Research Communications

Journalism scholars weigh in on what's next in media 

Perspectives magazine interview with Hans Meyer, Tom Hodson, and Hugh Martin

By Philip Barnes

Digital gives rise to more independent, entrepreneurial online journalists

Many newspapers, radio, and television news outlets are owned by larger media companies concerned with the bottom line. As digital disrupts traditional forms of media, corporations are seeking a viable business model. Some are cutting back—or chopping entirely—print editions of newspapers or magazines.

Some journalists have decided to venture out on their own. Dissatisfied with media coverage in their area, two ex-journalists started The West Seattle Blog to provide hyper-focused news stories covering the span of just a few neighborhoods, says Hans Meyer, an assistant professor of journalism who studies community journalism. Apparently, it's a recipe for success. In May 2011, the blog won Best Online Community Engagement from

"I think great independent journalists will be able to tap into all the information that's available to provide the audience with a picture that is just as nuanced, just as complete, and thankfully more independent and transparent than the news now provides," Meyer says. "Without the overhead of a huge news organization and the obligations that go along with it, they might be able to provide us an even clearer, more personal, and ultimately objective picture of the world around us."

To prepare future journalists for this independent, entrepreneurial brand of journalism, Meyer is teaching students the basics of HTML and CSS so they can manage their own news sites.

Audiences can get the same story in multiple ways

As news consumers grow accustomed to the fast-paced 24/7 nature of digital journalism, expect to see more media outlets reporting the news in multiple ways. Reporters are being trained to juggle many roles—not only writing, but taking photos, recording audio and video, and communicating directly with audiences via Twitter or Facebook, says Tom Hodson, the Joe Berman Professor of Communication.

News consumers are demanding stories that are compatible with multiple devices, including smart phones and tablet computers. Could Google Glass be next?

"People aren't sitting down in front of the television every time we broadcast," says Hodson, who manages WOUB Public Media at Ohio University. "We have to extend our audience. The younger the demographic, the more different ways people are getting information."

Some of your news may be generated by a computer

"Computers writing stories is inevitable," says Hugh Martin, an associate professor of journalism. "The cost advantages of automation are so great across the board in professions like journalism, law, and education."

The Big 10 Network already uses a computer program called Quill to write short recaps of baseball and softball games. Quill creator Narrative Science touts it as writing machine that actually "gives voice" to ideas as it discovers them in data.

But a computer can't do everything, Martin is quick to point out.

"Something as basic as news about local government still requires the work of knowledgeable journalists," he says. "Human effort and judgment will always be required to produce news that critically examines the subject at hand."

News moves from a conversation to an interactive experience

News sites and social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter have turned even simple news stories from a solitary monologue into a conversation among users, Hodson says.

"We went from a monologue to a conversation—and it's never going back," he notes. "I predict the next level to be experiencing the news. At the base of it all you still need writing. That will never change. But now journalism is becoming a matter of 'How do I put my audience into the story?'"

Right now that might mean perusing audio or video clips with your text stories. In the future, holographic television could amplify the audience experience while connecting with a younger generation turned off by traditional media but plugged into video gaming.

"In the next era we will be able to gain a bit of experience of what it is like in a hurricane or in a war zone, in a global environment during the Arab Spring, or as quarterback in the Super Bowl," Hodson says.

You'll still need to pay for news to keep media outlets afloat

The revenue from online advertising is much less than what media outlets earned from print advertising, putting some news organizations in a financial dilemma. More are launching or returning to the concept of pay walls to keep the virtual lights on. But some are offering consumers choices for how and what they pay for.

"Digital subscriptions represent a positive step toward stabilizing revenue declines," Martin says. "Tiered pricing plans allow these organizations to charge groups of consumers different prices based on how much each group values the news. These plans start to put news organizations back in the game on an equal footing with their new media competition."

This article appears in the Autumn/Winter 2013 issue of Ohio University's Perspectives magazine.