My (Not So Sweeping) Online Journalism Prediction For 2012

People who write for blogs like this one love to make sweeping predictions about what the following year will bring for journalism. In retrospect a lot of them are silly and turn out to be unfounded. Remember how 2011 was supposed to be the year of hyperlocal? Well, read this and this.

So I’m going to make a prediction for 2012, but it’s not going to be a sweeping one. It’s going to be—what I feel—is an accurate one.

In 2012, social media-based reporting will continue to reach new heights.

We saw it in 2011 with folks like Andy Carvin (@acarvin), Anthony DeRosa (@antderosa) and Matthew Keys (@ProducerMatthew). For coverage of the Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street movement and a myriad of other news events, we turned to the Twitter feeds of these and others to find out the latest. They were, almost without exception, faster than news websites and even the wire services.

But 2012 will bring even more opportunities for having a tweet-first, report second mentality. It’s radically different from the way that news organizations have traditionally operated, and many discourage the practice. In November, the AP reprimanded some of its reporters who were covering Occupy Wall Street for tweeting about their arrests before that news hit the wire.

Perhaps we’ll see news organizations begin to value this type of reporting. For DeRosa, his enthusiasm and speed landed him his job as Reuters’s social media editor. But Reuters’ attitude has been the exception. Carvin makes clear that his high-intensity aggregation work is completely separate from his employer, NPR. And not long after ABC’s owned-and-operated station in San Francisco hired Keys, he announced he was stopping his aggregating, at his employer’s request.

To the credit of news organizations, this type of behavior is difficult to monetize. And during a breaking news event, why would an editor want one of their own employees tweeting on their personal feed, when they could be taking that time to contribute to the overall report?

But what these people are doing is not wrong—it’s just different. I predict in 2012 that the managers of newsrooms will begin to see the benefit that this kind of reporting provides, and will begin to ease restrictions on this activity.

With a presidential election, the Olympics in London and more, 2012 promises to be a year with no shortage of news to report on. And, if my prediction holds true, it will be a year in which we see even more news that’s broken on social networks.

Correction: Andy Carvin does indeed to his aggregation work in an official capacity. “I do it on company time and in an official capacity,” he writes. “It just wasn’t my official day job when all of this started.”