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A former president and publisher of USA Today said Friday there’s no end in sight for how the digital revolution can transform the communications industry in a positive and meaningful way.
But David Hunke also said there’s still room for old-school journalism values of fair, accurate, and balanced reporting.
During a presentation at the University of Toledo, Mr. Hunke said he was proud to have been raised during an era in which getting a story right was as important as being the first to report it.
He said he is optimistic the laws of supply and demand will ultimately prevail, with market forces favoring online Internet publications that put substance and accuracy over style.
Now chief strategy officer at Digerati, a Detroit-based computer software and consulting company, Mr. Hunke has a distinctive perspective as an executive for companies that have heavily invested in traditional and emerging technologies.
The former chief executive officer of the Detroit Media Partnership and publisher of the Detroit Free Press gave an upbeat assessment of the digital era.
He said it has put the world on the cusp of great improvements.
One of the most notable, Mr. Hunke said, is its potential to lift educational levels anywhere from the streets of Detroit to the mountains of Afghanistan through smart-phone applications. Those devices have greatly connected Earth’s 7 billion people in ways previously thought unimaginable, and will do so even more in coming years if their prices continue to fall as expected, he said.
“The world is changing and that’s phenomenal. We are not going to be afraid of that. We will embrace that,” said Mr. Hunke, the keynote speaker at the first of what UT hopes will be an annual digital-media symposium called the uHeart Digital Media conference.
“This is a world that has come together so rapidly and so powerfully,” Mr. Hunke said. “If it looks like this world is turning upside down, boy, is it ever.”
Mr. Hunke likened the digital transformation of the communications industry to Gannett Publishing’s bold decision to create USA Today — a move he said was seen 30 years ago as “a counterintuitive experiment in publishing” because of the dearth of national newspapers in America back then.
USA Today was not profitable at first, but went on to become one of the country’s most popular publications, he said. It defied conventional wisdom, a trait found in many of today’s successful startups.
Mr. Hunke said nothing in his presentation about how the digital transformation has resulted in massive layoffs in the newspaper and magazine industries, resulting in the closing of some publications and others going exclusively or mostly online.
During a post-speech interview, he acknowledged the transition has been painful. But he said traditional publications can survive in print or online if they “draw circles around what works,” such as unique reporting and storytelling.
Someone from the audience questioned him about more pay walls for online publications. He said more readers are likely to be charged to view stories “for a fair price” in exchange for value in the future.
“You’ve got to be good enough as a journalist and as a news organization to earn that,” Mr. Hunke said.
The exciting thing about digital technology is it has opened endless possibilities for entrepreneurs from anywhere, Toledo included. He said the city has a new opportunity to rebrand itself and promote its assets, such as its transportation network, its mix of agriculture and industry, and its proximity to the Great Lakes.
“It’s not the great big ‘wow’ things that are capturing the imagination of business any more. It is the uniqueness of small ideas,” he said. “There’s no reason Toledo can’t be part of that.”
Dustin Hostetler, a Toledo-based graphic artist, curator, and publisher, got kudos from many of the conference’s 220 attendees for a presentation he made about how he used digital technology to become nationally known for his artwork.
His work has been displayed in anything from graphic novels and magazines to national advertising campaigns for Mountain Dew, MTV, Converse, and Skittles candy.
A popular online T-shirt company, Chicago-based Threadless, wooed him into being its Toledo-based curator for a while.
Now the brand manager and co-owner of Grumpy’s, a downtown Toledo restaurant created by his relatives, Mr. Hostetler said it’s important for small businesses to use their own voices on social media.
“I wouldn’t pay someone to go to a party on my behalf, so why would I pay someone to embrace my social media?” he asked.
But although there’s a lot of buzz about social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter, Mr. Hostetler credited the bulk of his success to simple email.
He said it remains the most powerful Internet tool for him, something he has worked at tirelessly with multiple accounts to get his products known.
Email enabled him to have a successful career in Toledo at a fraction of the cost of graphic artists he knows who live in New York and Los Angeles, Mr. Hostetler said.
He said those who start their own online businesses or work for companies that rely heavily on Internet viewer traffic need to be bold, yet reasonable. They need to understand what’s hot one day may not be another.
“You have to be comfortable making mistakes, but pay attention to the bottom line,” Mr. Hostetler said.
UT sponsored the event to help promote itself as a “technology-savvy institution,” said Larry Burns, UT vice president for external affairs.
“I see it as a huge opportunity to develop and strengthen our brand,” Mr. Burns said.