Heard on Campus: Alberto Ibargüen at the Penn State Forum

September 19, 2018

"We’re in a period of technological transition fundamentally different, I think, from anything we’ve seen since Gutenberg—and I mean that literally ... Substitute ‘internet’ for the printing press: before Gutenberg, there was order. Books were few. Bishops guaranteed doctrinal orthodoxy. After Gutenberg, any Tom, Dick, or Martin Luther can take anything he or she wants, though it was usually a he, and distribute materials in a way that could not be controlled. Does this sound familiar?"

—Alberto Ibargüen, President and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, at the Penn Stater on Sept. 19, as part of the Penn State Forum speaker series.

"A hundred years passed before people figured out how to trust information again. The flood of information fundamentally changed ways of thinking and allowed society to move from the Dark Ages to the Renaissance and Reformation. We’re at a Gutenberg moment."

As president and CEO, Ibargüen leads The Knight Foundation in its mission to support journalistic excellence and support communities across the United States. He is the former publisher of The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, as well as a former member of the boards of PBS and the Newseum, and he brought his extensive experience to bear on the topic of "Trust, Media, and Democracy" as part of the Penn State Forum speaker series.

"The irony is, at the moment when we have more access to information in our pockets than man has had at any point in human history, the kind of journalism that served America so well is disappearing. It is not possible to be as well informed about local government, or about even federal government at its base, because the information, the news, the local journalism, simply is not being produced. What we know, or think we know, leads to what and whom we trust. And what we know, or think we know, is increasingly determined by a handful of large corporations."

"This media that we’re trying to figure out, as we’re trying to figure what is appropriate regulation, is counterintuitively something that allows us the kind of freedom to connect and to reach out that we have to be careful not to damage. We have never been more powerful individually, and yet we’ve never been more susceptible to groupthink. We’ve never been so able to be independent thinkers, nor so reliant on artificial intelligence managed by a handful of corporations."

Although the rise of social media and the decline in local journalism pose difficult challenges, Ibargüen's message was ultimately one of hope. Because we're in the beginning stages of what he sees as a profound societal change, this means people still have time to overcome these challenges.

"We’re in the early days of a new world. After Gutenberg, society adapted, embraced this disruption and thrived as never before. In my bones, I believe history will repeat itself."

Launched in 1996, the Penn State Forum Speaker Series is designed to introduce the University community to noted leaders and policymakers in their respective fields. Open to the public, tickets are $25 for each event and include a buffet lunch, followed by remarks from the distinguished speaker. Visit the Forum website for more information about the series and a list of future speakers. 

Last Updated September 24, 2018