This week MediaShift is doing a special in-depth report on cutting the cord to cable TV — who’s doing it, why, and how. One of our most popular posts over the past 5 years has been our special guides to cutting the cord, which we first published in January 2010 and again in 2012.  Stay tuned to MediaShift for more on cutting the cord.


Anyone who gets cable TV or satellite in the U.S. has noticed a pronounced trend over the years: The monthly bill keeps going up. You can get a lot of channels and DVR functions, but that of course comes with a cost. According to research from Centris, the average cable bill was nearly $75 in 2009, and the average monthly satellite TV bill was $69. Fast-forward to 2015, and the prices are even more startling: A January Bloomberg Business report predicted the average DirecTV bill would climb to $107 by February and that dish customers would pay between $2 to $5 more per month starting that month as well. A 2014 report by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, also cited in the Bloomberg article, found that the average cost of expanded basic cable service has been increasing by about six percent a year since 1995.

Photo by on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

On top of that, access to more and more options doesn’t necessarily mean that people are turning on all these channels. Nielsen’s 2014 Advertising & Audiences Report found that while the average U.S. home television receives 189 TV channels, the typical consumer only watches 17 different channels. And with mobile devices like tablets and phones increasingly becoming go-to screens as well, it makes sense that some people may prefer having “cordless” viewing options, particularly young people who have grown up used to watching shows online — sometimes referred to as“cord-nevers.”

Yet a report by Leichtman Research Group found that the top pay TV providers have lost only about 0.2 percent of its customer based in the past couple of years. A study by that was cited in the January/February 2015 issue of Streaming Media Magazine also found that most of its respondents hadn’t completely “cut the cord.”

Instead, combining streaming services with traditional programming — in other words, creating individual viewing options according to your own preferences — is becoming much more the norm. Among the study’s respondents, for example, almost 60 percent subscribed to paid TV, and 66 percent had Netflix accounts and 48 percent Amazon Prime/Instant video accounts.

Amazon Prime's membership pitch. Screenshot courtesy of

And there are more and more services catering to the various viewing habits of the American population. HBO Now, “the network’s stand-alone premium subscription tier,” is now available in the App Store for iOS and Apple TV users as well as Optimum Online customers for $15 a month. HBO expects to add about 10 to 15 million more cord cutters to the current pool with its new service, according to a report from Quartz. Sling TV, the live TV package of 16 channels available for $20 a month, is also set to add HBO to its list of services for an additional $15 a month. CBS’ Internet TV service CBS All Access, which shows previous and current CBS content on demand, just launched on Roku for $5.99 a month. Sony Vue, a streaming service of 53 channels for $50 a month available on PlayStation, is slated to come to the iPad soon. Consumers can now also expect to watch TV over the air on XBox One.

Depending on various room setups and viewing habits, making the changeover from cable to online TV can be complex and maddening. But thanks to the rise of all these streaming services, packages, and hardware options (like the Roku box and Apple TV), cutting the cord to cable TV is much more common than before and sure to save you some money. And it might actually suit your lifestyle and viewing interests more than you realize.

“In short, you don’t need cable anymore to watch all the cool stuff that’s out there,” cord cutter Zhulmira Paredes, an attorney based in Chicago, wrote in a message.


The first thing to do when cutting the cord is list the shows you watch regularly and your favorite TV channels. Next, do a little research to find out whether those shows appear on the channel’s streaming sites (such as,, etc.), or on Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, or YouTube. Many shows on pay channels such as HBO don’t appear until much later and usually must be bought via a service like iTunes.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In addition to what’s available online, check out the kinds of TVs you’re working (or not working) with. The quality of over-the-air broadcast channels has changed since the digital switch-over in 2009. Many newer TVs only require an antenna to get local broadcast channels, while older TVs need a converter box, which currently run at about $30 to $50. Plus, some of the programming includes HD content. To find out which digital channels you can get over the airwaves, input your location at the AntennaWeb site and check out Steve Belk’s advice on how to get the best reception. Many new HDTV sets now come with Internet connections built in them as well (in other words, they’re “Internet-enabled” TV), so you might not even need extra hardware such as a Roku box or Apple TV.

Below is a rundown of some of the more important options for enjoying TV content via the web. You can mix and match them to get you what you need. Most cable quitters find they can get about 95 percent of the TV content they used to watch on cable via the various services below.


