Nine media trends changing the public sphere in our complex and unstable world

We are in an age where prediction is struggling to cope with a complex, unstable, diverse world. This is especially true of news media and information structures because they are going through profound and relatively rapid change. We can look at the past for some models of media change. ( See Timothy Wu’s MasterSwitch or The Attention Merchants for some interesting analogies that might help us understand future changes) But these are best used, not to model the immediate future, but to help separate the hype from the significant, substantial and sustainable trends.

Technology and news media are particularly prone to myth-making because of the social symbolic value of legacy media institutions and practices as well as the cult of change and ‘disruption’ engendered by the obvious power of recent technological developments (the microchip, mobility, social networks), fuelled by commercial self-interest as well as technological determinism. This might occur to some degree in an industry such as pharma that also promises scientific transformation of our lives, but it’s even more amplified in an industry such as media which is itself a medium for its own self-promotion.

As Tim Harford has pointed out, the most significant disruptions are often the ones we ignore. The simple or more banal changes. We forget, for example, that printing would not have been so revolutionary without paper. Computerisation has transformed retail stock management, but mainly thanks to the humble barcode. So whatever I say next must be treated as suggestions for reflection not promises or bets!

The trends I set out in this article will all be critical in the discussions of the LSE Truth, Trust and Technology Commission that we are launching in autumn 2017. Click here for more details on that, you are welcome to get involved.

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  1. Personalisation. In the face of super overabundance of information and sources there are increasing options for users (and publishers) to customise the consumption of information. People enjoy a mix of curation by themselves, by Alexa or by journalists, or by software. This fundamental shift in the power of information selection offers a whole new relationship between the citizen and editorial selection with all sorts of implications for politics and identity: yet everywhere curation is a mess, from Facebook’s algorithms to programmatic advertising. One of the simplest solutions uses a very old format: email newsletters.

This article by Charlie Beckett, Director, Polis, Department of Media and Communications, LSE


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Journalist, LSE media professor, Polis think-tank director. Writes about journalism, UK & global politics

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