June 1, 2012

Media companies of the future must operate using a different business model that addresses the endless waves of disruptive new technology and staggering competition, said Krishna Bharat, creator of Google News and now Principal Scientist at Google, heading up the company’s new R&D Center in Bangalore, India. Bharat was speaking to a gathering of around 300 news professionals and hackers underneath the six-foot crystal chandeliers in the sumptuous Salle de Fete inside Paris City Hall.

“The news business has gone from monopoly to attention deficit,” Bharat said. As a result, media companies must become change machines. To get there, they must hire “restless agents of change” and assemble them in teams made up of journalists, technology and design professionals who are part of the same conversation, every day.

Bharat’s talk, entitled “Technology + Journalism, imagining the future of digital news,” opened the day-long session on innovation during the three-day News World Summit, put on by the newly-formed Global Editors Network, based in Paris. Editors and reporters straggled in due to Friday transport snags as Parisians typically make their early weekend getaway.

As consumers have access to vast troves of news information from all over the world, Bharat urged news editorial teams to provide a guide to content, not just produce content. “Creation and curation should be the fundamental activities for your editorial team,” he said.

Bharat said news in the future will become more of an app-like experience, as users adapt the experience to themselves, and as newsrooms provide a more multi-dimensional experience that includes more images and maps. “The collage tells the story. This will create a skill set that doesn’t exist yet.” Bharat said.

With recent design innovations such as Flipboard, and as more people use touchscreens on phones and tablets, Bharat said the challenge that awaits news professionals is to make things that are beautiful, fast, and tactile at the same time. “It’s much harder than it seems. We need ad-hoc standards design,” he added.

“The winning experience of the future is fast, tactile, original content, with access to many reputable sources in an appealing narrative form,” Bharat said. “It is delivered in an appealing, narrative form, encompasses a broader definition of news, and involves audiences with a stake in the story or with expertise.”

In years to come, we must allow content to be flexibly manipulated for each user, Bharat said. Down the road, he predicted that the news consumer would have a relationship with the publisher, not with a platform. The customer would make one payment for the content she received everywhere. Customization of that content would be set up in the cloud, he predicted.

To deliver updates that can be shared, Bharat added that publishers would need to maintain this information across devices.

With Google News and other news products, Bharat said the goal was to connect an audience with newsmakers, news enthusiasts, and news producers. Google Hangouts allow people to talk to an important public figure, such as a recent New York Times discussion with UN Ambassador Susan Rice. Later in his talk, Bharat said Google would be interested in discussing adapting the Hangouts technology for the news industry.

When asked whether customizing news for consumer preferences may eclipse public interest journalism, Bharat said ultimately that these two trends – news that fulfills a social role and news that meets personal interests – would balance each other out.

To generate personalized content for Google News, Bharat said that Google was culling insights from the one billion unique visitors weekly to Google News and relying on insights on reading habits from publishers.

To address the challenges of using content provided by users to Google News, Bharat said there were examples of ways to create composite collages from scouring social networks. But to manage user-generate content, he said many layers of filtering will be needed before the public sees this content. “This should be an area of technological innovation that covers analysis, data journalism, and enterprise reporting,” he added.

Looking at broader societal trends, as more citizens in the Middle East in the past year demand greater access to the Internet, Bharat made the following prediction: “Looking back, we may see the Internet as the single biggest thing that has made free speech possible in the future.”

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