Right now I’m attending a national conference in Kansas City (Associated Collegiate Press/College Media Advisers) for student news organizations, and I must say I’ve been underwhelmed. There was a keynote yesterday afternoon from Rich Beckman, a professor at the University of Miami School of Communication. I think he started off strong, outlining where newspapers need to go on the Internet and mentioning the recent announcement from the Christian Science Monitor to go online only.

Later in the speech (see attached YouTube video, recorded in very low light from my Flip Cam) he outlined how the Internet is changing things for newspapers, and in particular student journalists who want to get jobs at newspapers. He said that writing and video need to be even more compelling online, and students who know how to do it will have a better shot in the industry. That’s probably true, and I think his speech was insightful on many levels. Later in the keynote he showed some examples of brilliantly done multimedia packages, which his students had the opportunity to work on over the summer. But as the speech went on, it got decidedly less practical.

The packages looked fantastic, and were produced impeccably, but I think they were far beyond the means of the majority of student news organizations. I was looking for practical advice on how to easily incorporate more multimedia content into the Daily Bruin site, and maybe a few ideas on how to train my staff. Instead, I got examples of professional quality multimedia packages that incorporated databases, code, and weeks and months of time. For one package he sent his students to an island where a person got marooned hundreds of years ago, and was the inspiration for Robinson Crusoe. It included a video game and a 3D map of the island. Cool, yes, but completely undoable. One of my Twitter friends from UNC, Andrew Dunn, wrote a similar blog post about the speech.

Directly after that keynote there was a small roundtable of students from all kinds of papers that wanted to talk about technology issues in the newsroom. At that meeting, in particular, I started to see how simple knowledge of social media can start to divide news organizations into haves and have-nots — even people my age, and even in college newsrooms. I hear from a lot of people that J-Schools aren’t teaching social media tools, and aren’t doing a great job of teaching multimedia either.

Everyone keeps saying (including Rich during his speech) that my generation needs to be the one that teaches the professionals how to use social media and create interactive content online. But who is going to teach us? Many of the papers that sat in on that technology roundtable, and a number of other people I have met at this conference, didn’t know how to use Twitter or an RSS feed, didn’t know what a CMS is, and had no idea where to begin with multimedia content.

I think that at conferences like the one I’m at, where college newspapers come together from around the country to talk about mutual issues, etc, we should be getting this kind of education — not just talking about it. Why else do we pay thousands of dollars in registration fees, flights, hotel rooms, and food? I honestly had no idea there were college papers out there that didn’t understand the value of an RSS feed, or simple audio slideshows. But I was immediately brought back to one of the reasons I wrote the grant proposal for Populous. There is a true need out there for a simple and powerful tool for newsrooms to use to create a great website. But there are so many other needs out there that aren’t being addressed either.

If we’re supposed to be the ones, as Rich says, training the professionals and being the smart, young people in the newsrooms, and a great many college papers are just as in dark, what hope is there? More and more I’m starting to appreciate the potential power of an organization like CoPress, which is a group of online editors from a handful of schools around the country that are banding together to provide online resources to other schools who have less technical knowhow.

It it truly going to take a lot to get college media up to the point where the rest of the world thinks we already are. I just hope, for our future jobs and our readers, that we can do it.

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