MCLA students gaze into journalism's future


Photo Gallery: 2014 Hardman Journalist-in-Residence

NORTH ADAMS -- A show of hands served as a crystal ball to the future of news consumption.

At the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts on Wednesday morning, only six people in a lecture room of about 50 attendees raised their hands to indicate that they turn to a print newspaper each day as a resource of information. Nearly every hand went up when asked if they accessed news through a smartphone, tablet or computer.

For Kevin Moran, regional vice president of news for New England Newspapers Inc., this small exercise affirmed the mounting evidence in the news industry.

"Mobile is becoming a real force when it comes to digital journalism," he said, later adding that "Social media is a fundamental shift in the way we communicate."

Moran, who oversees newsroom operations for The Berkshire Eagle, Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Refor-
mer, Manchester Journal and Berkshires Week, gave a talk at the college titled, "The Future of News: What's in it for you?"

The presentation was the culmination of Moran's three-day tenure with MCLA's Hardman Journalist-in-Residence program, organized annually through the college's English and Communications Department.

Referring to Erik Qualman's 2012 book, "Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business," Moran highlighted the fact that more than 50 percent of the world's population is under the age of 30, and that 96 percent of that population regularly engages with people and information through social media.

These facts have spawned a sea change in the news industry, redefined social norms and shifted routines in people's daily lives.

At MCLA, both students and educators are currently trying to interpret and navigate the ever-changing convergent media landscape.

"We are in the process of looking to resource a new curriculum that facilitates broadcast journalism, online, print and radio," said Mike Birch, a professor of MCLA's English/Communications Department. His interest is not only expanding the journalism curriculum to keep with the times, but in exploring new technologies that enable student learning across the college.

"I think it will draw in new faculty and new ways of thinking," Birch said.

Paul LeSage, associate dean of academic affairs, said that while there are some efforts on campus, like the multimedia content produced by The MCLA Beacon student news staff, the college is also looking to develop a level of social media literacy, fluency and practice across all academic fields.

Makayla-Courtney McGeeney, a Beacon staff member and a sophomore studying journalism and public relations, said the transition is evident, even if people aren't specifically aware that it's happening.

"I still read a newspaper, but even when speaking to my housemates, they're talking about whatever they find just through Twitter," she said.

Because of this, she said The Beacon staff is training to learn more about social media and online news production.

For broadcast journalism student Celeste Wheelock, a junior, technology has shown her a world that her eyes physically can't -- she is blind.

"It's definitely made it a lot easier for someone like me who can't see. I can't hop in a car and take a road trip, but I can go online and find a newspaper from Japan to find out what's going on there," she said. Wheelock uses software known as JAWS (Job Access With Speech) which translates and reads text to her.

As a journalism student, she said interacting with a Hardman journalist in residence, like Moran, is helpful because, "you can better understand where they're coming from" and learn what to prepare for.

Zack Finch, a Hardman scholar and assistant professor of English/communications, said that even non-journalism students can take cues from visiting journalists.

"I think journalism is important because it teaches you how to be a writer with an audience, a writer with a purpose," said Finch.

This year, in hopes of broadening its reach and exposure, Spires, MCLA's literary journal, will be published online for the first time next month.

"By using a more shareable platform, we can let other people outside the campus community know what it's all about," he said.


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