Futurecasting: A way to grow revenue and broader market opportunities for news companies

September 21, 2018
Category: Business & Work

It’s easy to think there’s not much time to consider the future beyond a year, especially since so much of today’s career and job duties are about the now.

I know the life of editors and reporters all too well; I lived that for a decade. The 24-hour cycle of news, constant chatter of social media, news tips and staff shortages mixed with the desire to produce the best journalism to help one’s community … it’s a lot.

And for those on the business side of journalism, I understand those pressures, too, after working seven years to grow revenue at two news companies. We always need more clients to help support the mission. The constant prospecting, networking and selling of a potential client on how your organization’s media products or marketing solutions never stops. The days are long, the compliments are few and the stress is high for both sides of the business.

However, futurecasting, which is based on signals, trends and observing various industries to see how they can converge for various possible outcomes, offers us an opportunity think beyond the current horizon.

This fall when many media companies consider market opportunities as part of forecasting for the next 12 to 24 months, futurecasting can be a helpful approach. It may not result in an immediate new product or partnership, but it can help news companies see opportunities sooner — before they land at their doorstep and either there’s no strategy or a really weak one. And maybe, just maybe, that next licensing contract, membership model or sponsorship package will result from looking at other industries and changes happening in society.

To learn more about futurecasting, I attended Amy Webb’s The Future Today Institute Teacher Training Fellowship this summer along with other educators and trainers across the country. She also presented at the Online News Association (ONA) conference  and released The Future Today Institute’s 2019 Trend Report For Journalism, Media & Technology.

Anyone wanting to know more should also read Webb’s book "The Signals Are Talking" and the work of other futurists. After spending 36 hours in futurecasting training, I offer these tips to those still working every day in the news and revenue trenches of journalism.

  1. We should all follow futurists in social media — here’s a link to some of the futurists in the world — and listen to their points of view. We don’t have to agree with, or act upon, all of the points they make, but it’s worth knowing and understanding what they are saying if we actually want to get ahead of the curve.

  2. Ask ourselves more questions. Often when faced with an issue, we look for the quickest solution so we can move onto the next item on our checklist. But what if we first started asking ourselves how we would solve whatever problem it is today, five years from now and potentially in a decade? It might just give us a different lens and other options to consider.

  3. Think more broadly. If we are considering how to implement voice devices in advertising strategy or how driverless cars may impact news consumption, we should at least look at other industries for inspiration. A good example of a broad invention that impacted many industries was Garrett Morgan’s traffic light, which was patented in 1923 and allowed for the safe transport of people and their goods on roads. I wonder how many news professionals 100 years ago considered how that invention could impact their business.

  4. Get on the same page. Perceived innovation sometimes looks like committees or loosely-formed brainstorming sessions that produce new ideas, but meetings like this are pointless if everyone hasn’t done the same pre-work — a point Webb hammered home in her training this summer. So read a set of articles or review some specific data before the conversation starts. Not doing the work when your contemporaries have is like walking into a room where the participants are speaking a secret language and you can’t comprehend it.  

  5. And lastly, my favorite tip: Not only should journalists and media sales professionals think about the latest technological developments for the industry, they should also think about those developments when considering what skills they personally need to develop. This can be uncomfortable for people who don’t see themselves doing other types of work or returning to school, but it’s important if we want to navigate future workplaces and job markets. For example, if you are a designer, can you grow skills to be a developer, too? We talk about the industry changing in a broad sense, but we are the industry. That means we have the power to embrace change and start looking at the future, first, by looking at ourselves.