Today, I had the opportunity and pleasure to listen not once, but actually twice to Dan Gillmor, one of the leading scholars on contemporary changes in journalism. Before giving a speech at the 5-year-anniversary of TIDE (a local broadcasting station that combines community radio/TV features with journalism education for citizens), Dan visited the Hans-Bredow-Institute for an informal talk among colleagues from the Institute and the University.
For about two hours, we talked about why traditional media and professional journalists are under pressure, and what the consequences for journalism as a practice will be. Gillmor vehemently argued that the current newspaper crisis is caused not by a failure of journalism as such, but by the breaking-apart of its traditional business model: selling readers‘ „eyeballs“ to advertisers. The monopoly of newspapers for classified ads is crushed by portals like eBay, Craigslist and monster.com, so the main revenue source is drying out. Add the fact that more and more readers turn to alternative online sources and aggregators for just-in-time information, and you have a situation where traditional media are loosing ground rapidly. To Gillmor, however, this does not imply that journalism is doomed, but rather that there have to be new ways for funding and financing good journalism; to paraphrase him: „I’m agnostic regarding financing of journalism, wether it’d be through foundations or private companies – I care for good journalism!“
Other interesting points we’ve discussed covered education and journalism programs – Gillmor is running the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University, a program designed for, as he put it, „helping students to create their own jobs“. To me it seems, that in a nutshell, its mission is to bring startup culture to media student: providing them the knowlege on current trends in digital technology, journalism and entrepreneurship, together with opportunities to experiment with ideas and formats. Here, Gillmor’s Silicon Valley background clearly came to light; he pointed out that within the mindset of the startup culture, failing is not a bad thing at all (unless it is ’stupid failing‘): „if you haven’t been part of a failure, you’re not that interesting to investors“. So basically the idea is evolutionary: by encouraging media students (and others) to be innovative and experimenting, there will be a lot of startups, new ideas and projects. While most of them will fail, some will be successful, and they will shape the future for media and journalism.