The Cyberbrains

Research and contemplation in new media

What now, professor?

The transition from working journalist to professor is little like what you dream of when you are pulling your hair out waiting for your source to call back while your editor growls over your shoulder.

Clyde Bentley looks to the future

You quickly find that you don’t really get summer’s off, that you attend even more boring meetings and that your staff (students) is by definition a bunch of not-yet-competent, naïve kids.

But the good part is that your goals expand. While you still have the day-to-day deadline rush of getting journalism “done,” you now have the responsibility to make sure journalism still gets done a generation hence.

Our citizen journalism research team – the Cyberbrains – is a very good example of this. We formed in 2004 to launch a citizen journalism site at the University of Missouri to test the viability of what was then called open source journalism. The result was MyMissourian, a hybrid Web/print product for which student editors work with non-journalists to develop the personal content missing from traditional newspapers.

For the most part, it was a job not unlike the one I left at the . We designed protocols, assembled and managed a staff and then kept the lawyers and critics at bay by overseeing the production.

But in the background were concerted efforts to develop ways to teach young journalists a new approach to their craft while, more importantly, trying to determine what citizen journalism will do the whole media profession.

After three years in the production trenches, it’s bonus time for the Cyberbrains. MyMissourian works so well we can bring those loftier goals out of the background.

Professional futurism is a dreamer’s dream, but it is fraught with frustration, false starts and unintended consequences. And fear.

Last year I gave my students an exercise in that fear. I noted that I am 56 while they are 21. It was a deceptively simple assignment, with me as an example: “How will you be doing your job in 2042?”

Wordsmiths were wordless, normally confidant students were shaken and the cocky said they would just go to law school.

Try it yourself. Considering that two years ago few had imagined YouTube and Twitter has been around for a mere 15 months, what will those bright young folk face when they still have nearly a decade until retirement?

Our job is not just “academic.” At stake are the professional aspirations of thousands of talent journalists, the legacy of the hundreds of thousands who preceded them – and the society we helped to craft.

I’m a pragmatic optimist. I look at the history, calculate the odds and look to the best path to the best outcome. And at this point, I think my students will have rewarding, productive and important jobs when the gray comes to their hair.

In the next few months I will try to put my dispatches from the crystal ball into some sort of usable form, probably via this blog. In the meantime, I’m looking over my shoulder for help just as my students do in my classroom. You are the teacher this time.

“Professor, can you give me a hint?”

June 28, 2007 - Posted by | Clyde Bentley

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