Google exec, AllThingsD team discuss journalism’s future

The trio spoke at a 92Y event

Apparently, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt does an impressive “Gangnam Style” dance but, he said from 92nd Street Y’s stage on Wednesday night, “I’ll try not to do it here.” His performance—a conversation with AllThingsD executive editors Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher—was entertaining nonetheless.

The event was organized in partnership with Columbia Journalism School, though it was more about platforms and the race for digital dominance than reporting. Still, the conversationalists were introduced by Journalism Dean Nicholas Lemann, who had announced that morning that this year would be his last in the role. Waxing nostalgic, Lemann spoke briefly about j-school founder Joseph Pulitzer. “He was a creature of an age when the word digital had been invented, but I think it referred to your fingers,” Lemann said, going on to equate Pulitzer’s innovative vision with that of Swisher and Mossberg, both j-school alumni.

After Lemann spoke, there was little discussion of actual journalism until the end; the three tech geeks bantered about digital platforms, corporate competition, and the Jetsons-like future of computer-driven cars and enhanced eyewear that Google plans to usher into reality.

Schmidt did touch upon industry-related issues, such as the difficulty of dealing with censorship in China. “They (the Chinese) have this hellacious law that requires you to do dynamic censorship of things,” he said. “And the way the law is written, you can’t admit it, and you can’t describe it, and you can’t publish the details. So it’s true, hardcore censorship … We’re allowed to actually publish the fact that information was omitted,” he added, but Google still has disagreements with the government and, when one arises, the government can arbitrarily cut off access.

In the final minutes, the talk did return to journalism, with the AllThingsD crew mentioning that the last time he visited them, Steve Jobs said he was worried about the future of quality journalism. Schmidt agreed the concern was real, and then floated a strange idea about the industry’s future: that large, strong publications like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal will continue to thrive using a subscription model, and that other, future publications will be anchored in celebrity branding.

“You mean like ‘The Ashton Kutcher Daily?’” Swisher asked.

“In this new world, people are really driven by what celebrities think and what they care about,” Schmidt said. “And my guess is that will be a new player that people will try in the next few years.”

Watch the entire event here.

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Kira Goldenberg was an associate editor at CJR from 2012-2015. Follow her on Twitter at @kiragoldenberg.