Experts Analyze Journalism in the Digital Age

On Thursday, March 17, 2011, I was able to attend “Separating Fact from Fiction in the Digital Age,” a News Literacy Conference at Stony Brook University’s Wang Theater.

I shuffled into the theater and headed to an open seat. I found a seat close to the stage, which had a red table lined with five microphones and five panelists. From left to right sat Tom Rosenstiel, Jeff Jarvis, Andrew Heyward, Melinda Wittstock, and Dan Gillmor. Tom Rosenstiel is the founder and director for Project for Excellence in Journalism and the author of “Elements of Journalism.” Jeff Jarvis is the director at Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Andrew Heyward is the former president of CBS News. Melinda Wittstock is founder and CEO of Capitol News Connection. Dan Gillmor is director of Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at the Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. Gillmor is also the author of “Mediactive.”

As I scribbled notes on my notepad, I noticed that I was physically surrounded by traditional journalism and new media journalism. The woman to the left of me typed her notes on her iPhone and took a picture of the panel with her second iPhone that she balanced on her lap. The woman to the right of me used a number two pencil and a skinny wired note pad. The woman in front of me was Tweeting from her iPhone and surfing the newest apps on the Apple App Store. Not only was the panel discussing this new age journalism, but the audience was the true illustration of the distinction between the past and future of journalism.

After a brief introduction to the program made by Heyward, Rosenstiel began the program with the shocking report that for the “first time online ads surpassed print ads in revenue,” but he then reassured the audience that “half of online ad revenue goes to search.” Rosenstiel emphasized that there has been a real migration to the web and digital platforms. “Facebook knows more about you than the New York Times,” Rosenstiel said. He then said that the news industry is no longer the intermediary and that it has been replaced by the technology industry. The news industry has become a “content producer,” Rosenstiel said.

Jarvis discussed how the who, what, where, when, why and how of journalism is changing. “We shouldn’t be training people with old definitions,” but we should be asking if they have their own definitions, Jarvis said. He discussed that “we are training the whole world to be journalists.” Wittstock relayed this message by stating “Anybody can and should be a journalist.”

Gillmor, who described himself as a “cheerleader of citizen media,” expressed his caution to the audience about the new age of journalism.  Gillmor states that the notion of losing control of the customer while we enter the high-tech media world goes much deeper. We are losing control of the ability to leave our material out there for others to just take, Gillmor said.

Gillmor then addressed the students in the audience. “The opportunities are unbelievable,” Gillmor said, “there has never been a better opportunity to create your own jobs. You are so lucky.” He advised the students that the “greatest thing in the world is to fail, if you learn from it.”

Overall the panelists were enthusiastic over the future of the news media, but were aware of the challenges and warnings that journalism will face.