Journalism and Silicon Valley

9 April 2016

Panel discussion with Trushar Barot, Emily Bell, Madhav Chinnappa, Mathew Ingram, Craig Silverman
09/04/2016

The fourth day of the International Journalism Festival in Teatro della Sapienza started with a panel discussion about the changing relationship between the news industry and social platforms. Organised in association with the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, the event focused on the practical and ethical implications of what it means for journalism to become a subset of the social web.
Moderator Emily Bell, founding director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School, kicked off the discussion by asking the panelists how the new relationship between companies and publishers influences their work.
Mathew Ingram, writer for Fortune Magazine, said that journalists don’t have control anymore over how content is distributed. While in the past being a reporter used to be a straightforward job, platforms such as Facebook and Google now “have more control on how people interact with content.” According to Ingram, accountability for traffic and distribution is a problem that exists and can’t be ignored.
Craig Silverman, editor of BuzzFeed Canada, brought two examples from BuzzFeed to explain his takeaways on social platforms. The first one was Facebook live’s biggest hit to date, the so-called “watermelon explosion” by BuzzFeed Video. In it, two members of the staff exploded a watermelon with rubber bands during a 45-minutes long live. The second example is Tasty, a series of food videos published only on Facebook that became viral and reached nearly 50 million likes in only 8 months. Silverman said that in both cases native platform content can be a very successful format, even thought it might not work for everyone.  Publishers get rewarded when they produce content for the platform without requiring the audience to go through their website. He challenged the journalists in the room by asking: “Is there something equivalent to that that you should be doing?”
Trushar Barot, mobile editor for BBC World Service, focuses on developing new mobile formats as part of his job. He highlighted that, despite the BBC having a huge penetration level in the UK, there are great opportunities to expand their mobile services in developing countries. However, “the concept of navigating a traditional website is going to be very alien to them,” he explained. Their experience of the Internet and connectivity will be different from what publishers have seen until now in the Western world, and it will most likely include mobile apps such as WhatsApp, rather than Facebook or search engines.
Madhav Chinnappa, head of Strategic Relations, News and Publishers of Google, said that “it is harder for publishers than it’s ever been before (…) and that’s because the power has gone to the user”. Unlike Facebook that has declared itself as simply a platform, Google has started to present itself as publisher, and that is an “acknowledgement that we exist in the news ecosystem,” said Chinnappa. However, he thinks that rather than implementing regulations, which never keep up with new technologies, big platforms need to have a more open approach. An example is the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Project, which is an open source initiative started by Google to collaborate with the publishers and create better tools for the whole news ecosystem.
The panel concludes with some considerations on how social platforms have been taking advertising away from publishers. According to Ingram, “the model is broken” and “publishers have done a terrible job with advertising.” For Chinnappa, the problem isn’t advertising, as it “powers most of the content on the web. It’s all about what the balance is”.

Biography of Madhav Chinnappa
Madhav Chinnappa is head of Strategic Relations, News and Publishers of Google, based in London. He joined Google in 2010, working initially in the Google News EMEA partnerships team. He has worked in the news industry since 1994, first in the launch team of Associated Press Television (APTV), then for a year in M&A at United News & Media and then for over 9 years at BBC News, most recently as head of business development and rights.

Biography of Emily Bell
Emily Bell is founding director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School, and a leading thinker, commentator and strategist on digital journalism. Established in 2010, the Tow Center has rapidly built an international reputation for research into the intersection of technology and journalism. The majority of Emily’s career was spent at Guardian News and Media in London working as an award winning writer and editor both in print and online.

Biography of Mathew Ingram
Mathew Ingram writes for Fortune Magazine. He was until March 2015 senior writer at Gigaom, where he covered media in all its forms — social and otherwise — as well as web culture and related issues. He is an award-winning journalist who has spent the past 15 years writing about business, technology and new media as a reporter, columnist and blogger. Prior to joining Gigaom, he was a blogger and technology writer for The Globe and Mail a daily national newspaper based in Toronto, Canada, and was also the paper’s first online Communities Editor. Mathew is also one of the founders of Mesh, Canada’s leading web conference.

Biography of Trushar Barot
Trushar Barot is the Mobile Editor for BBC World Service. His remit covers developing new mobile formats, in-house news apps, digital circumvention initiatives and leading on strategy for all of BBC News on instant messaging platforms – or ‘chat apps’. He has over 20 years of experience working in the British media across newspapers, radio, TV, online and digital. He was previously the Assistant Editor at the UGC and Social Media hub in the BBC newsroom.

Biography of Craig Silverman
Craig Silverman is the editor of BuzzFeed Canada and the founder of Emergent.info, a real-time rumor tracker that was developed as part a fellowship with the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. His work resulted in the Tow report, Lies, Damn Lies and Viral Content: How News Websites Spread (and Debunk) Online Rumors, Unverified Claims and Misinformation. Craig also founded Regret the Error, a blog about media accuracy and the discipline of verification. It became part of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, where he serves as adjunct faculty.

Martina Andretta

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