“Storytelling in the Age of Creative Destruction” Conference: Krishna Bharat From Google News

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The Innovation Journalism (InJo) Conference at Stanford kicked off yesterday.

Gathering 100+ journalists, academics and the like to scrutinize the telling of the innovation story makes for a lively dialog.

The opening session featured David Nordfors, founder of InJo, interviewing Krishna Bharat, the creator of Google News. Dubbed a “fireside chat,” I’m pleased to report both participants passed on the cardigan sweater (and no one lit the Duraflame log).

Quite frankly, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Putting Google on this stage struck me akin to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao keynoting an ACLU dinner.

But everyone was cordial if not downright polite.

Bharat started by sharing how the 9/11 tragedy served as the catalyst for Google News. He realized it took considerable effort and time to gather a cross-section of stories on the attack. That backdrop gave rise to Google News.

Nordfors tried to nudge Bharat out of his comfort zone and Timothy Dickinson from Rolling Stone probed about Google’s responsibility to the business of journalism. While Bharat stayed on script for the most part, I thought there were a few comments that offered hints on where Google is taking the platform.

One quick caveat – I did not record the session and my note-taking is not industrial grade. I’ve done my best to capture Bharat’s words.bahrat google

Bharat: Journalists should worry about creating content and leave it to others to get the content to the audience.

My Take: By leave it to others, I wasn’t sure if he meant a publication’s businesspeople or companies like Google. Regardless, journalists do worry about this issue since the online distribution of their content has undermined revenue generation and pink-slipped so many of their compadres.

One element that doesn’t get a lot of discussion is the more experienced journalists end up in the line of fire because of their higher salaries. During my morning workshop, Peter Lewis who many may remember from his Fortune days but is now a Knight Fellow in Journalism at Stanford, mentioned that CNN cut their entire science staff. As a result, the media property is forced to cover a crisis like the BP oil spill with generalists.

Bharat: Once you intersperse hard news with everything else, it’s tough for a publication to distinguish itself.

My Take: Google believes the hard news biz will go the way of auto manufacturing; i.e., a few deep-pocketed publishers with scale will own the space. I got the sense that Google anticipates the bulk of consolidation in the publishing industry has yet to occur. Now there’s a sobering thought.

Bharat: The process for purchasing journalism needs to become easier and simpler.

My Take: This one perplexed me. I’ve never been stumped by a publication’s subscription form, this from a person called “mechanically declined” by his brother. On the other hand, I got the vibe that Google aspires to become the PayPal for digital content.

If you’re interested in a deeper look, Mark Glaser interviewed Bharat back in February in the MediaShift story “Google News to Publishers: Let’s Make Love Not War.”

You can track the conference through Wednesday on Twitter at #injo7.  

One last point to share on Day 1 of the conference -

Nordfors explained that his program has been renamed the Stanford Center of Innovation and Communication.

The name change recognizes that the ecosystem surrounding innovation and communicating to the outside world encompasses a range of players, including PR.

After the dust settles from the conference, I hope to get time with Nordfors for an interview on his program and the general topic of storytelling.

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2 comments

2 Comments so far

  1. Sarmishta Ramesh June 14th, 2010 1:07 pm

    Very interesting speaker for a journalistic event! Who would have thought that Google would one day espouse reporters at large.

    Bharat’s statement “Journalists should worry about creating content and leave it to others to get the content to the audience” is very distrurbing….

    There are serious faults in step one! For starters who’s going to make sure the reporter gets paid for his/her content?

    Maybe they are thinking of something along the lines of adwords….the more hits an article gets let’s say in his/her blog, the more advertisers on the page who pay part of the ad dollars to the writer? Could be an interesting revenue model!

  2. Lou Hoffman June 14th, 2010 1:29 pm

    Appreciate your perspective.

    I think the next 12 months will be filled with experiments as everyone tries to figure out ways to generate revenue from journalism.

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