Rodney Gibbs is a newsroom product leader and entrepreneur. As The Texas Tribune’s first chief product officer, he helped grow the Tribune from a start-up to a paragon of sustainable digital journalism. In his ninth and final year with the Tribune, he launched RevLab, a training center that has helped hundreds of newsrooms develop new lines of revenue and grow their audiences.
In 2021, he joined The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as its Senior Director, Strategy & Innovation. To bolster the AJC’s digital capabilities and diversify its revenue, Rodney initiated a live events strategy and led newsroom experiments with augmented reality, NFTs, and AI, among other initiatives.
An enthusiastic member of digital news and media communities, Rodney has served on the boards of his local NPR and PBS affiliates, and The Austin Film Society. He is an active participant in The News Product Alliance, The International News Media Association, and, of course, The Online News Association.
Rodney has served two terms on the ONA board of directors, and he’s the board treasurer. He’s judged the OJAs three times and served as a mentor in the ONA Student Newsroom.
Rodney lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with his wife, two kids and Lilac, the rabbit.
Rodney’s vision for the future of digital journalism
I envision a future for digital journalism in which the public has free and easy access to high quality local and national reporting; journalism organizations are deeply integrated into and reflective of their communities; and a free press is valued and staunchly defended by the public, in large part because digital journalism is deeply ingrained into people’s lives.
The road to this nirvana state is long, of course. Among other steps, I hope to see these five leaps forward for the benefit of digital journalism:
* **As a public good, journalism is publicly supported.** The UK has long done this with its TV tax that funds the BBC. Other countries are following suit by various means. In the States, proposed legislation would force the big platforms to pay newsrooms significant sums for our journalism that has, in part, fueled their growth. A healthy community requires a robust local newsroom, so the public must invest in the news orgs, big and small., one way or another.
* **Integration of digital journalism within schools and media literacy initiatives.** As with a robust local news organization, media literacy is key to a healthy community. Without a basic understanding of how media is made and consumed, communities are ripe for being misled. Digital journalism can buttress efforts to teach students and communities how to consume and share information by integrating with curricula and local educational institutions to bring journalists and journalism into the classrooms.
* **Doubling down on journalism training resources, particularly sustainability efforts.** Socially minded entrepreneurs can fill vacuums for people who crave trustworthy information. ONA, among other organizations, fills a vital need by helping enterprising souls launch and grow news organizations that meet community needs and find creative ways to fund them. By scaling programs that help such entrepreneurs, we will benefit not just our industry but our communities as a whole.
* **Expand programs that democratize digital journalism.** Hyper local journalism initiates and citizen journalism organizations expand journalism’s impact and help more people participate in and benefit from journalism. Big, national or international news orgs are wonderful, but they are but a piece of the puzzle. Grass-root, hyper-local initiatives are key to fortifying our communities and holding our institutions to account.
* **A billionaire pours gasoline on the fire.** Rather than go to Mars or stage stunts over buying social media platforms, extremely wealthy individuals should invest in journalism and thereby democracy itself. The billions spent for shenanigans could make incredible differences in local communities that just need help sustaining a local journalist or newsroom.