This is the box many cable quitters seem to like. It connects to your TV and computer network and let’s you watch Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, as well as offers some free and pay options for additional content. Models range from $49.99 to $99.99, depending on your needs.

Google Chromecast
This thumb-sized device plugs into the HDMI port on your TV so you can stream media. It works with a number of apps so you can transfer what you see on a small screen — as in a phone, tablet, or laptop — onto the big screen. The price is currently set at about $30.

Amazon Fire TV
This is a small device you can connect to your HDTV, allowing you to access Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, HBO Go, games, music, and more. The current price is about $99.

amazon fire tv stick

Amazon Fire Stick
Like the Amazon Fire TV, this stick allows you to access Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, HBO Go, games, music, and more by connecting to your TV’s HDMI post. The current price is about $39. (Note, MediaShift contributor Kathy E. Gillcompared the streaming sticks on the market and found the Amazon Fire Stick to be the winner.)

Apple TV
It’s basically a front-end device to iTunes, and allows you to download movies and music and play them through your TV. Problem: no TV tuner or DVR functionality. However, it now connects to Apple’s iCloud service so you can view your media much easier. Apple is also reportedly working on a new, cheaper streaming service aside from iTunes. The current price is about $70.

Second generation Apple TV. Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Viera Connect Panasonic TVs
From 32” to 65”, these TV sets come with Internet access built into them. All you need to do is connect them to your WiFi network, and then you can bring up extra content through the TV remote. Content and services include Netflix, Hulu, AP, Skype, YouTube, and more. Learn more about Viera Connect and its apps here. Prices range from $400 to over $3200.

Samsung Smart TVs
Samsung even has a Samsung App Store for all the services it offers for its line of Smart TVs. That includes Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Pandora, and even Facebook and Twitter.

WD TV Live box
This small box connects your TV to an external hard drive, letting you play movies, TV shows, photos, or music you have downloaded. WD TV Live comes in a regular $99 model, or a $199 model with a 1 TB hard drive included.

Game consoles
Netflix will let you play movies through your XBox 360 or PlayStation 3. There are also a wide variety of TV tuners and other devices that can turn game consoles into home entertainment systems.

Services and Sites

The godfather of the DVD-by-mail services, Netflix has also become a huge entryway for people who want to dump cable and get TV shows later when they’re available on DVD. Netflix also offers unlimited streaming of some movies and TV shows, which works well with a Roku box or other Netflix-ready devices. Cost: $8.99/month for unlimited streaming for new members.

The free U.S.-only TV show service is a joint venture between NBC Universal, Fox, and Disney. You are forced to watch commercials before and during TV shows and movies. There are still commercials (you can’t skip) on its Hulu Plus premium service, which costs $7.99 per month, and has no contract. Hulu Plus includes content that’s hard to find elsewhere, like “The Daily Show” and “Colbert Report.”

Apple’s digital media buying service started out selling music downloads (hence the name). Then it added a podcast directory and now sells TV shows and rents/sells movies. Downloading TV shows at $2.99 per episode is pricey compared to other options, though there are discounted “Season Passes” and some limited free TV show offers.

YouTube "play" button courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and resused here with Creative Commons license.

The most popular video site on the web also can be accessed through various devices in order to view its content on your TV. Plus, YouTube has created helps support original content and even lets creators charge for their videos.

Amazon Instant Video
Trying to compete with Netflix and iTunes, Amazon offers quick downloads of various TV shows at similar prices to iTunes. They are playable on Macs or PCs, or on devices that connect your computer to your TV. You can rent or own content for a fee, or stream it instantly. Streaming is free for Amazon Prime members who pay $99 per year, which includes free shipping from Amazon for all online purchases.

Windows software that lets you play Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, etc. from your computer on your TV via a PlayStation, Wii or XBox. Cost: $19.99 per year, $39.99 for lifetime, $49.99 for lifetime with AdSkipper technology.

HBO Go is an app that allows you to stream HBO anytime through your normal cable subscription. It’s available on both Apple and Android devices, as well as Microsoft XBox’s gaming platform. With HBO Now, however, you can access all that same content without the cable subscription. HBO Now is available at $15 a month. A good explainer on how it currently operates is here. Another list of where you can watch HBO content via different services and devices, alongside their prices, is here.

