Student Journalists’ New Media Potential *Still* Unplugged

Back in November 2008, during an online chat, I told Center for Innovation in College Media director Bryan Murley: “College journalists don’t seem to really know quite yet how to handle new media as a news reporting and presentation platform. . . . I think we may be overestimating just how many students are truly adept at new media, and just how high their level of adeptness runs.”

Now, nearly two years later, in a mini state-of-the-student-press-2.0 address, Michael Koretzky has confirmed that college media are *still* missing what I call “the big online IOU”- Interactivity, Originality, and an Understanding of the web’s potential.

Koretzky criticizes a majority of college news media sites as cluttered, homely hack jobs filled with web-unfriendly shovelware.  “What’s so weirdly depressing is that I’ve seen many of these newspapers in print- and they kick ass,” he writes.  “From the design to the writing to the photography, you can tell talented students sweat and bled for their paper dreams.  Their print editions have verve.  Their online editions have templates.”

My take: For all the talk about the innate Internet abilities of the young, the mobile, and the wireless, the truth is that a large majority of current students still have no desire to contribute to the web world beyond basic user status. They fool around on Facebook, view YouTube videos, text until their thumbs bleed, and then go to sleep– phone on vibrate, new media potential unplugged.

“We’re content to exploit the Internet, not innovate in it,” writes Derek Flanzraich, a recent Harvard University graduate who launched an online television network while still in school.  “We’re lazy. . . . Generation X can invent the new web– and we’ll use it when/if we need it.”

As a March 2010 Economist article similarly confirmed, “Michael Wesch, who pioneered the use of new media in his cultural anthropology classes at Kansas State University . . . [says] that many of his incoming students have only a superficial familiarity with the digital tools that they use regularly, especially when it comes to the tools’ social and political potential. Only a small fraction of students may count as true digital natives.”

As a whole, journalism students, sadly, are not among them.  They have not gone (digitally) native to the degree they should. There are many reasons for j-students’ unplugged new media potential: laziness, lack of relevant knowledge and skill-sets (in part a knock on j-schools and departments), overworked student media staff, and a lingering print-first mentality whose merits are debatable (after all, print newspapers remain popular on campus and print still represents the largest stack of professional j-jobs, but of course times are a-changin’).

And so the time has come for a call to arms.  To all student journalists and the educators and advisers who love them: We must get beyond the shovelware mentality.  Posting a basic copy-paste of our print news products online is no longer enough.  We must stop citing the small-staff-already-overworked-still-learning-tech-stuff-no-funding-for-quality-redesign excuse.  It’s a new media world in collegemediatopia.  Web presence requires a different presentation style.  It’s not just about showing up.

(Update July 28, 2010: A new study in the International Journal of Communication further confirms the alarming truth about students’ lack of web savvy.)

6 Responses to “Student Journalists’ New Media Potential *Still* Unplugged”
  1. Jackie says:

    These days a journalism student would be smart to double-major in computer science or web development in addition to whatever else they study. Knowing how to set up a website will free them from having to use clumsy, templated designs that don’t fit their objectives.

  2. I agree with Jackie. I wish I had knew that knowing how to code/ being familiar with CSS and HTML would come in handy in journalism.

  3. Harumi Gondo says:

    Thanks so much for this badly-needed post, Dan. While there are superstar student journalists out there that are clearing the path, I’ve also found that the majority of college journalists, while being Web- and social media-savvy, are still way behind in using new media tools for anything other than play. There’s no doubt that they are digital natives and can quickly master the language of the Web and new media but there is still a big gap. I’m not sure, though, if the students themselves recognize this. It would be interesting to poll the millennials directly.

  4. Dan says:

    Harumi- I agree completely. I would not be surprised if a disconnect exists between their perception of their ‘new mediabilities’ and the reality. I may have a student or two work on this for a UPIU report. :)

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