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Predictions 2000

Welcome to "Predictions 2000" – an annual look at what's expected to make news in the coming year.

As always, we focus on the national business press: what we predict the media will cover in 2000 and the context and background that will help shape business news coverage.

What do we mean by context? Those of you familiar with the national business press know that they are not driven by product announcements. The national media focus on trends and issues, and more often than not, how those trends and issues are going to affect the average American consumer. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the context in which stories are being reported. For this reason, we look at larger trends and issues we expect to surface in the coming year – not just the gizmos and gadgets that might make the headlines.

We also alert you to what's going on in the media world itself. What are reporters and editors talking about? How are they working within the new media paradigm, where anyone and everyone can set up shop as a reporter on the Internet, and public relations tactics force media to change the way they operate?

David McMasters, ombudsman for the American Journalism Review, gives a great example of this in his look ahead to 2000:

"Corporations are increasingly aggressive and inventive in thwarting media scrutiny. Rather than go after the accuracy of the reports, they launch tort-based lawsuits attacking the journalists and their newsgathering practices. They launch massive public relations campaigns to neutralize negative coverage. They bring their own videographers in to record journalists' interviews of their executives."

This gives you an idea of what PR professionals will be up against.

Top Stories for 2000

  1. Look for another record-breaking year for IPOs
    Major technology spin-offs, renewed interest in biotechnology start-ups, action in the insurance sector, and surging venture-capital investments are expected to combine to make 2000 another banner year for initial public offerings. (From CNBC)
  2. The stock market
    The temptation is to get ahead of the curve and be negative. But that's not what the pundits are saying. From "The stock market will put in another record year. Yes, the doomsayers are getting bolder, and more and more investors are befuddled by the stock market's uncanny ability to keep rising. Like the late 1950s, the investment community is undergoing a revolution in terms of the risk it will tolerate. And like the 1950s, we won't understand why this makes sense until we have a few more years under our belt."
  3. ASP markets will take off
    This really is a "next generation" sector, as small to mid-sized companies move from the client-server or even small enterprise systems, with their associated high purchase and maintenance costs, to Application Service Providers, via the Web or company Intranet. "Big things are expected from the ASP business, once some logjams are cleared. The applications-hosting market is set to grow to $11.3 billion by 2003 from $933 million in 1999," according to Forrester Research, a Cambridge, Mass., research firm. Forrester defines this market as including ASPs, network service providers and independent software vendors. "(Eric Fleming, CNBC)
  4. Wireless, wireless, wireless
    The biggest buzz this year will surround wireless applications: Internet access on your cell phone, "smart" appliances, and more – Newsweek's international edition named the mobile phone its "European of the Year," for "positioning the Old World as a heavyweight in the New Economy." In its January 1 cover story, Newsweek pointed to Europe's mobile phone industry as the world leader in developing software for mobile Web browsing. The idea of putting the Internet in the palm of your hand, via your phone, is about to explode in Europe, and will eventually make its way to the U.S. One market research company predicts that "more than half of all European mobile users will be connected to the Internet by the end of 2001"– all of this leading to the next trend listed below.
  5. The newest Internet consumer model: m-commerce
    Mobile commerce – This model goes beyond e-commerce, the buzzword of 1999. With m-commerce, e-commerce goes on the road, creating vast new markets for what consumers want and need. It's also seen as a new potentially powerful tool for one-to-one marketing. Again, from international editions of Newsweek: "From a seller's point of view, mobile commerce is even niftier than old-fashioned e-commerce, because it goes beyond ordering flowers or books or jeans. When the customer's mobile, information itself-whether a bus schedule, a rugby score or directions to the nearest pizza joint-gains value… [C]onsumers will personalize their portals to receive only the kind of information they want, creating a valuable little profile for an advertiser. Mobile operators can track calling patterns. And eventually, with positioning technology, they'll know where you are, too. Attention, ice-cream lovers: Hagen-Dazs may beam you a half-off coupon if you're in the neighborhood. Before long, voice could be free in exchange for a little targeted advertising."
  6. Y2K
    It's not over yet – There's a lot of hemming and hawing going on now over the lack of Y2K disasters on New Year's Eve. But experts point out that Y2K problems could continue to pop up at least through the first six months of the year. As the calendar progresses, deadlines such as a new fiscal year, billing cycles, etc., could prompt Y2K bugs out of hibernation. The media will be watching for these developments – all the while reporting on people, businesses, and even whole countries that are hopping mad they spent so much money on what they now say was a non-problem. We'll see.
  7. The DSL Revolution
    We have a need … the need for speed. And digital subscriber lines will fulfill that need. The DSL race is on, and the question is who has access and who doesn't. Speed and efficiency will be the buzzwords for Internet access, and DSL promises to be the newest and best solution.
  8. Security on the 'Net
    Hackers here, hackers there, hackers hackers everywhere. The FBI now has 16 units dedicated to cybercrimes, and that number is expected to grow throughout the year as more and more criminals turn their eyes toward the 'Net. Cybercrime involves everything from corporate hacking to the transition of more traditional crimes like drug-dealing and gambling to the Web. This will continue to be a topic meriting major media coverage, especially as computer criminals design new and more destructive ways to tamper with the Internet. Also, the federal government is expected to soon announce new encryption regulations, which will provide further fodder for coverage.
  9. Presidential election and technology issues
    Although social and fiscal issues will dominate the campaign trail throughout the year, candidates are also likely to face questions about their views on various technology issues. Everything from antitrust to encryption exports will be fare game. Once the party candidates are determined, look for the media to start pressuring them for their views on these 21st century topics.

