Joichi Ito: New York Times outside director feels duty to save journalism

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Joichi Ito, a two-time dropout and once a critic of traditional media, is now an outside director at one of world’s most influential newspapers on a mission to “save journalism.”

The New York Times Company offered the post to Ito, 46, to “bring deep digital experience to the board of the Times Company, which will be invaluable as we continue our digital transformation.”

Ito, who became the director of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last year, accepted the company’s offer in June this year.

Ito was born in Kyoto in 1966 and dropped out of two universities in the United States. BusinessWeek named him one of the “25 Most Influential People on the Web” in 2008.

During a temporary return to Japan, Ito said in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun on Sept. 30 that he joined The New York Times because “I felt a social duty to do something to save journalism.”

Despite his earlier criticism of newspapers, Ito said that in recent years, he felt that “mainstream journalism’s flow toward death” was too big compared with the expansion of citizens’ journalism. He said the current trend would eventually create a void in an important pillar of democracy.

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What is important is to employ journalists with detailed knowledge about new technologies, he said.

“It may be faster to teach journalism to engineers than to teach technology to journalists,” Ito said.

Ito said a new business model used by The New York Times would affect other media companies around the world, but various experiments are needed first.

“In the case of a brand power like the NYT, it is difficult to carry out experiments because people there fear failure. That is the only point that makes me worry a bit,” Ito said.

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