Google’s Richard Gingras calls for a rethink of journalism at ISOJ

The International Symposium on Online Journalism for 2012 kicked off with a talk by Richard Gingras, head of news products, Google.

There are no longer any barriers to publishing, said Gingras. But, he added, that doesn’t mean that everything that comes out is journalism.

The future of journalism will be better than in the past, he insisted, adding that journalism needs to rethink everything it does.

In his view, disruption in the media is ongoing and is historical. He pointed to how television in the 1950s had disrupted “golden years” of newspaper profitability.

The openness of distribution of the internet disrupts

We are moving to many niches, said Gingras. Advertising is about context and relevant online and the result is a disaggregated marketplace.

The implications for newspapers are immense, as print has relied on cross-subsidization to pay for hard news.

The question, he said, is does the portal product of the newspaper, designed to be everything for everyone, work? Or should a media company think of itself as a stable of focused brands?

Gingras moved onto discuss audience flows. With traditional media, the audience came to you. But online, he said, media has to work to get their product to users.

He pointed to the evolution of audiences entering media through search and social, arriving at story pages, rather than the traditional home page.

Some media companies may have floating objects of content that get consumed where they get consumed, he said, raising the prospect of a media company without a website.

The content architecture of the web signals a shift away from the classic approach of editions and articles, according to Gingras. Instead he suggested the idea of a story page as a real-time, living resource, with a persistent URL.

For example, he said, why don’t reporters have all their work on a persistent URL?

Part of the thrust of his talk is how media tends to use rely on past forms and styles on new media. Gingras urged journalists to rethink what is the right form for the right medium.

One of the reasons he is optimistic about the future of journalism, and particularly investigative journalism, is computational journalism, deriving knowledge from smart data.

Gingras raised the question of whether stories should be written as long-form narratives or as persistent, automated investigative reports?

He then moved on to reporters’ tools and the structure of a newsroom. These are key questions around roles and workflows and might rethink a rethink of how journalists do what they do.

Gingras concluded by talking about the need for a culture of innovation. In his view, it cannot be intermittent, it is not a luxury. It has to be part of an organisation’s DNA, he insisted.

He cited how Apple thinks about innovation at every level, even the box for its products.

Gingras wrapped up an invigorating keynote by stressing that rethinking journalism will help journalism regain the trust of the audience. We can’t say trust us because you should, he said.

The future of journalism has to be better than its past, he said, and we have the responsibility to do so.