We weren’t able to make the trip to Washington, D.C. ourselves for the Federal Trade Commission’s two-day conference discussing the future of journalism on the Web, but we wanted to get a sense of what was going on down there anyway. So we turned to Jim Gaines, the editor-in-chief of digital multimedia publication FLYP Media, who attended the conference and spoke on a panel yesterday entitled, “Engaging and Informing Consumers in the Internet Age.”
Not one to shy away from giving his opinion about the current state of the media industry, the former managing editor of People, Time and Life magazines gave us the skinny on what went down before the FTC over the past couple days, including his firm belief that the media should not get a bailout from the government.
FishbowlNY: What was the general feeling at the conference?
Jim Gaines: I’m not sure there was a general feeling. It seemed to be divided between legacy news businesses, which seem to be just digging in and starting to feel that the fate of the republic is dependent on their commercial success, and the entrepreneurial start-ups and foundation- and publicly-funded media, which were all thinking about the great possibilities of the future. That said, I thought I detected a little legacy mind set, too, in Arianna Huffington, whose opposition to paying for content seemed a little over-determined. Of course people will pay for what they want, as they always have. Whether they will pay for what Rupert Murdoch provides is another question.
FBNY: What did you talk about yesterday?
JG: I stated my position that the legacy news businesses should not receive new subsidies or protection by the government. Instead, journalism does urgently need an infusion of imagination, educational reform, vision and courage so that it can emerge from the information revolution with a newly grounded sense of mission and a deep understanding of the new tools, vehicles and possibilities for community impact and involvement that are available to it now. I gave my opinion that the role of new federal subsidies should be to ensure universal broadband access, to close the digital divide and to make sure it stays closed, particularly in education and with regard to learning devices, as well as connectivity.
FBNY: What surprised you the most about the conference?
JG: Maybe most surprising was a naïveté among some of the conference participants about the issue of politicization of reporting if the government were to subsidize it directly. I was surprised at the amount of enthusiasm there was for such subsidies, even if journalism’s current distress makes that understandable. I think proponents of government-sponsored journalism should keep in mind what happened when the Smithsonian Institution tried to put on an exhibition about the Enola Gay and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and political pressure from Congress (where the Smithsonian gets most of its funding) closed it down. Of course, the same types of pressures come with advertising-supported publication, as well as corporate media conglomeration.
Do you think we’ll see any public policy changes coming out conference?
JG: The impact on public policy is unclear, but just the sharing of information on new forms and initiatives in journalism was invaluable. I learned a lot about philanthropic funding for investigative journalism, for example, and about a new legal entity called L3C, which stands for “low-profit limited liability corporation,” a hybrid structure that could allow some publications that are now in financial trouble to find a way to avoid becoming pure non-profits (or worse). I learned about the problems of cleaning up government databases to create resources for journalists and citizen activists. I learned about something called “computational journalism” and about what the President’s chief technology officer, who is obviously committed to transparency and open government, called the “frictionless” transfer of information from government to journalists. I’m not sure I’ll hold my breath for that one, though.