Sling TV
Sling TV streams live TV over the Internet. It offers a package of 16 cable channels at $20 a month, including ESPN, AMC and the Food Network. HBO content — both the live channel feed and a library of on-demand programming — is also available for an extra $15 a month.

The Public Library
In a comment on the previous version of this guide, Prashant Shah, said: “The missing option is the public library, where I’ve always found not-so-recent shows. Newer shows you need to wait a bit, but then I’m in no hurry.” True enough. The public library in many communities offers up free borrowing of TV shows and movies on DVD. The selection can vary from library to library, but the price is right: free, as long as you return them on time.


Here are a few sample setups of people who get TV content without subscribing to cable.

Samsung TV + Apple TV/Amazon Fire + Netflix 


Who: RoseAnne Gutierrez Towers, stay-at-home mom, Los Angeles, Calif.

Setup: Netflix streaming, computer/phone for mobile access to content; Netflix streaming, television, Apple TV or Amazon Fire for access to content at home

Quote: “We cut the cord for a number of reasons, but the big one was that the cost of cable no longer reflected the how we prioritized our time watching television — particularly premium shows on premium channels. We still have a television, but we use a regular antenna (which are really good nowadays) for network channels like ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, etc. [But] at the end of the day, what we can get through Netflix, Amazon or even content from the individual network websites is all that we need.”

TV + Apple TV + Netflix + Hulu + HBO Now


Who: Lisbeth Ortega, community manager at EyeEm photo app, San Francisco, Calif.

Setup: TV, Apple TV, streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and HBO Now

Quote:  “I really love not feeling tethered to a cable service. It’s one part not having to be contractually/monetarily obliged to something that feels like a luxury and one part being able to choose what programming actually matters to me. Less choices means I’ll more likely get what I want out of it. I know what I want out of Netflix, Hulu and HBO Now. That’s why I pay for them individually.”

Roku + Netflix + Hulu + HBO Go

Who: Bernice P. Ines, assistant director of Experiential Education, Georgetown Law, Washington, DC

Setup: Roku, streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and HBO Go.

Quote: “So the pro of cutting cable is cost, but the con is…when I lived by myself, I used to just have the TV on in the background — mainly the cooking channel, and now I can’t do that. I have to (maybe not have to, but I do) make conscious decisions about what show I’m going to watch. In that sense probably also a pro for cutting cable is that, I deliberately figure out what I watch and take time to watch it, versus just having something on and only being mildly interested.”

Apple TV/XBOX + Hulu Plus + Amazon Prime/Netflix

Paredes switches between using the XBOX (white, below) and the Apple TV (the small black box to the left of the TV) to stream content. Picture courtesy of Paredes.

Who: Zhulmira Paredes, attorney at law, Paredes Law Office, P.C., Chicago, IL.

Setup: Apple TV or XBox, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime/Netflix

Quote: “We decided to get rid of our cable service to 1) Save money; and 2) Because we realized we didn’t really need it to meet our TV-watching needs … Apple TV allows us to watch networks like ESPN and HBO. Hulu Plus is great because it works basically like a DVR, allowing us to watch most programs we miss the very next day. Pros are definitely the money we’re saving and also just coming to the realization that we don’t need all of the options that come with cable…Cons: Not being able to watch certain programs the day of and having to avoid spoilers for about 24 hours.”


For many people, the biggest barrier to canceling cable is the loss of live sports and the loss of live events in general. “Mainly, live TV content is impossible,” said Leo Prieto, who gave up cable in 2005. “And most of that live TV content isn’t available to download on iTunes later — for example, the Oscars or some sports event. In that case I have to go to BitTorrent and get the show afterwards. I would love iTunes or YouTube to offer live content.”

YouTube this year experimented with offering its own halftime show online during the SuperBowl, and CBS All Access now offers sports content on demand. Sling TV too offered its subscribers the chance to stream college basketball’s Final Four game in the beginning of this April, but the traffic spike proved too much to handle, and an outage occurred. As AdAge wrote, “The brief weekend outage that prevented some Sling TV subscribers from watching college basketball’s Final Four highlighted the Achilles heel of cable cord-cutting: reliability.”

