The journalism industry has quickly evolved from traditional media to digital media over two decades. Journalists now research, write and report with digital audiences in mind. This digital-first mentality makes sense in a country where 86% of adults receive at least some of their news on smartphones and computers.
The future of digital journalism will arrive faster than we think thanks to advances in technology. Digital journalists should know about the past and present of the industry before preparing for what lies ahead. Let’s start by looking at the current state of digital journalism before examining its foundations.
Trends in Digital Journalism
News consumers have flocked to digital journalism due to its cost and convenience. Pew Research Center asked Americans of all ages for their preferences of news platforms in 2021. The findings show how quickly digital formats have displaced traditional media:
- Digital devices (50%)
- Television (36%)
- Radio (7%)
- Print publications (5%)
Articles, videos and podcasts cannot be treated as one-size-fits-all products due to audience fragmentation. Digital journalists need to know how different platforms are used by their readers and viewers when producing their work. For example, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found the following uses for YouTube among global consumers:
- Mainstream news outlets and journalists (25%)
- Celebrities and influencers (24%)
- Alternative news outlets and journalists (16%)
- Ordinary people (15%)
- Politicians and activists (12%)
Newcomers to journalism may wonder how we went from print publications and news radio to digital-only reporting. Knowing why this shift occurred prepares journalists for similar shifts in the future. We’ve identified four major events that journalists have used to shape the future of digital journalism.
1. Globalization of News on the World Wide Web
Sir Timothy Berners-Lee is credited with inventing the World Wide Web while working with the research organization CERN. He published the world’s first website in 1990 in hopes of collaborating with other researchers. Berners-Lee described how this innovation spread throughout the world:
“When, initially, the thing was released on the Internet, it went out in various obscure news groups, e-mail messages, and I got messages back from people I didn’t know at all, on completely different continents and islands, saying that they had installed a web server or a new web browser.”
Scientific research was an early use of the Web but integrated into daily life throughout the 1990s. Digital versions of established publications and journalism startups proliferated once CERN made the Web public in 1993. Pew Research Center found that 20% of survey respondents accessed news online at least once a week in 1998, compared to 4% in 1995.
An important development for the future of digital journalism was the growth in news aggregation. Yahoo! News (1996) and Google (2002) gathered recent stories from news services for easy access by users. Anyone with a computer and an Internet connection had access to the full breadth of news for the first time.
2. The Emergence of Social Media
Message boards and online groups fulfilled the need for socialization among early Web users. News websites in the early 21st century largely replicated what was printed or broadcasted through traditional channels. Social media platforms fostered conversations between journalists and consumers while shaping media content for a new era.
Facebook (2004) and Twitter (2006) were not intended as tools for the future of digital journalism. The former was a networking tool among Harvard University students, while the latter was a communications tool for employees of media company Odeo. Both platforms took hold because they were free and emphasized bite-sized communications without geographical boundaries.
Media outlets around the world have since shaped news production processes to fit these platforms. This adaptation meant reader engagement through concise articles, impactful visuals and active engagement with readers. Changes in social media use for news consumption by consumers in 12 countries show how this trend evolved:
- Facebook (36% of users in 2014, 32% in 2021)
- YouTube (16%, 20%)
- WhatsApp (7%, 17%)
- Twitter (9%, 11%)
- Instagram (2%, 11%)
3. Increased Emphasis on Audio and Podcasts
Journalists have been involved in television and radio news programs for decades. The demand for audio and visual media has not subsided as journalism has gone digital. Podcasts and visual platforms like TikTok have changed from experimental spaces to essential tools for digital journalists.
Digital audio and video series known as podcasts have steadily grown in importance since iTunes supported the format in 2005. Journalists have used the format for daily news reports, specials on emerging trends and interview shows with notable figures.
Podcast search engine Listen Notes identified 180,688 news podcasts across the world in July 2022. This format will inform the future of digital journalism thanks to the following age demographics for podcasts of all types:
- 18-24 (43% of the group listens to podcasts at least monthly)
- 25-34 (40%)
- 35-44 (22%)
- 45-54 (19%)
- 55+ (10%)
Visual platforms like TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram provide seamless connectivity across user interests. These platforms recommend content based on what users have viewed, providing an entry point for niche journalism. A Snapchat user interviewed by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism explained why he relies on this platform for news:
“The benefit is, it is comprehensive, it is all right there and at the same time, it is relevant. So, if you are checking out your friend’s stories you can also see the news or entertainment stories.”
4. The Growth of Email Newsletters
Innovative journalists find abundant opportunities to build audiences thanks to the aforementioned developments. A writer or podcast host can directly communicate in their voice about their areas of expertise. The popularity of email newsletters in recent years reflects reader interest in niche topics not covered by other outlets.
The future of digital journalism may be defined by the entrepreneurial spirit of its practitioners. Digital journalists may offer their subscribers free or premium content through platforms like Substack. This company reported one million paid subscriptions in June 2022 with its 10 most popular newsletters generating $20 million in annual revenue.
Email newsletters allow independent journalists to build audiences while covering their expenses. Digital journalists working for media outlets can also drive subscribers to work done by their employers. This format also guides avid news lovers through a crowded media landscape to sources of reliable information.
Anticipate the Future of Digital Journalism at St. Bonaventure
St. Bonaventure University’s online Master of Arts in Digital Journalism teaches the skills required of digital journalists. Faculty members well-versed in the field prepare degree candidates for the future of digital journalism. Courses in the following topics balance high journalistic standards with modern technology:
- Coding & Interactive Storytelling
- Digital Reporting
- Social Media Storytelling
The Jandoli School of Communications has produced a long line of accomplished journalists. Alumni of St. Bonaventure’s journalism programs have won Pulitzer Prizes, Peabody Awards and National Sportswriter of the Year Awards.
Graduates of the online Master’s in Digital Journalism benefit not only from St. Bonaventure’s alumni network but stellar reputation. The program is one of three online master’s degrees in the field accredited by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC). U.S. News & World Report confirms the university’s reputation for excellence with a Top 20 in the Regional Universities North and Top 5 Best Value Schools categories.
Learn more about how our online Master of Arts in Digital Journalism can advance your career.