Hacking Into the Future of Media

Participants in a recent Hackathon at MIT. (Courtesy Matt Carroll, Hacks/Hackers)

By Quinn Brinn

On a busy Boston morning, fast walking people stride right past newsstands, loaded with stacks of neatly folded, untouched newspapers, with their eyes focused intently on the screens of their cell phones. This scene is characteristic of what many have dubbed “the decline of the newspaper industry.”

The “decline,” which refers specifically to drops in newsprint prices and circulation, is caused largely by the increasing number of people who are switching out their print newspapers for the more convenient option of reading the news on the internet. This switch from print to digital is especially popular among younger people.

“I really just check the internet to read the news,” said Haralambos Exarhopulous, 18.

The increasing popularity of digital news is evident in Boston’s newspaper sales. Digital subscription has caused Boston Globe circulation to rise substantially despite the decline of print subscription. According to figures from the Alliance for Audited Media from March 2013, the Boston Globe’s weekday circulation was 245,572 in March 2013, with digital subscriptions.
Although the print subscription count, at 172,048, is still higher than the digital subscription count, print subscriptions were actually down by 12.2 percent from six months prior, while digital subscription rose 32.8 percent.

The reason behind this is that print newspapers have become outdated as new technological developments have made accessing news via the internet far more convenient, and often less expensive. Computers, smartphones, and mobile news apps are starting to turn ink and paper into things of the past.

The decline of print newspapers is augmented by new innovative attempts to further digitalize media.

Matt Carroll, a researcher at the MIT Center for Civic Research and former Boston Globe editor, has been working to bring the two worlds of media and technology together.

“I understood how important technology was becoming to media,” said Carroll. “I had a foot in each world. I also knew technologists who were interested in media, and I knew the two places must meet.”

So, in June, 2010, Carroll started a Boston chapter of the international group Hacks/Hackers. Hacks/Hackers educates journalists about media technology, and technologists about media.

“Hacks/Hackers was a way to get technologists and journalists together under the same roof,” said Carroll.

Hacks/Hackers organizes these networks to help these innovators “rethink the future of news and information,” as the organization’s official website reads. One way Hacks/ Hackers attempts to go about this is through Hackathons.

Hackathons are events, typically lasting one or several days, during which technologists and journalists collaborate to pitch ideas for new mobile apps and then create apps based off of those ideas. A recent hackathon in Cambridge aimed to “reinvent mobile news,” and the technologists and journalists who participated successfully created new mobile apps that “hint where news might be headed.”

The trend of technological advances in media shows no signs of stopping, and as technology continues to advance and bring media communication to new heights, don’t expect those fast walking people to look away from their phone screens to the newsstand anytime.

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