Buffering and crashing issues aside, being behind on a show, sports, or awards event that’s become part of the national conversation can be frustrating for some people.

“We’re also just not the type to ‘have to watch’ the next big show,” Gutierrez Towers wrote in a message when explaining how cutting the cord has worked for her and her husband. She estimates that about 70 percent of people she knows still have traditional cable subscriptions. “A lot of people I know still are caught in the ‘FOMO’ of television,” she wrote. “Fear Of Missing Out.”

Chris Turillo, co-founder of the NGO Medha, based in Lucknow, India, also pointed out that streaming options can be difficult for expats or people who must travel frequently for work, even if it is becoming easier and easier to primarily rely on streaming services.

“There are geographic restrictions if you’re outside the country, because most of the streaming services are for U.S.-based accounts,” he said.

Screenshot courtesy of

Ortega, the community manager at EyeEm, also wrote in a message that she misses not having access to national news channels without a cable subscription, even though she is still able to get local channels. “Instead, I’ve found other ways to keep up with news (Twitter, news sites, local news), but I do miss having it all in one place,” she wrote. “Then again, it’s nice to not have a monopolized new source.”


If you want to read more about cutting the cable TV cord, check out these sites and stories:

Diary of a Cord Cutter in 2015, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, TechCrunch

Roku vs. Apple TV vs. Chromecast vs. Amazon Fire TV: Which streamer should you buy?, CNET

HBO Now hands-on: it’s HBO Go without cable. What else do you need?, The Verge website

Should You Cut the Cord?, Slate

Streaming TV Is Bigger Than Ever — But Pause Before Cutting the Cord, Huffington Post

The Internet’s Clearly Not Ready to Stream Big TV Events, Wired

What Is an Internet-Enabled TV?,

TV Breaks Rules To Take Ads From Streaming-Video Rivals, Variety

Cord Cutting and Hollywood: The Sequel, BloombergView

2015 Best Internet and TV Comparisons and Reviews, TopTenReviews

Un-Bundling Pay TV Brings New Questions, WSJ

HBO to Netflix: Bring It On, FastCompany


Do you have thoughts on important elements to cutting the cord, or different setup options that have worked for you? Share in the comments below, and I’ll update my story with any gear or services I missed.

Sonia Paul is a freelance journalist based in India, and is the editorial assistant at PBS MediaShift. She is on Twitter @sonipaul.

This piece originally published on April 13, 2015, on PBS MediaShift. 

At MediaShift, our sweet spot is covering the space where technology and media intersect. And what a dynamic space that is — always changing, always shifting. 2014 was no different. As we see it, here are the biggest stories and trends that shaped the media and technology industry in 2014, and will likely reverberate into the new year and beyond.

We’ve added in embeds from relevant podcasts from The Mediatwits if you’d like to hear more about those topics.


2014 brought the first taste of trouble for a new crop of billionaire media moguls who came into the spotlight the last few years.

Despite the hype surrounding its founding, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s First Look Media saw the departure of former Rolling Stone staff writer Matt Taibbi after just seven months due to reported conflicts over management style. The Intercept reported — on itself, no less — his leave as a “serious setback” for the organization, which had already scaled down its original plans to have a large general interest website with several “digital magazines.” Former Gawker Media editor John Cook soon followed Taibbi’s departure to return back to Gawker.

Then The New Republic joined the mix, with several staffers publicly resigning en masse after owner Chris Hughes — co-founder of Facebook — decided to “force out the editorial leadership, move the magazine to New York, and rebrand the venerable, century-old publication as a ‘digital media company,’” as Politico reported. Hughes hired Bloomberg media editor Gabriel Snyder, who previously ran The Atlantic Wire blog, to replace former top editors Franklin Foer and Leon Wieseltier before they even resigned.

As the Guardian’s Emily Bell pointed out, these billionaire troubles are a larger reflection of the existential conflict journalism is facing as technology entrepreneurs and journalists face editorial differences over how to run modern-day newsrooms. Legacy media outlets can never be what they once were anymore — but technologists and journalists also need to integrate their missions so a “new and unified” media culture can emerge. Of all the new tech overlords, Jeff Bezos at the Washington Post has done the best job of balancing the traditional while pushing the new.

