The Cyberbrains

Research and contemplation in new media

Upgrading the old OS

“You must unlearn what you have learned”

I’ve been conducting something of a study in individual change this summer, and somewhat by accident. Students in online MU’s masters program have been asking for a Web course version of Online Journalism, the course we teach here at MU. In our brick-and-mortar version, we teach social and participatory media, and as far as we know we’re still the only school in the country that teaches citizen media in the classroom.

For the online masters class, that wasn’t as possible. The program is stocked with working professionals trying to further their education and get a little more current on what’s driving the changes in the industry. We still do the theory-and-practice thing that is the Missouri Method, but rather than make them practice it we instead stress integration in their current work practice.

Instead I’ve had them read a bunch of Web articles, Dan Gillmor’s We The Media, and Mark Tremayne’s excellent Blogging, Citizenship, and The Future of Media (which, in the interest of full disclosure, contains a chapter on MyMissourian written by some of the Cyberbrains, including myself).

Most of the students came in with a self-professed fear of change and “the blogs.” What has been fascinating to watch is their intellectual growth and sense of discovery as they’ve absorbed the material. As the weeks have gone on in this eight-week course, the growth in the students’ thinking about the new people-driven journalism was fun to watch. Confusion has been largely replaced by questions about where we can take it, underscoring the notion that this change presents an opportunity more than they are a threat.

A quote from Kris Passey, one of my students, from his weekly essay (I did receive permission for this, no rights violated here):

My mind took another step around the corner today. I’m talking about the Web 2.0 corner. But it feels like I’ve walked right into heavy traffic. The impetus for these most recent baby steps is Jeremy’s video. I have been struggling for some time now, knowing that the next phase of journalistic evolution requires an entirely new mindset. I think I have grasped more intuitively than deductively that the old processes I grew up with are flawed somehow; that they don’t correspond to the reality in which we now live. But when Jeremy said that we can’t just leave our stories out there the balls started to drop.

And later …

The new paradigm of stories that don’t start when the journalist becomes aware of them or stop when the journalist finishes publication is another aspect of this evolution. The idea that the new species of journalist must continue to engage the story as it evolves and mutates is dramatically different than the compartmentalized stories of the old journalistic universe. Web 2.0, or whatever we call it, goes far beyond updated editions. It seems to be calling for the tenacity of intellect and social skills that far exceed any current working journalistic MSM model and even tests the limits of New Media.

As an instructor, it’s exciting to see a student be able to articulate change, sense what it means, and see where we’re lacking. Change is not a cure-all; it brings new problems that will have to be solved.

The class has taught me quite a bit as well. In working with these excellent professionals, I have realized how unique and lonely this classroom experience must be in the landscape of journalism graduate education. I have students pushing Gillmor’s book on their media managers and, currently, writing proposals for newsroom change. What we’re doing at MU should not be unique or isolated. It needs to become the norm. The only thing slower to change than newsrooms, I have found, are universities.

This is heavily on my mind as I prepare to interview for the job placement service next week at AEJMC. I am finding it more puzzling why convergence is a separate major at many schools and wonder whether we’re selling the non-convergence students short. When I first came back to school, I would’ve been looking for anything with the name “journalism” on it. Now I’m finding my focus increasingly narrowed on programs that have something related to new media in the title (maybe not a job in new media, but also schools that focus on electronic media).

Sometimes a simple name change or update reflects a needed shift in focus. If we can’t do it for ourselves in academia, how can we expect our students to change?

Blogged with the Flock Browser


July 27, 2008 - Posted by | Jeremy Littau

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