Guardian Changing Media Summit Q&A

I’m speaking next week at the Guardian’s “Changing Media Summit” conference in London, and answered a Q&A the media company has posted on the conference website. Reprinting here:

Which media companies, business and delivery models and platforms do you consider to be sustainable and which ones will go to the wall?

I’m not nearly smart enough to tell you which companies will survive. As a (very) small shareholder in the New York Times Co., and an angel investor in several online startups, I certainly hope they’ll be among the ones that last.

But some early outlines — emphasis on “early” — are beginning to emerge.

Media companies that persist in the industrial model of media, especially those reliant on advertising subsidies for content that has no basic relationship to what advertisers are trying to sell, are in the most jeopardy. Apart from the simple fact that advertising is being separated from content for excellent reasons, the industrial-age notion of distribution has been upended. Rather than creating content, and then publishing it on paper and putting it in trucks (or broadcasting via expensive towers or satellites), what we do now is create content and make it available; people come and get it. Only those media creators who understand the new dynamic have a chance at surviving the upheaval.

In the journalism sphere, I have no doubt whatever that we will replace the monopolies and oligopolies with a much more diverse and therefore more sustainable ecosystem. The enterprises will include for-profit and not-for-profit companies; and sole proprietorships and large businesses. The business models will range widely, and will be the winners from among the thousands of experiments now under way.

Those who can turn themselves into ecosystems in their own right — think Google, Twitter, etc. — will be major winners if they can become the center of ecosystems in which others innovate. When the Guardian and New York Times offer APIs to their media, they show they understand this imperative.

What does the global media industry ten years from now look like?

This will depend, in part, on how governments respond to the media and technology changes. If governments (urged on by law enforcement, big traditional media and especially back-facing copyright interests) restrict the ways we can use technology, we could easily see the Internet turned into a newer and only slightly more useful version of television.

If, on the other hand, governments allow technology and innovation to flower, we will see a media industry that dwarfs the current one in size, at least in terms of the number of people who are participating. All media will be social to one degree or another. Since information is increasingly a core feature of all products and services, media will be an even larger global industry.

What projects are you currently engaged in on a day to day basis and how are these helping to change the face of the media and technology industries?

I am spending my time on a variety of projects. The main one has been creating a digital media entrepreneurship program at Arizona State University in America, a project aimed at bringing an appreciation of the startup culture into the journalism curriculum. We believe students will be inventing many of their own jobs, and want to help them do so.

I’m also continuing my long-term work on citizen media and citizen journalism. In addition, I’ve invested in or co-founded several consumer Web companies, and have new projects in the wings. Finally, I’m finishing a new book called Mediactive, a challenge to those who create and consume media to take more responsibility for what they — and we — know.

Who do you admire in this space? Who’s inspiring you? Who’s pushing the boundaries and how?

I’m inspired by so many people that I have trouble naming just a few. But I’ll start with my students, and the students I’ve met at other campuses in America and around the world. I tell them I’m jealous of their opportunities, because they will invent the future of media and journalism.

Allow me to offer a tip of the hat to the Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger. He is a leader of exceptional talent and vision.

And what can we expect from you at the Changing Media Summit 2010?

You can expect me to listen much more than I talk, though of course I’ll discuss the things I know best. I see this summit as a wonderful learning opportunity and aim to take full advantage.

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