The future of news: modes, lived experience, and solutions


Are you a sifter, substantiater, studier, socializer, or sensemaker? Answer carefully — the future of the news industry may depend on it.

If you’re like me and other people mentioned in Next Gen News report on the future needs and wants of info-hungry folks, you’re probably all of them. From one second to the next, you might be in any or all of these modes:

  • Sift — you need simple, low-effort ways to keep up with and discover relevant news.
  • Substantiate — you need straightforward ways to follow up on and verify news that has sparked your interest.
  • Study — you need access to content that educates, upskills, and inspires you (when you want to dive more deeply).
  • Socialise — you need information that you can share that makes you feel current, connected, and socially validated.
  • Sensemake — you need different perspectives and other accessible ways to process and understand complex topics.

While I have seen news products or publications focus on one of these modes, I’ve never seen one handle all of them with every single story.

By failing to prioritize audience mode, journalism is failing to reach and retain far more readers, watchers, and listeners.

I took a shot at solving this problem when I got The China Project (now closed) started as its founding editor-in-chief (here is my resume for those interested in learning more). I called the content strategy I came up with “islands and streams.” I decided we needed a constant stream of info snacks that people could scan — essentially headlines with brief summaries that doubled up as tweets — to find something relevant to them. That might fit into the sift mode. I balanced that with “islands” info that people could frolic in — essays and deeper pieces, anchored by the Sinica Podcast that I helped bring into the fold of the publication. This approach hinted at studying and sensemaking. What I never figured out was how to do it all at once, all the time, with every story — to be able to meet every mode a person may be in as they surf the web. I’d still like to.

Lived Experience

The Next Gen News report also talks about credibility. People want to know they can trust the sources of information they’re giving their time to. A powerful method for building credibility also hints at the future of the industry: lived experience.

Simply put, people prefer to hear about an issue from those who went through it. If you haven’t, then what right do you have to take on the role of storyteller for that issue?

Journalists of course interview people who went through terrible and wonderful experiences and turn those conversations into articles. And opinion pages have been doing this forever — inviting authors with first-hand knowledge of a topic to share their observations. What seems different is that people almost demand the opinion pages approach now.

I suspect the internet launched this expectation; it creates the impression, accurate or not, that anyone, anywhere can produce and distribute information. After all, isn’t that what we all do, every day, on Instagram, TikTok, text chains, blogs, and so on? Intermediaries in this system — journalists taking the time to figure out which questions to ask, tracking down the people to interview, and then organizing the answers into something easy to digest — seem like outsiders. Of course, no one appreciates how much work it takes. But maybe all that work is guided by notions of quality that are not relevant in an always-on, effortless-to-access information system. If it takes one click to get at a random disorganized rant or the most carefully crafted investigation costing millions, the differences between the two of them can start to fade, even if intellectually you know they shouldn’t.

I believe we’ll be in trouble if “lived experience” becomes a formal or informal requirement for every media job, but it does convey a lot of credibility. Perhaps every article in the future will be written only by folks who went through the issue it explores. Then again, how many people will have the time and resources to not just live their life, but also report on it?


People have always said the news is too negative. They will continue to do so. The complaints usually end with a request: Why don’t journalists talk about ways to fix the problems their articles highlight?

The thing is, many journalists do and have done so for a long time. Not every story — you sometimes cannot get every single angle of every single news piece. The time isn’t there. The energy. Another story comes up. You have to switch gears. But on the whole, this haphazard approach to including solutions (or throwing them into a single paragraph strewn somewhere in a long screen of text) creates the impression that they’re never noted at all. So much so that we created an entire genre of news called “solutions journalism” that explicitly focuses on creating an organizational structure that is set up to find and communicate solutions along with problems.

We can’t proceed with “solutions journalism” over there and “regular journalism” or “regular journalism with sporadic and unpredictable inclusion of solutions” over here. Solutions, even small ones that may reflect no more than individual actions people can take, must be present. They must be findable and clear.

What’s Next?

Despite trying for years, I still can’t predict the future. Instead, I’ll tell you what I’d like to see and build starting today: A news organization producing coverage by well-edited “lived experience contributors” that is consistently structured to clearly and effortlessly satisfy every mode an info hunter may be in: sifter, substantiater, studier, socializer, and sensemaker.

Who’s game? Email me at

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