Monday, October 18, 2004

Reflections on digital media conference

A couple of thoughts keep bouncing around my head from this past weekend's Digital Revolution conference here.

First is Dan Shaver's postulate that we are entering the third age of media where content becomes part of a "public digital well." This means reduction or elimination of the manufacturing process and the blurring of content lines among information, entertainment and news. This has been stated in various forms by various people. But once again, I find myself noting that we in this business have to dig into the basic question, "What is journalism worth?" Much of our "value" has come from content aggregation. But if, as Shaver notes, we are finding "a fundamental change in the relationship between content providers and content consumers" (and I agree) then the value of our content -- or core -- becomes so much more important. Too much of what we do is commodity, not journalism. (His PowerPoint.)

Along with this, Clyde Bentley introduced some research (see also the PowerPoint) that he said shows core readers generate 95 percent of most newspapers' Internet page views and that cookies are an unreliable way to track viewership. Bottom line: Actual viewership of digital sites may be much lower than now claimed.

That was Friday. On Saturday, I was listening to panelists from various schools talk about the technology and various programs needed to teach their cross media journalism courses -- and once again realized how far education is behind the industry, which is no greyhound itself. It simply is not possible for a professor to adequately learn all the various programs needed to teach modern journalism as it is coming to be taught. I know a little about Photoshop, do hard HTML coding, have dabbled in Dreamweaver and in Quark -- and my background is across media. But my strength is editorial. I start wondering if I am equipped to teach at a time when to communicate the core skills your students expect a "show," and that too often means teaching the toys. While we are training students, targeted training for the profs at many schools is slim at best.

So what shall we do?: Eschew the technology and teach the core thinking (nice dream, but highly unrealistic when students want the "toys") or upend the way American college education is structured -- as a bunch of silos with little real cooperation (unless fostered by the impetus of grant money)? Neither seems likely to happen soon.

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