It started off bleakly, but the talk got more positive as the participants warmed up. These are four digital leaders, driving forward ambitious online projects in their respective countries:
- Eric Echikson, Google’s senior manager for communications in Brussels
- Katharina Borchert, chief editor of the online newspaper DerWesten.de and also the managing director of WAZ NewMedia
- Pierre Haski, president of the society and editor-in-chief of the online French newspaper, Rue89
- Turi Munthe, CEO of the citizen journalism site Demotix
In a discussion led by Richard Gizbert, the panel discussed their hopes for opportunism in a dire economic climate.
Starting with a gloomy video reminder of the demise of the Rocky Mountain News, the panel were then probed on their own thoughts and experiences.
Katharina Borchert, from WAZ media, said the last 3-5 years have been a real opportunity, despite the fact they’re currently laying off a third of their staff.
To be using user-generated content in the way they are would have been unthinkable three years ago, she said.
Web is no longer an add-on, she said. There’s ‘more freedom to create content for the web’.
Video is the most popular content on their site, she added.
Pierre Haski, who left his job at Liberation newspaper to set up the independent French newspaper, realised the opportunity for different types of conversations with readers.
“Through blogging you reconnect with your readers. We tried to develop a model of participative news website, where readers could contribute to news process,” he explained.
After failing to sell the idea to Liberation, he and other colleagues left to launch Rue89.
“Not only will we survive the crisis but we will make money next year,” he said.
Then, Munthe, who set up his agency Demotix in a bid to source citizen journalism from around the world to counter what he perceived as a lack of original foreign news content.
“The flip side of the doom and gloom there are all sorts of opportunities out there,” he said.
He’s not worried about the content control, as editing happens within the process. “Who figured out three columns of smoke was wrong? Bloggers. That’s exactly what Demotix is trying to replicate.”
Demotix tries to bring together collaborative voices to self-correct stories and content, Munthe explained.