Journalism in the year 2024

AI generated picture shows the future of journalism in 2024 with a young man working on a home computer showing human elements.

AI generated image using Canva.

Mike Findlay-Agnew, INSP

  • Opinion

The world is in a state of flux. That we cannot deny. Political, economic, social, and technological change seems to be accelerating – or, to put it another way, change in the only constant.

For those of us in the journalistic world trying to decipher what will happen in the year 2024, fear not. Help is at hand. The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has released its report: “Journalism, Media & Technology Trends and Predictions 2024”. Below I have captured some of the main points and offered some reflections as to what this could mean for our street paper movement*:

Politically, our calendars for 2024 are filled to the rafters. 40 general elections are due to take place this year, including in the UK and the United States. For some newsrooms, this has its pluses. With public interest in election campaign trails and results, arguably consumption of news content can expect to rise. However, we know from recent research that trust in the media has been on the decline. Some argue, that media avoidance is spreading like wildfire. The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and the role it plays in influencing the democratic process is being met with, to put it mildly, trepidation. Last year in the UK, we heard the concerning news story of a fake recording of the leader of the opposition party, Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer, supposedly swearing at his staff. The convincing but ultimately fake recording acts as a stark reminder that AI is here to stay and manipulate us.

Economically, we are living in tough times. Our almost-post-Covid world is experiencing a cost-of-living crisis. The ripple effects can be seen in our towns and cities globally. Reports of poverty levels increasing have never been so noticeable. For some media organisations, this has meant loss of jobs. The Reuters report states that “in the United States, around 20,000 media jobs – not just news – were lost in 2023”. What news-driven organisations need to consider is different and diverse ways of generating income. For some, this means being dependent on subscription models and “bundles” – ways of charging different amounts to audiences consuming different products – which has already proven to improve income for organisations over 2023. News organisations also need to consider how “non-news” products can bolster their income streams.

Socially, we need to consider the makeup of our newsrooms and how staff do, or do not, reflect the consumers and audiences that we are trying to reach. Although a bit of a cliché, it has been proven that the younger generation are more likely to embrace new and emerging technology. Newsroom owners need to look inward at both who they are employing, as well as what skillsets and culture they require to keep their organisations alive and well over the coming year.

Technologically, we are seeing fast rates of development. AI provides both a threat and an opportunity for media organisations. What is clear is that we all need a plan to keep up with AI, and avoidance of it is not an option. There also lies a contradiction when it comes to what the rise of new technologies means for trust in journalism. On the one hand, it could give rise to more anxiety akin to what we hear about fake news, leading to further media avoidance. On the other hand, the rising prevalence and use of AI and the exposure of its shortfalls could in fact increase trust in “human journalists”.

Legally, AI and other advanced technologies need to be regulated and controlled. News organisations need legal support to navigate this. Already, we have seen examples of media organisations in legal battles concerning their content being used and manipulated by AI technology. This is both costly and time consuming and can distract from the core business of news organisations.

Ethically, we are at a crossroads. An already existent lack of trust in public information and media organisations could be further exacerbated when it comes to AI tools manipulating text, imagery, audio and video. The potential to spread lies and propaganda has arguably never been more pronounced. Newsrooms therefore need to decide what relationship they are going to have with these technologies and what ethical standards they can put in place aligned to their values. It is not enough to simply disassociate with AI and say, “we are over here, and AI and other technologies are over there”. To quote the late B.F. Skinner: “The real problem is not whether machines think, but whether [humans] do.”

Street papers in 2024

For the International Network of Street Papers (INSP) and our network of 92 street paper organisations in 35 countries, there is much consideration that we can take from this report.

Our network has, for 30 years, championed the printed product. It is an enabler for people experiencing poverty, giving them the chance to make a living through selling newspapers and magazines on the street. The social aspect of being able to exchange dialogue with customers has shown to improve the health and wellbeing of street paper sellers.

While we want to maintain this part of our offering, street paper newsrooms, like any other news environment, need to look at ways of innovating and experimenting, all in keeping of our collective aim of tackling homelessness and poverty.

We have already seen examples of such innovations coming from the street paper movement. For example, in 2023, the world was introduced to “Genevieve Stanley”, The Big Issue South Africa’s special guest editor who was created by, you guessed it, AI.

There are other countless examples of where street papers are already on the forefront of innovations and are looking at ways of diversifying income, not only for themselves but for the vulnerable people they support and serve. Greek street paper Shedia is much more than a journalistic product. Shedia Home is a café-bar-restaurant in central Athens that not only boasts top quality food, but also sits alongside “shediart”, an upcycling gift shop that runs workshops and events for the public and beneficiaries of Shedia’s work: a classic example of a street paper that has innovated its “non-news” products in a way that serves its values.

In 2024, there will be opportunities for street paper editorial teams to get together and look at these issues in more detail through our new editorial working group and at the Global Street Paper Summit in Liverpool, UK, this September. Change may be the only constant, but street papers are known for embracing and overcoming the challenges of uncertainty, and I am sure will rise to the turmoil and triumphs that 2024 will bring.

*Please note that views and interpretations of the report's findings expressed in this article are mine and not necessarily the report’s author's.

Mike Findlay-Agnew is Chief Executive of the International Network of Street Papers (INSP).

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