Just back from the Berkeley Cybersalon on the Media Makeover, which I moderated with a panel of five seasoned journalists exploring new territory on the Internet. Dan Gillmor, who first envisaged citizen journalism before the advent of smartphones and tweets, said media is in a messy period. His main worry is that the monopoly carriers, like Comcast, will determine who gets quick access or not, and as for the ability to find interesting stuff that's not driven by advertising, "We've already given it all away to Google."
More upbeat were the younger journos: Jennifer 8 Lee, who at 24 and recently out of Harvard with an applied math/economics degree was hired at the NY Times to cover technology; after taking a buyout from the Times she worked for Upworthy and then started Rooster, a mobile platform for fiction. Josie Garthwaite, is one of seven cofounders and writers for Climate Confidential, a news site about all things affecting climate change that's part of a media platform called Beacon. Garthwaite said she still keeps her freelance journo jobs while writing stories for the site, which depends on reader contributions to function. She thinks that in time, the site will attract paying readers who value insightful, indepth reporting on climate.
Lee says there's big money in mobile book publishing, especially fiction, because the overhead is low and people are more likely to buy books -- even ebooks -- than subscribe to news media. Rooster publishes new pieces of fiction alongside older books that are out of copyright. When I asked Lee if she had time to write anymore -- she was one of my favorite reporters at the NY Times -- she pauses, closes her eyes, and says, "No." She was supposed to turn in the draft of a book next year on what determines how parents select a name their child, but she said it won't happen.
Scott Rosenberg, a former movie reviewer for the SF Examiner, cofounder of Salon.com, author, and former editor of Grist.org, says that technology and economic changes go in cycles. He thinks we're in a bubble and predicts there will be a collapse within a year. In the meantime, he is writing about technology for Medium, as is Gillmor, both joining forces with their old pal Steven Levy, who is technology editor for Medium.
Why would anyone want to go into journalism today? That's the question Yumi Wilson poses to all her graduate students in journalism at SF State, where she teaches. She cites the glum facts to her students the first day of class and asks them to reflect before returning to class. They all return, she says, because they's inspired to communicate. Both she and Gillmor, who teaches at Arizona State University's Cronkite journalism school, say studying journalism offers many job opportunites that require communication skills. "Every company is a media company, and a degree in journalism provides an excellent liberal education ," said Gillmor.
Gillmor also pointed out that advocacy groups -- such as the EFF, the ACLU, and Human Rights Watch -- offer excellent reporting about their respective issues. I brought up the advocacy reporting about adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on ACEsConnection.com, whose founder, Jane Stevens, couldn't make the panel. This site as well as a companion site, ACEsTooHigh.com, received substantial funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as well as the California Endowment this year.
Lee thinks branded advertising will be one revenue source for all these online media ventures. Other panelists mentioned events as a major source of revenue for media, such as the conferences put on by Recode, Fast Company, and the NY Times. Gillmor said to expect a burnout because there's just too many events.
So, given the predictions of an imminent financial collapse, the demise of net neutrality, the messy state of media, and the continuing erosion of jobs in news reporting, what might be predicted for the careers of our panelists?
Here's what I presage:
Gillmor and Rosenberg will become major Medium tech writers and continue to write seminal books about how technology is changing our lives.
Lee will join a major publishing house as director of mobile platforms.
Wilson will become dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.
Josie will help grow Climate Confidential, which -- along with the Beacon platform -- will be bought by Jeff Bezos, and used to sell climate proofing products featured on Amazon.