Here’s something for creators of digital and print news content to contend with: news is shrinking. That’s not just the shrinkage in revenue and jobs that legacy media firms have been struggling with since the rise of the internet; it’s the actual size of news content itself. Basically, it’s arriving in ever smaller pieces.
As mobile usage proliferates (a recent Pew study on smartphone use in the US found just 35% of US citizens owned one in 2011; today, that number is 65%) and wearables such as smartwatches gain traction, the visual space available for news feeds and other kinds of content – video production as well as written – is contracting rapidly. There’s also the issue of the younger, shorter attention span to contend with, which is why Instagram offers videos from BBC News lasting 12 seconds, and the Daily Mail, Cosmo, ESPN and SnapChat “Discover” have all pared down the length of their stories to cater for this diminishing concentration effect.
It’s almost certain that the Apple Watch will prove a hit: we’re all becoming more dependent on our mobile phones but find actually carrying one an inconvenience. As Emily Bell notes in a recent article for the Guardian, a growing segment of the population, made up largely of lower income, urban-dwelling young people, access the internet exclusively through their smartphone’s data plan (the Pew survey puts them at 10% of the population).
The way people are accessing news and video content is, frankly, changing wholesale. Increasingly, we want continually updated information close to us at all times; but the portals we’re getting it through are becoming narrower. The providers of that content must either comply with the terms and conditions of the App Store or jump aboard the biggest app ships such as Facebook – changes that are being driven by mobile technology.
Today’s teams of “news app” developers, toiling to produce more elaborate news presentations and more sophisticated graphics, are as anxious as print journalists used to be about whether high production values – think massive camera rigs vs the Periscope app – can fit the ever-shrinking world of news. An always-on, news-addicted audience presents a terrific opportunity for audience engagement; but smaller interfaces will also mean much smaller news feeds.