In October 2000, news industry think tank Ifra produced a video entitled “Tomorrow’s News.”
Set in the near future, the ten-minute video followed a day in the life of Anne and Kou, multimedia content editors in an eerily calm newsroom as a terroristic hacking crisis brought airlines across the US to a standstill. As a huge map screen pulsated with the ebb and flow of “news”, they directed reporting resources to cover the attack. An offscreen supreme editor is referred to like Godot.
It’s an optimistic production, and though it was released just after the first dot.com wave broke, it was an optimistic moment for journalism. The NASDAQ Composite had lost 30 percent of its value since its May 2000 peak (and was set to lose a lot more) but few believed the appetite for news on the internet was crashing. Millions were coming online every day. Newspapers eyed readerships far beyond their home markets. The market for news was growing, unstoppably.
It’s easy to joke about how forecasters get things wrong. We didn’t get round to printing off customised editions of our morning newspaper on the fax machine. Newsrooms are still chaotic, hurly-burly places despite the best efforts of managers.
In fact, “Tomorrow’s News” gets plenty right. Today’s newsrooms don’t resemble the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, but editors are still prompted into action by giant screens showing headlines and metrics. Reporters are expected to record their own footage. Readers get push alerts on their mobile phones (though more likely too be iPhones these days rather than Nokias).
Here was a vision of how the news industry would master the new technology. Readers willing to support teams of professional multimedia reporters gathering news dispassionately around the world. Editors conducting budgets. Publishers managing distribution. Technology would enable news organisations to go global. Newspapers would run video newsrooms. Newspaper journalists would become multimedia reporters, capable of covering news anywhere in the world without requiring back up camera crews.
Why not be optimistic? 2000 saw newspaper advertising revenues reach an historic high. As electronic editions brought their content to millions more, there was no reason that revenues wouldn’t keep growing. In fact, convergence – which would unify print and multimedia editions in the same newsrooms – would cut costs and increase margins.
In late 2000, Google was just over two years old. It had launched AdWords. It was growing rapidly by world of mouth. Workmates tapped one another on the shoulder and advised “why are you still using Altavista? Try Google.com.”
Mark Zuckerberg had just started at Phillips Exeter Academy, where, like all students, he received a copy of the school’s “Photo Address Book”, known colloquially among Exonians as “The Facebook.”
America was gearing up for a Presidential election that would pit two well-known surnames against one another. The result would be controversial and divisive. Cyberspace was going to be a place where two very different versions of America clashed, and then maybe thought they didn’t want to talk to one another very much at all.
11 months after Tomorrow’s News was released, news industry workers got the biggest story of their lifetimes.