Google’s Gingras: Journalists need to focus on invention, not transformation

Richard Gingras says that at this moment in journalism, “transformation” is a four letter word.

Gingras, the head of news and social products for Google, spoke to a group of journalism professors at last week’s Scripps Howard Journalism Entrepreneurship Institute event at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Fifteen instructors from around the United States came to Phoenix to “learn principles of journalism entrepreneurship.”

Gingras stressed that old models for revenue, content and storytelling need to be completely rethought, rather than merely transformed, in order for the news business to thrive in the digital age.

“As long as one thinks transformationally, you limit your capabilities because you limit yourself,” he said. “… It doesn’t work. Worse than not working, it becomes self defeating. … We really do need to rethink everything.”

Rather than focusing on transformation, he said, journalists should be focused on invention.

Gingras’ keynote covered some of the same ground as his August speech at the annual  Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) conference.

He shared data from his August talk that explained how the introduction of television in 1949 took advertising dollars away from newspapers, causing the loss of some local newspapers. This contraction resulted in monopoly or near-monopoly papers that suddenly became hugely profitable.

“They went from fighting for every ad dollar to having near monopolistic control over local ad pricing,” he said in August. “They had tremendous distribution leverage and used it to fullest advantage. The open distribution of the Internet destroyed that leverage, but the openness of Internet also brought the potential for many new voices.”

Speaking last week, Gingras said that because of the Internet, “the underlying distribution technology” is causing things to change “whether we like it or not.” Anyone looking to innovate news products cannot be tied to the past, he said: “[A problem is that] the industry is thinking about rearguard action to protect historical models and historical thinking.”

An example of that thinking is the lack of innovation when it comes to story pages online. “It stuns me that 15 years in we’re still seeing story architectures mimicking the traditional architecture of print,” he said.

Instead, he told the professors to encourage journalism students to develop ideas, products and companies that operate with “zero baggage.” “We owe it to ourselves, to the importance of our journalistic mission, to consider all opportunities,” he said.

Finally, Gingras shared an interesting statistic about how Google’s integration of social into search results is affecting clicks:

 

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  • http://syedkarim.com/ Syed Karim

    @facebook-584484231:disqus Could you provide some examples of the inventions that the j-school professors have created?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kent-M-Ford/584484231 Kent M. Ford

    Those J instructors Mr. Gingras was addressing probably were thinking, “You need to catch up, Richard, we’ve been doing that for a number of years.”
    Or maybe Mr. Gingras just meant that all of the people doing journalism need to funnel it to their audiences through Google.