How can media companies predict the future of news?

Developing “extreme future scenarios” can help media leaders drive cultural change and implement sustainable newsroom innovation.

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Four extreme scenarios developed in the context of AP’s futurecasting exercise.

A strategic planning technique, “futurecasting” enables organizations to make decisions about where to focus their growth efforts. At the Associated Press (where I work), we’ve used it to consider an array of provocative — yet plausible — alternative futures that provide the necessary context to explore new opportunities. We collaborated with leading innovation agency Frog Design to imagine the future of the news industry, drive cultural change and embrace innovation.

According to Mayo Nissen, an associate creative director at innovation agency Frog Design, futurecasting shifts organizations’ perspectives in two ways:

  1. It causes us to focus on the outcome of our actions, particularly as they impact users, customers and consumers.
  2. It forces companies to consider the future, where their actions will have come to life, before working backward to understand what needs to happen today.

Making these mental leaps can be powerful enough to help organizations think about who and what they want to become, and what they need to do to get there.

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AP journalists in action at our NYC office!

Thinking through divergent futures

The first step we took was to research major events signaling technological, cultural, regulatory and industry changes. We then conducted workshops to extrapolate insights that would help develop future scenario-based forces shaping the future.

Nissen highlighted that the key to crafting not just intellectually interesting — but also useful — features is to first choose which elements of the present we want to challenge. The goal is then to work internally to make these changes not only possible, but at some deeper level, true.

We did so by forming a cross-functional and inter-disciplinary group of individuals and immersing them in these possible scenarios to better understand what AP needs to do to be successful into the future.

Hypothetical media scenarios (this is where it gets fun!)


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The first scenario included a world where all media consumption and distribution is done through platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. What would be the role of journalists in this hypothetical society?

The importance of efforts such as fact-checking and user-generated content verification emerged as key areas for future consideration.


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Keeping in mind the growth of ad blockers, we conceptualized a second future state where advertising no longer exists. How do news organizations generate revenue to fund their journalism?

This question pointed us to the direction of exploring new business models and to better support our clients with products and services that could justify them charging premium subscriptions to their clients.


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We also considered the dominant role context-aware devices and the internet of things would play in the next 10 years. How does the news media industry change if consumption and distribution is driven by data collected by smart devices?

Possible answers required us to think about emerging platforms such as smart assistants, driverless cars and smart homes, and the role that news personalization will play in those environments.

SCENARIO #4 (this is my favorite)

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The final scenario materialized around the growth of artificial intelligence and its impact on the news industry. How should media organizations operate in a context where smart machines and algorithms drive the process of newsgathering, production and distribution?

Using automation to turn data into text stories, leveraging drone journalism to capture different perspectives and developing new forms of data-driven insights all arose as possibilities.

(If you read this post until here, you get a nice bonus prize: here’s the AI+ Journalism industry guide I wrote which is being used by thousands of innovative journalists around the world!)

Making sense of future scenarios

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Through the futurecasting process with Frog Design, we challenged assumptions about newsgathering, production, distribution and consumption — and considered worlds where each of those stages would be radically different from today.

Applying these artificial stresses on AP’s core capabilities helped us then determine immediate steps to increase not only the organization’s resilience, but also set it up to thrive — regardless of which of those hypothetical scenarios comes to pass.

By choosing a longer timeframe, we can ensure that the actions that arise from futurecasting will effect lasting change at the level of corporate strategy and organizational capability, as well as for individual products and services.

Building future strategies

As a result of our futurecasting, we developed a company-wide roadmap that includes actions we can take today to remain relevant in the face of inevitable change and uncertainty.

Overcoming that mindset was critical to driving real transformation and taking the industry lead in content automation and other areas, Kennedy said.

Are you working on any forward-looking media projects? Please drop a link in the comments section bellow. I’d love to learn about your innovation efforts. Thanks!

Written by

Computational journalist and co-founder of Applied XL. I write about data science, storytelling and innovation.

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