This is my last column for Newsroom for 2017 and what better way to wrap it up than with a reflection on the year that’s been. The season gives one license to make lists as deadlines approach and we all crawl to the finish line of another huge year, so who am I to buck a trend? Here are my best and worst of 2017 and thoughts on what 2018 will bring in the world of media and technology.
Best finding of feet
It is tempting to give this one to our dog, Foley, who lost the use of his back legs, nearly died, rose again and then walked on the fourth day – something of a canine, quite expensive Lazarus – but he only has 66 Instagram followers so I can’t call him a media (yet). Instead, I’m going to partially eat my own words and suggest Three’s The Project has really come into its own. My first column for Newsroom was a treatise on the pointlessness of the 7pm magazine show but bursts of personality and passion from presenters Jesse Mulligan and Kanoa Lloyd have taken the show closer to offering something unique, rather than a recap of ‘Today on the Internet’.
Worst political communicator of the year
Despite liking some of TOP’s policies, Gareth Morgan’s belief that he was above the laws of effective communications spelled the end of any opportunity he might have had to win my vote. Him telling me I wasn’t ‘robust enough for the struggle’ he ‘was waging’ after I suggested calling people ‘whores’ on Twitter was a bad idea was a 2017 highlight. Turns out, the struggle was real for Morgan and despite claiming he had had no time for ‘spin doctors’, hired Sean Plunket as his Communications Director. Plunket started spinning and never stopped, eventually spinning out control and off Morgan’s pay roll and the Broadcasting Standards Authority.
Best political communicator of the year
Tom Sainsbury as Paula Bennett, Bill English, Simon Bridges, Nikki Kaye, Judith Collins, and the voting public.
Sainsbury’s videos are a New Zealand treasure, sometimes so subtle and nuanced, they hurt. Without an election next year, I can only hope we’ll still be kept up to date on Paula Bennett’s panini consumption and Bridges’ poetry career.
Best media trend
The celebrification of Radio New Zealand presenters.
John Drinnan is deeply worried about this, particularly when it comes to Guyon Espiner forcing his horrendously beautiful, self-serving and clearly subversive Māori language skills on us all. I for one will forever delight in referring to Mrs Espiner as the ‘presenter’s wife’. In all seriousness and despite this rampant and concerning trend, RNZ have gone from strength to strength this year, diversifying their offering by branching out into video, podcasts, and books and launching a wonderful new app. Their grasp of the changing media landscape demonstrates they not only know who they are, but what they will be. Much to Drinnan’s horror this will no doubt also involve the continued emergence of presenters who are able to balance holding onto their integrity and having a personality. Bring on RNZ+ and The Ninth Floor on Ice.
Worst media trend
Burying your head in the sand.
TVNZ have had a few shockers this year but two stand out. Their refusal to properly acknowledge or apologise for Hosking’s on-air blunder on who can vote for the Māori Party was one and Andy Shaw’s comments about Netflix being a fad, the other.
“Let’s not get seduced by the fact that Netflix is a ubiquitously available service at a reasonable price” cautioned Shaw. Too late Andy, too late.
Most misunderstood but impressive technology
Use of Artificial Intelligence in the field of accessibility and disability.
Beyond large scale industrial and commercial automation and marketing chat bots, the most revelatory use of AI is what it can do to improve accessibility. AI will appear on everyone’s list of trends over the coming years, the term bandied about by those wanting to appear in the know. Suffering from something of a branding problem, it will also continue to be viewed as a force for evil but if you want an idea of how life-changing it can and could be, check out SeeingAI, Microsoft’s app for the visually impaired. Regulation and ethics in this field will be critical to its success and somehow it must be wrestled out of the hands of the tech titans and wizards and become something we all understand.
So what will 2018 bring:
Clare Curran’s digital advisory group and the appointment of a NZ CTO
Something to watch. Expressions are open to be a part of the advisory group and I’d urge people to take a look. We can’t afford for this group to be stacked with tech boffins and captains of industry so I hope to see a broad cross section of our community represented especially as the inevitable march towards digitisation of vital services continues and digital divides become chasms.
Finally, something useful for wearable devices
As tempting as it is to write off those of us who enjoy a good data input and output on our food, sleep and exercise habits as narcissistic screen addicts, there are some very real and exciting advancements in the area of health data and devices that can help you monitor and improve your health. I found out I was diabetic this year and suddenly my health and habits have come into very sharp focus. As a result, I wear a Fitbit Ionic. Fitbit already work with Diabetes NZ and skin sensors that continuously monitor blood sugar levels without having to do frequent finger prick tests are already in market.
The inevitable collision of personal health data and the public health service will also be something to watch.
The separation of social and media
Taylor Lorenz covers this in an excellent article for Nieman Lab but the end is nigh for the first wave of social that saw media, brands, and people all mixed together in a messy hodge podge on open, broadcast-focused social networks. People are seeking out closed networks and private messaging services for their social interactions and media consumption will become an altogether separate behaviour. The combined user base of the top four chat apps is already larger than the combined user base of the top four social networks. Hopefully this will see a focus on more premium content from media and less ‘Hey we’re your mate too’ behaviour from brands.
Curation, premium and direct to consumer services
I still don’t have my Netflix of news but the idea that ‘audience’ isn’t some monolithic beast that wants to slowly drown in an ocean of unfiltered, ad-ridden content is finally starting to catch on. People are seeking trust and intimacy and no longer want to be seen as the generators of clicks and impressions. Expect to see more personalised push alerts, stand-alone media news feeds, media stars acting as distributors to communities of fans and cutting out the middle man, micro-niches for communities of interest, narrow casting formats like podcasts and a focus on more enduring relationship with audiences from media in 2018.
Thank you to the Newsroom team for giving me this platform. In my totally unbiased and selfless opinion, they are one of the new media stars of the year, not only making their mark as a go-to source of written journalism but also picking up ‘Best Current Affairs’ programme at the recent New Zealand Television Awards – an indication of how much things are changing in media, for players old and new.
Finally, thank you all for reading. The idea that there’s a reader base who seem so willing to engage with ideas is heartening.
Ngā mihi o te wā me te Tau Hou – wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.