Prediction: The tension between Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and journalists will continue to be  potent. Change will be hard, but good.


2014 was a year of expansion for social media giant Facebook, especially in the realm of news. With its $19 billion purchase of the international messaging app WhatsApp and its $2 billionacquisition of the virtual reality technology Oculus Rift, Facebook showed it’s not only trying to become a go-to destination — it’s also intent on occupying other popular spaces in the present and future.

Users have long expressed their worries and frustrations at what this dominance means, and now publishers have a right to be concerned. With new controls allowing people to turn down or amplify certain users on their feeds, Facebook users now have more control over what they see, though some critics have been quick to point out this is a “phony claim” because users must agree to Facebook’s terms and conditions to use the service.

Photo by Robert S. Donovan on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

The entire operation is a behemoth to be reckoned with for news organizations and other publishers. A recent Pew study found that more than 30 percent of American adults now get their news on Facebook. These algorithms that dictate what pops up on a person’s news feed, whether the user is tweaking them or not, influence how users are getting their news. The result is thatpublishers are ever more dependent on these social media traffic referrals, especially as users continue to increase their use of mobile devices and access Facebook from their phones or tablets. Facebook in effect is becoming a life raft to publishers, and is encouraging them to use more of its tools to promote content on the social network. The question is, even if they’re not sinking, will the life raft help publishers actually swim?

Prediction: Facebook will continue to extend its arms out to publishers in 2015 and become a powerful news hub on its own, especially as projects like its sentiment analysis shape up. But publishers will pressure the social giant to be more transparent about its algorithm.


HBO announced in October that it’s going to launch its own standalone streaming service in amove to target the 10 million people in the U.S. who have an Internet connection but don’t pay for a bundled cable television or satellite package. It’s what Jeff Cole, the director of the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California Annenberg, called a “seismic event in the future of television,” according to the Wall Street Journal. It offers consumers more choices than ever, but it also shakes up the television industry because HBO content is no longer exclusive to its cable partners. Yet the time was due — a 2013 Nielsen study found that younger viewers are much more likely to live in “zero TV households,” and therefore prefer online video subscription services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. Twenty-five percent of people aged 25-34 and 19 percent of people under the age of 25 reported cutting the cord on their television sets.

Indeed, with the announcement of this streaming service, HBO in effect is now modeling itself after Netflix, making the two streaming services competitors. HBO has 30 million subscribers in the U.S., whereas Netflix has about 37 million. HBO’s new streaming service, which will run on a third-party platform, will likely launch in April 2015. It’ll be just in time for new episodes of “Game of Thrones,” its most successful original series.

Prediction: HBO’s streaming service will become enormously successful among consumers when it launches, but only if it gets the price point right — without cannibalizing premium cable packages. Plus, the division of Time Warner will need to calm internal issues: Its chief technology officer, Otto Berkes, stepped down following the announcement that HBO will outsource the building of its streaming service to a third party instead of building it in-house.


Photo by Ronnie Pitman and reused here with Creative Commons license.

The months-long dispute between e-commerce giant Amazon and book publisher Hachette over e-book pricing and profits finally came to a close last month, just in time for the important Christmas holiday shopping season. But as The Economist pointed out, it’s not quite clear who won the battle. The controversy between the two outfits painted Amazon as the bully of the book trade and stirreddiscussions over the entire publishing ecosystem. Is Amazon — which controls nearly half the book market and is America’s largest book retailer — an actual monopoly, and therefore right to insist it had authority over setting e-book prices? One of the main arguments of Amazon’s supporters is that in the world of digital self-publishing, publishers like Hachette aren’t necessarily as relevant as they once were.

Yet in the tussle to help its authors earn more for their work, Hachette, which is the fourth largest book publisher in the U.S., wanted to set its own e-book prices. They were inevitably higher than what Amazon wanted. By the late spring, it became obvious that Amazon “was suppressing Hachette book sales and shipments in response to Hachette’s refusal to agree to lower e-book prices,” as Casey Johnston reported for Ars Technica.

In the multi-year agreement the two companies finally reached, Hachette won the right to set its own prices, but the deal also “includes specific financial incentives for Hachette to deliver lower prices.”

Prediction: With the murkiness of the specifics of the agreement, it’s no wonder several analysts are already predicting the standoff is long from over. Amazon’s growing power in book publishing will continue to put pressure on traditional publishers and bookstores.


