February 13, 2015

New News representatives discuss future of journalism

Gossip, cat videos, and the future of journalism were the talk of the night at a panel event with Gawker Editor-in-Chief Max Read, BuzzFeed Executive Editor Shani Hilton, and former Vice Editor-in-Chief Rocco Castoro, hosted by the Institute of Politics on Wednesday. The panel, called The New News, was moderated by Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute.

Castoro, near the beginning of the talk, announced that he was no longer working at Vice. “As of last night, I’m no longer with Vice…. I was there for a decade and loved so many people there and they’ve done great work,” he said. He did not elaborate on the details behind his departure.

Each of the guests discussed their status as “new media,” the missions of their respective websites, what they wanted to be for their readers, and the future of their own websites and of journalism as a whole.

Read spoke about Gawker’s status as a blog and its dedication to reporting news to its readers as people would actually talk about it. “The goal is to make everybody on the inside, to tear down the gatekeepers,” he said.

Hilton affirmed the idea that BuzzFeed wants to be a trustworthy source for its audience, especially in her division of News. Although BuzzFeed is mostly known for its GIF-enriched lists, quizzes, and “cat videos,” as Rosenstiel mentioned, this is not all that BuzzFeed is now, according to Hilton. “We hadn’t been presenting ourselves as a trusty source of news, and that’s what[’s] been changing in the past couple of years,” she said.

For Vice, Castoro said that even though the way news is distributed has changed, the trust of the audience is most important. “One thing that Vice has taken from sort of the old guard is just listening to its readers and viewers, and those are really the people at the end of the day you have to answer to,” Castoro said.

Despite the fact that each source wants to be trustworthy, they have different definitions of what that means.

Gawker, for example, intentionally doesn’t have an official code of ethics. “My sense of ethics codes is that they tend to be used to trap us,” Read said.

Read means that he wants readers to know that what they’re being told is, while not entirely accurate in the details, honest. “I think that ‘trustworthy’ is a sort of funny word.… I want people to trust that we are being honest with them, not that what we are writing is true,” he said. “We’ve always been a gossip rag and we embrace that.”

However, both Hilton and Castoro agreed that in being trustworthy, you can’t take yourself too seriously. “Journalists should be funny because they have to deal with all the crappy stuff,” Castoro said.

Hilton expressed that when people find out that BuzzFeed supplies not only entertainment like lists and quizzes but also hard news, their opinion of the website as a whole goes up. “The answer is not to do less of the fun stuff, but to do more of the news,” she said.

The take-home message, it seemed, was that the current media is always the “new media.” “Journalism is constantly evolving. What we think of as journalism as a permanent thing has never been the case,” Rosenstiel said. “You are going to invent the next journalism.”