Technological advances, more sophisticated and accomplished reporters – but troubling long-term trends

This year, I took the lovely and learned Janine Warner along to the University of Mohyla’s institute for the Digital Future of Journalism (and yes, I am contractually obligated to describe my partner in all things analog and digital in the most glowing terms possible. Fortunately, it is not difficult. And yes, she did insist that I add that last sentence). It was the first time we had team-taught since we traveled all over Colombia five years ago, to work with 16 different newspapers and press organizations.

This photo was taken as part of my class’ project: “Kiev – City of Contrasts”.

Over the years, our role has changed significantly: it used to be that we were the digital equivalent of Paul Revere … basically, we were in newsrooms full of skeptical reporters, at very successful traditional media outlets, yelling “The Internet is coming! The Internet is coming!”

More than once, we would tell editors and publishers in private meetings that we hoped that by talking frankly about all the mistakes that American newspapers and media companies had made, that we could help them avoid the same disastrous pitfalls. This has had mixed results, at best.

But in Kiev, I have clearly seen the evolution of the reporting skills and the sophistication of the media landscape just blow up over the last five years. I got lots of RT-style Twitterlovin’ from my students when I posted that the classes just keep getting smarter and smarter every year.

But what I’ve seen is a radical change: my first year many of the students didn’t even have email addresses. Most of them were on some sort of social networking site – Odoklassniki was pretty much neck-and-neck with Facebook at that juncture. Nobody was on Twitter. They watched YouTube videos, but nobody really thought of them as a serious tool to not only find news, but to use to transmit news as well.

I had a classroom full of hostile people, many of whom sat with their arms crossed in front of them, defensively, for at least the first few days. Then, when I gave them as task that seemed a bit more familiar to them – shooting a short-form documentary that would be suitable to put up on the web – they relaxed, and did a tremendous job.

This year, however, we were tasked with teaching both professors from surrounding universities, as well as working journalists.
I led the professors through a discussion of the emerging trends in education – basically, how universities are strating to experiment at scaling up remote learning techniques, known as MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses). At the low end, it’s basically just pointing a webcam at a professor while he/she delivers a lecture; you can see examples of this all over YouTube, actually.

However, a much more interesting and productive use of our collective brainpower is not just to figure out the simplest use of digital video + online streaming technology … but to try to imagine a new way that we can use tech to take over the parts of the teaching process where they make sense, and then use the time that’s freed up to do the kinds of things that only an in-person human-to-human interaction can accomplish.

To that end, I gave a short lesson on how to compose and shoot basic online video, and then set them loose with their new iPads to shoot each other talking about the class they were teaching. The point was to get them to think about how they would market themselves in the future, if they were to find themselves in a world where all universities are virtual, and students can pick and choose from the professors they want to learn from.

Yeah, the parallels between what is happening to newspapers and TV stations and what is about to happen to higher education are pretty clear.

Anyway, I then ran around the room, showing them how to import the clips into iMovie on their iPads, and then trim the clips, adjust the sound, and put very basic graphic titles on the clips.

Since I’m writing this post from a friend’s house in near Essex, England, I’ll have to finish with the links to the videos and a gallery of photos from Kiev (and elsewhere) in an upcoming post.