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DNA09: Event host Richard Gizbert on making a living from media-gazing

Al Jazeera’s Richard Gizbert co-hosted this week’s Digital News and Affairs 2009 conference, leading sessions, asking questions and throwing in a bit of his own perspective. Journalism.co.uk managed to catch him for a quick chat.

Gizbert presents a weekly show called ‘The Listening Post,’ which looks at how the news is covered by the world’s media. The programme looks at the impact of blogs, online video and podcasts, as well as media in traditional formats. How did that come about?   

In the 18 months between when Gizbert pitched the programme to Al Jazeera, and when the Channel launched in November 2006, all the online video sites really started taking off, he explains. It was a bit of a no-brainer, then, to use video and digital content in its programme: “let’s adapt to something where we don’t need people, and it doesn’t cost us any money – even I can figure that one out,” Gizbert jokes.

“In addition to that, the new media stuff keeps coming.” Gizbert has a ‘fairly young team on show’ and they respond to new material and ‘take it as  it comes’. However, ‘we’re not really all that charged up with technology for technology’s sake,’ he adds.

Media is often too bogged-down by technological conventions, he says, citing as an example TV reporters’ obsession with reporting live from scenes where it makes no difference whether they’re there or not.

And why the media as a subject? Media is a powerful institution but compare that with coverage media does of media,” he answers. There simply is very little media analysis of media, he explains, adding that Al Jazeera English as a channel provided him with the freedom he wanted for the show. The channel ‘allows us to tell the stories we want to tell,’ he says.

The stories are there to be told, and it’s just as important right now, he said. “The media is misbehaving, and it’s going to get worse because everything is splintering. People are panicking (…) There’s an over-reliance on celebrity because that’s cookie-cutter stuff, they can get it and it’s cheap.”

Another gripe he has is with the concept of ‘media loyalty’. “I don’t want them to watch us [Al Jazeera] 24-7.” Watch other channels alongside, Gizbert says. “What I don’t get are ‘viewing habits’.

When people tell him ‘I take the Guardian’ or ‘I take the Telegraph’ he says ‘yeah, why don’t you read something else?’. “Why are consumers, who are so selective and open-minded about the other things in their life, so narrow-minded when it comes to media consumption?” Gizbert says.