Tribune CIO Rodney Gibbs speaks to new Digital Entrepreneurship class

by Cheyenne Meyer:

Kicking off Texas State’s new Digital Media Entrepreneurship Speaker Series was Rodney Gibbs, Chief Innovation Officer at the digital newspaper The Texas TribuneThe series, offered to both undergraduate and graduate students in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, brings important media figures to Old Main to share experiences in media and ideas for media innovation with the students.

The first guest to the SJMC Digital Entrepreneurship speaker series was Rodney Gibbs (left), Chief Innovation Officer at the Texas Tribune. Assistant Professor Jacie Yang (right) facilitated the discussion between Gibbs and the students.

The first guest to the SJMC Digital Entrepreneurship speaker series was Rodney Gibbs (left), Chief Innovation Officer at the Texas Tribune. Assistant Professor Jacie Yang (right) facilitated the discussion between Gibbs and the students. (Photo by Kimberly Cook)

Gibbs can be considered a media jack-of-all-trades, holding positions in the capacities of broadcast journalism, television, technology and mobile games, and eventually journalism and innovation at the Tribune. Gibbs also co-founded and sold two companies, Qrank and Fizz Factor. Though these positions may seem diverse, Gibbs explained that they all tie in to how technology and content come together in the world of media.

The Tribune, a nonpartisan digital newspaper, operates from Congress Avenue in Austin, and focuses on Texas politics and public issues. As the CIO, Gibbs explained that his main responsibility is to “serve as a liaison between those who work in tech and those who work with content.” One of the Tribune‘s biggest claims to fame was their livestream of the Wendy Davis filibuster last year.

“We were averaging about 500 people on our live stream,” explained Gibbs. “But then President Obama found out about our live stream and tweeted it out to his followers. By the end of the night, we had a quarter of a million viewers.”

Gibbs joked that the experience was “terrifying”.

Though Gibbs is the CIO, he explained that he ultimately the one “leading the charge” and overseeing the department, but not the only one offering new ideas.

“All of us at the Tribune contribute to innovation,” he said. “It’s in our DNA.”

Gibbs is also often in charge of coming up with ideas on how to approach different news stories.

“People come with a story, but run into a problem,” he said. “It falls on me to lead the process to figure out what story we have and how we want to tell it.”

Though Gibbs’ degrees are in sociology and screenwriting, he emphasized that technology and creativity are synonymous when working in media, and that there are several tools and skills one must have to succeed in this ever-changing field: good problem solving and writing skills, design knowledge, and another skill that the SJMC professors emphasize on a regular basis.

“If you know basic programming, like HTML and CSS, you are ahead of the game,” Gibbs explained. “If know know more advanced languages, you have super powers.”

Gibbs explained that there is an ongoing partnership at the Tribune between the programmers, designers and journalists to generate creative and interactive content. Although the Tribune now does more testing to ensure that the content is user friendly, not all decisions were as well planned out, but achieved great results.

“A lot of our gut decisions have turned out to be good decisions,” he said.

When asked if Facebook was a dying platform for sharing news, he explained that Facebook is actually 2-1 to Twitter for bringing traffic to the site.

“Facebook isn’t dead, but it’s a pain,” said Gibbs. “As a newsroom, we are really biased in favor of Twitter.”

For students hoping to become digital entrepreneurs themselves, Gibbs offered the following advice.

“You should have something someone can touch,” he said, “even if it’s a crude prototype on a phone or tablet. It makes it real to the customer and sets you apart from nine out of ten people who just wave their hands. Also, you should try to have a first customer, or at least have someone interested in what you’ve created.”

Gibbs offered a lot of valuable take-away information regarding tech innovation, journalism and new media for the students and instructors alike, getting this speaker series off on the right foot. Bob Metcalfe, professor of innovation at the University of Texas and inventor of the Ethernet, is the next speaker on the schedule. He will visit the class on Weds, Feb. 11 at 5 p.m. in Old Main 320. For information on this lecture series, please visit this link.

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