Some of the hottest names in digital media added clout to their reputations this year by attracting heavy funding. The now 20-year-old media organization Vice, known for its edgy and notoriously rebellious take on news and current affairs, grew up this year. In March, Vice News became a separate entity and quickly went on to provide stunning coverage of the Ukraine uprisings and the rise of the Islamic State. After flirting with a union with Time Warner, Vice Media announced a deal with A&E Networks, which would have A&E “invest $250 million in Vice in exchange for a roughly 10 percent stake in the company,” as the New York Times reported. The deal would value Vice at more than $2.5 billion — an amount that speaks to Vice’s popularity with younger audiences and savviness in the online digital space, especially its early entry into the video market.

Vice Media has made a name for itself by pursuing edgier stories and distributing heavily across digital platforms. Screenshot courtesy of Vice.

While it’s taken two decades for Vice to reach the clout it now has, Ezra Klein’s explanatory news start-up Vox needed only nine weeks to hatch. Just five days after Klein and fellow Washington Post staffers Melissa Bell and Dylan Matthews announced their departures from the Post in January, Klein announced they were going to start a news site with Vox Media, and officially launched in April. Last month, Vox Media secured $46.5 million in funding from General Atlantic, which puts the company at $380 million in valuation.

Meanwhile, BuzzFeed — which has had a noticeable step into more serious, in-depth reporting — announced in August it secured a $50 million investment from the prominent Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. It had previously raised $46 million, which puts its total valuation at $850 million.

Prediction: If there was any sort of hesitation this year over how seriously to take these outlets because of the method of their journalism, they will definitely have more financial clout next year as more people accept their presence for the long-term.


From #YesAllWomen and the #icebucketchallenge to #Ferguson, #IfTheyGunnedMeDown and #ICantBreathe, hashtag activism, sometimes called “slacktivism,” was certainly a go-to method for raising awareness in 2014. But in the cases of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York, the hashtags were just one part of a larger shift.

As James Poniewozak wrote in Time, the “meta-protests” on social media of people posting pairs of photos with the #IfTheyGunnedMeDown hashtag was a larger form of media criticism. It was a powerful reminder to journalists and editors that they also inevitably promote stereotypes and cultural baggage associated with different races in their picture choices for different stories. The #ICantBreathe hashtag — Eric Garner’s last words —  similarly went viral and became a rallying cry for people upset at the decision not to indict the police officer responsible for his death.

Duke University freshman Jason Fotso constructed and tweeted the poem “Last words” from the entirety of Eric Garner’s own last words. His original tweet has been retweeted nearly 27 thousand times and favorited even more times than that. Yale professor Fred Shapiro is including the words as his most notable quote of the year. He says that doing such an activity is “capturing, producing a first draft of cultural history and political history.”

Prediction: Hashtag activism, particularly ones associated with social justice and racism, will continue to make headlines in the coming year as America comes to terms with its structural racial injustice.


Thanks in large part to the success of the podcast “Serial,” and growth in mobile technology and other forms of technology that are putting automobiles online, podcasts are seeing a renaissance. Smartphones and bluetooth-enabled cars — not to mention third-party apps like Stitcher and Overcast — are making it easier than ever for people to listen to them, because people can now just download a podcast directly onto their listening device of choice.

The economics behind production are also streamlining how ambitious producers might be able to get their own podcasts running, since it requires fewer equipment and software than say a TV show. Marketers can also benefit from the intimacy of the medium, analysts say, since listeners are probably much more likely to sit through an ad, especially when it’s read by the host of the podcast, than they are a television ad. The success of crowdfunders like Roman Mars of the popular podcast “99% Invisible,” who has run annual Kickstarter campaigns for his show to fund it, also adds confidence that people will pay for great storytelling. Take the podcast networkRadiotopia — it ran a Kickstarter campaign pledging to “remake public radio” through podcasts. It raised $620,412 by the time it closed, offering several lessons for others thinking of crowdfunding a project.

Radiotopia had a widely successful Kickstarter campaign (MediaShift file photo).

Prediction: Podcasts will continue to boom in 2015, building stronger bonds with listeners. But the hype over “Serial” will calm down a bit once it finishes its first season — though it will more than likely start up again in anticipation of its second story.


