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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.

DNA09 – Economically distressed but making the most of it

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

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.