Change is more than just a buzz word

Like it or not, the future is here.

Whenever a culture evolves, the media are the first to evolve with it.

We, especially journalists, have to see what is working, what is changing and change with it. Everyone knows the new medium is online, but the concept isn’t as simple as it sounds.

It’s a migration of a physical publication to a digital, interactive, multimedia Web site that features more than just online replications of what’s in print. The print will always exist, for the iPhoneless will need something to read at the coffee shop and students will need something to pick up on the way to class.

But education is having a hard time catching up, especially many college journalism programs. From the Associated Collegiate Press Journalism Convention I attended over the weekend, I took away two key ideals: we cannot look back and professors need to start learning from students.

There are many new forms of writing that have come up in the last few years, and each one is important. Students must be able to write for print, broadcast, online, blogs , local and national. As leading newspapers are folding, local publications, online startups and semi-professional media blogs are thriving.

Well, maybe not thriving, but at least surviving. Smaller newspapers have an advantage because we market to a niche audience: no one covers the Cal Poly beat with as much effort and enthusiasm for Bronco pride as we do here – just take a look at this week’s front page (why my column is here).

In fact, The Poly Post was just awarded fourth place in the ACP Best of Show competition for four-year college weekly broadsheet publications at the new media convention. The convention hosted more than 900 college journalists in San Diego. The Post maintains student interests at all costs, differing from the public relations take of the PolyCentric articles on the campus Web site.

We provide insight, objectivity, and the ability to keep an eye on campus organizations and questionable activities. However, we are held back by three major problems: education, apathy, and resources.

Education

Our writers come in with little training, despite the numerous prerequisites we are often forced to override just to get enough support. A year of writing for The Post will help your skills more than many reporting classes, because you learn each week by writing about something new and getting out into the field.

Apathy

While student bodies at universities like UC Berkeley are infamous for their activism, commuter schools like ours face a lack of overall enthusiasm and motivation on a daily basis.

Most students seem to be here simply because they got in or because Cal Poly was close to home. The communication students don’t even seem to care about published work or their student newspaper, when these are the most critical elements for job experience.

Resources

The total editorial staff of The Poly Post includes less than 20 students, and half of us spend hours upon hours every weekend in an office that looks like it hasn’t changed since 1965.

While we broke down the cubicles just last summer, the only signs of modernism are tucked away in the three silver and black iMacs used for production. Our resources force us to work hard, but hinder our abilities to thrive in the changing generation of journalism .

We focus so much effort on the print publication you may (or may not) put your hands on each week, we’re left with little energy or time to spend on the podcasts, videos, slideshows, and interactivity we are slowly incorporating into our Web site. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t expect to see continuous updates, like the re-launching of the Web site next quarter, news videos from broadcast journalism students at thepolypost.com/cppvideos, and online coverage of the men’s basketball team all week long as they enter playoffs.

So what are we left with? While the communication department is not completely behind the times here, the print-centric mindset still dominates and students see online as second-fiddle to what should be the priority if any of us are looking to get hired in a job(less) market that just surpassed 10 percent unemployment in California, and is leaving more than 80,000 without jobs nationally.

Does that even matter?

Most of us need to make it on our own. Journalists can no longer market themselves as simply a reporter: we have to be multimedia journalists, bloggers, designers, photographers, and Twitterers.

The systems must continue to evolve and if that means setting free a tenured department head to bring in a cheaper, younger and energetic chair, we should be looking to do that anyway. Isn’t the students’ education more important than one teacher’s job?

Professors who employ blue book writing tests should also take note: have us type our essays, and you’ll get better work. Extensive handwriting is tiresome and old-fashioned. There’s stripped-down word processing software available, so don’t think it’s not possible. There is no direct conclusion here because things will keep changing.

This newfangled technology is not something to be scared of, Luddites. It’s a testament to human ingenuity and creation that we keep inventing new ways to increase productivity and better ourselves.

My single greatest discovery at the convention was something that’s been right under my nose: Google . The mail, documents, and applications features have so much worth looking into for organizing, editing, and creating that any idiot can get savvy without sophistication.

3 thoughts on “Change is more than just a buzz word

  1. Dan,
    I’m glad you took something out of the conference. A lot of what I’m hearing at these conferences feels so recycled (except CICM’s workshops), but I do get value from this. From you. From people like you. From students. Meeting, talking, brainstorming. The discussion that has followed the ACP conference has taught me so much more than any keynote could.

    At the train station with Mustang Daily editors, we reflected on the conference (much like you do in this blog post) and I realized how much value there is in conversation with my peers (of course, I already knew that, but it’s nice to see it reinforced).

    Next year there should be many more student-run sessions. I’m not talking a panel like the one I did (where it’s four of us talking at everyone else). I want a situation in which all the students are equal to each other so we can talk about stuff like this.

    In addition to the mail, docs, apps, etc that Google offers, you should do Google alerts too.
    Anyway, enough rambling. Good post. Thanks for the CICM shoutouts.

    • Hah! You make me feel like such a newb Lauren.

      The connections are definitely what make it, I totally agree. All us great minds need to join together for an online startup venture after college to give us all jobs….like college media innovation….but different? Not sure yet.

      I agree on the student-run aspect. Have the speakers be moderators instead of lecturers. Our field is one of interactivity and collaboration, and that’s how we all thrive anyway. But when you force the spotlight on people, they react well. You can’t just say “speak!” You have to ask what it’s like for them and compare specific situations so everyone takes away something great.

      What’s funny to me is the stuff in the shourtcourse I knew already, it just sort of reinvigorated me to get going on it more. thanks for the tips…though if i get any more e-mail right now, my head will surely explode–the eic stuff between staff, advertising, campus, and PR, I can’t keep track of my own life!

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