The Defining News Stories of 2014

Well, it’s that time of year again. The Christmas trees are going up, mall parking lots are more like war zones, and everyone starts thinking about what they want the next year to look like.

But before we plunge into that conversation, let’s take a minute to reflect on the big stories that dominated headlines this year. 2014 was a big one.

The Disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

Way back in March, a flight took off from Malaysia with over 200 people on board. It was heading to China, but about halfway through a completely normal flight, it simply vanished.

Poof, gone. Vanished from sight and radar. 239 people, including crew, and a huge Boeing jet, simply disappeared.

Searches have been going on all year. Still, nothing to report. Not a blip on a radar, not a flare seen. No report from survivors, no discoveries of debris or wreckage.

Will the mystery be solved in 2015? Will it ever be solved? For the families and friends of those 239 people, I truly hope so.

Nigerian Schoolgirls Kidnapping

In mid-April, a Nigerian terrorist cell broke into a school and abducted 230 schoolgirls.

With the extremist view that women should be at home, married and raising children, tending to the home, the abductors took the girls into the jungle and they have not yet been released, despite widespread efforts from aid agencies and international groups.

In October, 4 girls escaped, and emerged after walking for 3 weeks from where they were being held in Cameroon. They reported that the other girls were still being held, subject to daily abuses.

The Ebola Epidemic

While it has not spread beyond Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Senegal, the outbreak of ebola has killed thousands and thousands of people. With a mortality rate of over 70% in the standard strain, the emergence of the Zaire strain caused extreme distress with its mortality rate of 90%.

The United States had 4 reported cases and 1 fatality, but the virus was contained by extremely proactive quarantine and monitoring processes.

Crisis in the Ukraine

Civil unrest in the Ukraine in February led the President to abandon the capital, Kiev. Soon after, pro-Russian forces joined with Russian militants to take over the region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has come under extreme criticism for his encouragement of the overturn of Ukrainian independence. Russian troops have been amassing at the border, with no end in sight to the potential aggression. The Ukraine could be absorbed into the Russian Republic if things do not unwind – or a war in Eastern Europe could be on the horizon.

Even worse is that another Malaysian Airlines flight was shot down by separatists while flying over the Ukraine – killing 298 innocent civilians from completely uninvolved countries. Russia has been subjected to economic sanctions as a result.


State of the News Media – Pew Research 2014 Report

Every year, the Pew Research Journalism Project releases a ‘state of the nation’ study on how journalism and news media are progressing nation-wide.

The study addresses many, many metrics: which demographics are doing what, which platforms are performing in which verticals, and assessing where the creme de la creme are focusing their efforts.

According to the overview of the report,

Digital players have exploded onto the news scene, bringing technological knowhow and new money and luring top talent. BuzzFeed, once scoffed at for content viewed as “click bait,” now has a news staff of 170, including top names like Pulitzer Prize-winner Mark Schoofs, and is the kind of place that ProPublica’s Paul Steiger says he would want to work at if he were young again. Mashable now has a news staff of 70 and enticed former New York Times assistant managing editor Jim Roberts to become its chief content officer. And in January of this year, Ezra Klein left the Washington Post for Vox media, which will become the new home for his explanatory journalism concept. Many of these companies are already successful digital brands – built around an innate understanding of technology – and are using revenues from other parts of the operation to get the news operations off the ground.”

While those names come as a big surprise – old school dons switching sides – the general data does not. And there’s a good reason:

“The new money from philanthropists, venture capitalists and other individuals and non-media businesses, while promising, amounts to only a sliver of the money supporting professional journalism. Traditional advertising from print and television still accounts for more than half of the total revenue supporting news, even though print ad revenues are in rapid decline. While seeing some small gains in new revenue streams like digital subscriptions and conferences, total newspaper advertising revenue in 2013 was down 49% from 2003. (That 2013 number also includes some niche and non-daily publications.) Television ad revenue, while stable for now, faces an uncertain future as video becomes more accessible online. What’s more, most of the new revenue streams driving the momentum are not earned from the news product itself.”

With revenue (and profits) ever more skewed in the favor of digital media, the old ways of reporting the news are absolutely going the way of the dodo. Not that it’s necessarily a terrible thing – we journalists simply have to work out how to navigate the new territory while maintaining our editorial integrity.

To view the whole report, click here.