Why not try something new? Mathew Ingram on the rise of new media

by Giulia Saudelli

photo by Alessio Jacona – The Whole Picture #ijf14

One of the main themes of this year’s International Journalism Festival was, quite appropriately, the emergence of new media and of user generated content. A great number of events dealt with these topics of ever-growing importance, and Mathew Ingram participated in many of them as a speaker. Senior writer at Gigaom, former writer and blogger for the Toronto daily The Globe and Mail, he is at the forefront of all that is media. He writes about media, technology, business and the convergence of these three topics around the fast-paced evolution of the media sphere and its tools.

What role is user generated content going to have in the next few years?

“I think it’s going to be huge. What we are seeing is one of the fundamental transformations of journalism. There have always been people who created content in journalism, but it was in tiny quantities and there was no way for them to get that information to other people except by going through a traditional journalist. You had specific platforms where media was created and delivered to people through newspapers and radio and TV; now everyone has the same tools that journalists used to have. All it takes, as we saw with Brown Moses, is the initiative and the desire. If you want to accumulate information, verify it, aggregate it, make sense of it, put it into context for people, send it to them, engage with them, all of those things are available to you now. It takes nothing but time and interest, you don’t have to have a lot of money, you don’t have to be a journalist, you don’t have to have gone to journalism school. To me that’s fundamentally good. If you’re trying to protect professional journalism, if you’re trying to keep your job or protect your company, then maybe it’s not a good thing. But if you are passionate about what journalism does, which is inform people and educate people, then I don’t see how it couldn’t be seen as a good thing.

Regarding  journalism schools, does it still makes sense to study journalism? Do you think what they teach in school is up-to-date with today’s journalism?

In some cases journalism schools are still trying to train students for jobs that either don’t exist or may not exist. They’re training them with skills that are not as relevant as they used to be. Not that the things they are teaching aren’t useful, but I think that most schools are not paying as much attention to the new types of skills or the new ways of implementing the old skills. Are they teaching things like how to verify YouTube videos? Probably not. The sort of functional aspects of journalism are not that complicated, like how to interview people, how to write things down or how to understand things. The things that we should be teaching are how to broaden your view of what a journalist does, how you engage with non-journalists, your audience and your readers, how to make them a part of what you do. Those are crucial skills.

What is the spark that drives new media to take on traditional journalism?

It could be a number of things. It could be a news event that happens, and professional journalists or freelancers or people who don’t have jobs create something new around that event and that turns into something. From the sound of it, Eliot Higgins with Brown Moses is effectively creating a new media entity around himself and around what he does, a very, very necessary media entity. That’s something that can happen literally from nothing. It really just requires someone who wants to do it, who has the ability to do it and who thinks “why don’t I do this instead of just going to get a job at a traditional media entity?” It’s very seductive in a way to go to journalism school, meet some people who work at a traditional media and think of getting a job like that. That’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with that, but all it takes is someone to want to try something new, and then other people think that it’s an interesting thing to do and want to join in. The barriers of entry are virtually non-existent, so you can create something from nothing. When I spoke to some people at the journalism school in Perugia, I told a couple of them (even if it’s easy for me to say, I’m old and I don’t have to do this), “why not try something new? The costs are so low and you’ve literally never been able to do the things you can do now.” And if it doesn’t work, you can always get a job at a traditional media company.

Is traditional journalism doomed, or can it continue to coexist with the new media landscape?

I don’t think it’s doomed, but it certainly has a lot more competition than it used to. Running a newspaper used to be a pretty sweet job, you controlled the platform, you made money from it, you controlled the information that got to people, you were the one who said what was important and what was not and none of those things are the case anymore. It’s not so much that traditional journalism or traditional media won’t continue to exist, I think they have a much, much harder time doing what they do and just much more competition. All that says to me is to try harder than you’re used to.

You have an interest in business journalism, Felix Salmon writes about finance. Is it just a coincidence that many representatives of the new media landscape come from such backgrounds, or is innovation in journalism being pushed by business and financial journalists?

I think we’ve seen two groups notice early what was happening with media and anticipate some of the things that were happening. One is people who are interested in technology, because they first started seeing the effect of the web, of social media and social tools. I think the other is financial journalists, who started to see the business impact on advertising, for example, which has been the main revenue source for media for centuries. I’m interested both in technology and in business, and where those two things meet is where you first start to see the cracks in the traditional media sphere.