Gannon: The ‘Golden Age of News Innovation’

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Earlier today at the Cronkite School, Bill Gannon, director of online media for LucasFilm, spoke to students and faculty about his career and his ideas for the future of media.  Following an extensive career as a newspaper journalist, Gannon worked for four years at Yahoo before moving to LucasFilm.  At Yahoo, Gannon captained the home page for Yahoo News, and was responsible for some of the site’s accomplishments in reporting on Hurricane Katrina.  Yahoo managed to launch a Red Cross donation widget on their site within minutes of the levees breaking, and gathered $20 million in the first twelve hours (an eventually two-thirds of all Red Cross donations for Katrina).

But Gannon’s not one to toot his own horn, instead he is always challenging himself to learn something new.  In taking the job at LucasFilm, Gannon not only joined an enormously wealthy franchise, but challenged himself to learn how to market products.  When he started at Yahoo, Gannon brought his journalism skill set into the online realm and created a content management system at Yahoo that allowed for greater productivity than an ordinary newsroom.

During the Q&A session, Gannon took questions ranging from LucasArt’s upcoming video games, to the future of print journalism.  Gannon shrugged off the idea that journalism and online gaming could find some common ground, but this is an issue that myself and colleague may be looking into as the semester moves along.

“It’s too late,” Gannon retorted when asked if there was anything newspapers could do to save themselves.  He likened the newspaper decline to “the slowest, longest running freight train thats’s been seen coming for years”.

In 2000 after the dot-com bust, Gannon recalled that newspapers sunk further into overconfidence and said “told ya so” to the Internet.  According to Gannon, instead of using the bust to buy themselves more time to fix their problems, newspapers continued down the same path to destruction where they find themselves today.

But now that the newspaper crisis is upon us, Gannon believes this is the “golden age of news innovation”.  This seems obvious enough, as newspapers are scratching for any sort of traction, you HAVE to innovate to stay alive.  It’s a neccessity to innovate now.

Gannon uses this “golden age” theory to encourage students like myself.  Aside from networing with faculty and colleagues, Gannon suggests the best thing any graduating student can do is master as many technical skills as possible.  HTML, CSS, content management, etc.  This seems to be a theme among anyone who speaks to us at the Cronkite School.  Learn as many technical skills as possible because it will make you golden.

I sure hope so.

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