nextMedia: Old models and new ideas

I moderated an interesting new-media panel today at the nextMedia conference in Toronto, with Leonard Brody, CEO of Vancouver-based “citizen journalism” outfit NowPublic.com; Jon Dube, who heads up digital media operations for CBC News (and runs Cyberjournalist.net), and Mark Lukasiewicz, vice-president of digital media for NBC News and a former Canadian print and TV journalist.

The topic of the panel was “Adapting to Digital Threats and Opportunities,” and I started by asking all three panelists whether they thought it was one of the most exciting times to be in media or one of the most terrifying times — which, as Jon quickly noted, was a bit of softball. All three said that it was exciting because of the limitless possibilities of new media, although Jon admitted that while it was exciting for him, it might not be so exciting for people who fear that their jobs are threatened.

I also asked whether the panelists felt that Canadian media entities were behind their U.S. counterparts when it came to embracing new media opportunities, and if so why. Jon said that he thought Canada might have had a harder time getting started with some new ventures, if only because the population is smaller and there isn’t the advertising base to support a lot of new ventures. Leonard said that he thought Canadian media giants were much more hesitant, and that at least U.S. broadcasters and other media entities were trying new things.

On the topic of “citizen journalism,” both Mark and Jon said opening up their organizations to more interaction with viewers was something they were very interested in — and Mark said that was the primary motivation behind MSNBC buying Newsvine.com. Leonard said that existing media outlets were still struggling with the idea that to a large extent breaking news and the function of adding analysis or context to that news have become separated, and in many cases the breaking news is occurring through outlets such as NowPublic and Facebook.

Leonard also made the point that journalism is a skill and a craft, and that much of what we call “user-generated content” is not very high quality, and that while the distribution models might be changing, there is still a need for journalists to package news and analysis and make sense of it for people, and to pick out the best of the UGC. Mark and Jon both said that while TV and other media might be changing, and the distribution models were being disrupted, that the need for people with skills to tell compelling stories or make sense of things was still there.

The panel closed with a question about what each of the panelists would tell journalism students. Mark said he would tell them to learn how to write, Jon said he would tell them that and also tell them to learn to think critically, and to think outside the box and be flexible enough to adapt to these new media models, and Leonard said he would advise them not just to learn how to write but to learn how to market themselves and their skills — in other words, he said, get a blog.

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