The beheadings and kidnappings of American journalists James Foley, Steven Sotloff and Luke Somers brought home the dangers journalists, especially freelancers, take when reporting abroad. Dwindling foreign news budgets means that cash-strapped news organizations are using these freelancers at unprecedented rates, and they often lack the support and safety that come from institutional media backing. The situation raised discussion on whether the United States should change its ransom policy for targeted kidnappings, because these journalists are going out on their own to bear witness on behalf of their audiences.

Photo by Osvaldo Gago on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons.

But at the same time, the question of what it means to bear witness in the digital age— already a common topic among some individual freelancers and niche news organizations like Tehran Bureau — is alsogaining traction within mainstream news outlets as social media makes events across the world a visceral reality. First Look Media’s global social media news hub also recently launched, with its mastermind Andy Carvin — known for his Twitter coverage of the Arab Spring — announcing on Medium, “we want to produce native journalism for social media communities, in conjunction with members of those communities.” In other words, social media outlets are no longer just ways for publishers to refer audiences back to their websites. The act of bearing witness online, whether through watching a direct live stream from a journalist or citizen or debating and analyzing news with others, is just as important.

Prediction: Although sounds promising, bearing witness online won’t necessarily have a universal appeal among news consumers, although there will be a particular interest among journalists. The discussion of freelancers and their risks — and the support needed to help them continue to do their jobs — will definitely be a bigger topic in the months to come.


From Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight to Ezra Klein’s Vox and the New York Times’ Upshot, 2014 proved data journalism had staked its claim in the media world. FiveThirtyEight launched as an ESPN-owned entity in March after years at the New York Times, and its coverage of the 2014 midterm elections and pursuit of America’s best burrito made it a mainstay among both loyal and new audiences.

FiveThirtyEight turned to statistics to help find America's best burrito. Photo courtesy of

With Nate Silver’s departure, the New York Times had a vacancy for a data journalist — and itdecided to fill it by launching a new section on the Times’ website in April called The Upshot, which focuses on politics, policy and economic analysis. Its announcement stated it was necessary tohelp audiences understand the news, which is the same purpose behind Vox, which also started publishing stories in April. Although some observers are still not sure what to make of the explainer website, its fusion of journalism and technology is raising eyebrows across media circles. The “Vox Cards” are designed to offer readers consistent referrals right when they’re reading a story.

Prediction: Other news outlets will bolster their use of data in reporting, but there probably won’t be too many other niche data-explainer websites launching — after all, having too many sources to help explain the news might end up adding more confusion.


Online harassment, especially directed at women, became a huge topic of discussion in 2014, thanks in large part to the #GamerGate controversy that began in August. The issue started with the online harassment of indie game developer Zoe Quinn and gaming critic Anita Sarkeesian and later spread to award-winning games journalist Jenn Frank and fellow writer Mattie Brice. The moniker now encompasses the wider misogyny in the online gaming world.

A Pew research survey released this year also found out that women, especially young women, are bearing the brunt of online harassment. While men may experience it more, they generally experience the less-than-severe forms like simple name-calling. Women, on the other hand, are prone to stalkers and sexual harassment online. Emma Watson, for example, received wide backlash online after speaking to the United Nations on gender equality. Users on the image board website 4chan threatened to unveil alleged nude photos of the actress. It follows a wave of nude photos of female celebrities leaked online — which some call a “CelebrityGate” scandal of its own.

In effect, GamerGate and CelebrityGate are examples of the rise of “doxxing” — which, as The Economist explained, first emerged about a decade ago to refer to hackers’ habit of collecting personal and private information, including home addresses, and releasing them to the wider public. Others have come to see it as another form of investigative reporting. Meanwhile, Twitter recently announced new tools to make reporting abuse and harassment easier, and prevent users who are “blocked” from seeing the profile of the person who blocked them.

Prediction: More discussion and awareness of the treatment of women online will help curb the skewing of harassment toward them, although Internet trolling and harassment will continue to be an issue as long as people merge their online and offline lives.

Sonia Paul is a freelance journalist based in India, and is the editorial assistant at PBS MediaShift. She is on Twitter @sonipaul.

This piece originally published on December 16, 2014, on PBS MediaShift.