forward-thinking. But considering the disproportionate size of their organizations/budgets/audience to more traditional print mediums, they are painfully absent from conversations about the future of the industry. From what I can observe, the television journalism world has no interest in the future-of-news conversation, and their websites speak louder about this than any defense they could possibly make. This is dangerous, because the majority of people still get their news from local broadcast networks. There is no plan b. There is no fallout shelter.
A DANGEROUS IDEA
For this month’s Carnival of Journalism the question is: “What’s a dangerous idea to save journalism.” Mine is the Screenularity. Local broadcast outfits need to operate as if it’s here. I recognize this is dangerous, because it assumes that an industry will disrupt itself. That inherently means there will be danger involved. People will lose their jobs. Organizations will falter and crumble. But others will come out the other end and reinvent an industry on their own terms.
Media companies must become technology companies so they can create the platforms that define the type of media they produce. If they’re the ones who create the platforms, they will continue to create media on their own terms.
If local news broadcasters don’t embrace the Screenularity and create the platforms themselves, they’d better hope that somebody else does it for them. And “hope” is a horrible strategy. That’s what leads to complaints about “Google” or “Craigslist” killing journalism. All they did was create platforms that define the type of media produced. If you aren’t creating those platforms then you have no excuse to complain about the terms those organizations create.