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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 October 2007, 11:14 GMT
10 years of the BBC News website

As the BBC News website notches up 10 years, what does the coming decade hold for the way we will consume news? We asked some leading lights in the fields of media and technology where it's all going.

The fact you're reading this already says something about how your access to news has changed in the past decade or so. But in the media the influence of the net has been credited with much more than providing a convenient way of catching up on the headlines during the working day.

Free daily newspapers, citizen journalism, the blur between comment and news - for good or ill, somewhere down the line online news has been implicated in these trends and many others.

So what might the coming decade mean for the news?


As papers yield to the onslaught of news on the web, smartphones and filtered for personal tastes, one casualty will be the hierarchies of layout that dictate the big stories of the day, says the former Fleet Street editor. Crudely put - the more prominence given to a story, the more important it must be.

"There's a difficulty with that because you lose the filter of what the editor thinks is important. It's natural to me but with personalised news, maybe the young generation won't see it as such... You might get the sense you have when reading the Reuters newswire, with stories coming in from the four corners of the world and no assumptions as to which is more newsworthy."

Yet, it could throw up some unexpected results. The law of the popular press dictates that "two people killed in an accident on the M1 is a bigger story than several hundred dying in a earthquake in a far-off land. If you move away from that hierarchy, would our view of foreign disasters change?"


The sheer wealth of information means the big news beasts of today - national papers and broadcasters - "will increasingly market themselves as people who will make sense of the news as well as provide it," says Lloyd, director of journalism at the Reuters Institute, Oxford.

News is becoming a free commodity and that means a shake-up in how it's funded. In the US serious foreign stories are now paid for by benefactors, while increasingly aid agencies are taking matters into their own hands and filing their own stories from disaster areas.

The trend towards trivialisation - celebrity, sports, personal news - is strong, but Lloyd also foresees a growth in the numbers wishing to access in-depth, serious content.

"That audience was never very large...The number of people who want in-depth coverage now is growing, but it's lots of groups of a few people interested in very different things."


Katharine Whitehorn
The Observer's legendary columnist from 1960 to 1996 is optimistic that advances in technology will allow a greater outlet for previously unheard voices.

"When I started out in newspapers, the Times only thought it important to cover politics, the City and foreign affairs," she says.

"Now, the kind of articles that were then relegated to the women's pages are all over the paper. I hope that this process continues and that we see a broader range of interests and opinions represented in the media."


The onward march of technology is disorienting and has left some, such as Young, uncertain about where they would fit in.

The author and former Vanity Fair contributing editor believes that the ease with which members of the public can make their own voices heard via blogs and podcasts means that the professional journalist will soon be an anachronism.

"Walk into any newspaper office and they're all doing the Mexican death march," he says. "They know the game is up.

"If I were a young person embarking on a career today, there's no way I'd go into journalism. You might as well train as a professional fax machine operator."


Dubbed one of the "fathers of the internet", and now chief internet evangelist for Google, Cerf takes a less apocalyptic view.

He believes that the demand for information will make the craft of journalism as valued as ever - but that news gatherers will lose control of how their information is presented.

"The reporting and editorial functions will continue to be extremely valuable," he says. "However, we may receive our news through many more 'channels' than today...alerts to our mobiles, brief video clips, some may come as RSS feeds or e-mail alerts, some may be from blogs - we may want to find a way to combine many sources into a single place through which to view all of this material."


The executive director of the Webby Awards - frequently dubbed the Oscars of the net - agrees that news organisations will have to surrender much of their control over how people consume news.

"We won't make choices for people any more," he says. "We'll create a platform for people to make their own choices.

"At the moment the web is available to one-and-a-half billion people around the world. The big challenge will be extending these choices to the other six billion."


As the IT pioneer who first tabled the concept of hypertext, thereby establishing the principle of linking between websites, Nelson worries that US hegemony will dominate the online world as it does the physical.

"There is so much earnest optimism, particularly among web people," he says. "But political issues trump technical issues every time."

Nonetheless, others are hopeful that the net will help give a voice to those who would previously have had no way to reach out to the rest of the world.


The recent uprising in Burma is a timely illustration of how the net is giving a voice to those who otherwise might never be heard from, says Anderson, co-author of the Pew report into the future of the web.

"If it wasn't for the internet, we wouldn't have seen a fraction of the images we did of the monks' protests and the regime's repression," she says. "And that's in a country where only a fraction of the population are online.

"The more we can do this, the more the web can be a force for good."

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