Top Media Trends

  1. Expanded e-business coverage
    There will be continued rollouts of new technology sections and increased devotion to technology coverage across the board. This includes broadcast as well as print.
    Proof points: The New York Times ran an ad in December 1999 touting its commitment to covering e-business; Business Week planned on a couple of 36-page e-biz supplements for 2000, but was overwhelmed with so much advertising that it expanded those plans to nine, 100-plus page editions; Fast Company published a 484-page issue, more like the Boston White Pages than a New Economy 'zine.
    As an editor at CFO magazine says, "E-business is just business now; you can't separate 'em." Expect e-business to continue to get increasing coverage, especially as more traditional businesses from all sectors begin using the web as a sales and service channel.
  2. Increased cynicism in the media
    Reporters and editors are famous for building things up just to tear them down again – with relish. The media are swooning over dot-coms and IPOs right now, but the love affair is bound to end at some point. Already we're seeing journalist websites dedicated to sneering at the rhetoric of the New Economy.
    Proof points: Stock values aren't the only thing inflated about dot.coms. Writes Stephen Mannes in Forbes: "Stumble upon the term "visionary" and you want to slap somebody. Only in an industry as full of itself as high tech could this word mean 'a newly minted B-school grad who plans to offer a dubious service on the Web, go public with an unprofitable company and make millions.'"
    Other targets:
    Portal: several items of conceivable interest peeking out from a sea of ads;
    Revolutionary: taking a somewhat different tack from the company that did it first;
    Scalable: may conceivably continue to work if your needs grow modestly.
    The message for PR people: Keep it real. Avoid cliches like the plague.
  3. Continued musical chairs at major media outlets
    High-tech reporters are hopping all over the place. Every major newspaper, broadcast outlet, and news website is vying for topnotch tech writers, meaning it's harder and harder to keep track of who's where. Plan on using the Press Flash extensively to keep up with the staff changes.
    Proof point: "It's an employees' market," says the recruiter for the San Francisco Chronicle, the 13th-largest newspaper in the United States, and which has suffered more than its share of staff defections in the past 18 months.
  4. One word: Convergence
    Everyone from long lead magazines to Internet search engines will get into the daily news business. They may have their own staffs (Yahoo) or they may subscribe to a content aggregator. No matter how they do it, traditional media are scrambling to keep up with the Internet. This could mean more opportunities for coverage, as PR folks may soon be pitching AOL and Yahoo editors and reporters - whose audience can reach 20 million easily – in addition to the New York Times and other traditional sites.
    Proof point: No less a traditional media guru than Morley Safer of 60 Minutes sees this as a possibility: "I think we are witnessing the last gasps of the three evening news programs on the three traditional networks. I think that's over - a network with its serious editors, its serious producers and reporters telling you the important stories of the day in twenty-two minutes. That was an important institution in this country for a number of years. I think that's going to be gone before we hit 2005."
    Proof point: The mother of all convergence: AOL-Time Warner, announced earlier this week.

A profession in crisis

First, it's important understand that in 2000, the U.S. media will face unprecedented pressure for radical reform. A series of events - The Los Angeles Times fiasco with its revenue-sharing deal with the Staples Center; the film on 60 Minutes' decision to cave on the tobacco story; the settlement in the case for false Olympic bombing accusations against Richard Jewell; CNN's false nerve gas story; and the Cincinnati Enquirer's $10 million payment to Chiquita Brands for illegally tapping into corporate answering machines - have left the press shaken and the public even more distrustful of the fourth estate than ever.

In the fast-moving world of on-line journalism, credibility has been hurt as practitioners like Matt Drudge and others sometimes fall short of the standards adhered to by the mainstream, traditional press. Says author and journalist David Halberstam: "The great change in media is driven by technology and nobody really knows how to bring the traditional restraints and strengths of journalism to the new technology. It's out there – the fragmentation of television, the twenty-four-hour news cycle, the Internet, the decline of the editing function. What's declining, for the moment at least, are standards – the rise of a kind of culture of allegation in journalism rather than in confirmation of stories. And I think that's a real crisis in the profession."

Juries consistently punish the media with high awards in libel and invasion of privacy cases. And from the media's point of view, the First Amendment itself is under siege from all sides as communities as corporations continue to try to censor and control what people say and how they say it.

It's all led to a call for radical reform of the media, with such voices as Bill Moyers, Ralph Nader and even presidential candidate and Vice President Al Gore calling for changes in the way media are owned and operated in the United States. The proposed reforms range from legal limits on advertising and increased airtime for public service to free internet service for every home and anti-trust action to break up what are seen as media monopolies. It adds up to a call to dismantle the media current media structure and replace it with an amalgamation of national networks, local stations, public-access TV, and independent community radio stations, along with low-power television and radio stations.

If you would like to brainstorm the implications of these predictions, please contact the Norman Birnbach at


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