Attitudes of Professors and Students about New Media Technology

Article excerpt

It has become impossible to use any of our traditional news media without being told something about how those uses, as well as the media themselves, are being transformed. Information about information-the Information Age, the Information Superhighway, the Information Revolution-is inescapable and, inescapably, contributes to the ways in which those changes are perceived. For journalists and educators, the bombardment hits particularly close to home.

As members of the general public, we see stories about business deals made and broken, about shifting communication policies, about the real and potential impacts of technological change. The number of such stories is increasing by exponential leaps and bounds. For example, the term "information superhighway," which appeared in seven news stories in 23 major print and broadcast outlets in January and February 1992, appeared in 1,145 stories in those same media in the first two months of 1994 (Freedom Forum, 1994). Today, two years later, hardly a day goes by that fails to bring some fresh tidbit about yet another innovation in delivering and accessing information.

As people in the business of communication themselves, media educators and professionals face additional pressures. Quite aside from the voluminous coverage in the mainstream press, journalists cannot open an industry publication without being told how their own jobs have changed, are changing and will continue to change.

Educators, who help shape the ideas and attitudes of those joining the profession, also have begun to be inundated with information about new media technology. Academic exploration of the new media in their first decade was relatively sparse, with articles on "new technology" accounting for just under 10 percent of the articles that were specifically about telecommunications in 15 scholarly journals from 1984 to 1989 (Vincent, 1991). But that pace has picked up considerably in the 1990s. Articles now appear regularly in Journal of Communication,Journalism Quarterlyand Communication Research, along with many more narrowly focused scholarly journals.

In light of the increasing attention, this study considers attitudes toward new media among one group of soon-to-be journalists and current journalism professors. It highlights diverse opinions and perceptions that indicate a need for equally wideranging educational approaches in order to successfully prepare students for careers in this rapidly changing world. In general, the study seeks to increase our understanding of concerns that may shape not only journalists ' own decisions to adopt these innovations, but also the way communication about evolving technologies is structured for an audience that includes journalism students, researchers and practitioners, as well as members of the reading and viewing public. It suggests how educators might build on that understanding.

Method

Journalism and mass communication students and faculty members at a major Midwestern university described their attitudes by Q-sorting statements about new media. Although this report is based on findings from a single program, it is worth noting that the school attracts an unusually diverse group of students.

Among graduate students, many of whom have extensive professional experience, only 25 percent come from within the state; the rest are from out-of-state, and a third of those (or 25% of the total) are from other countries. The percentage of in-state undergraduates is higher, but the number of out-of-state residents is still greater than in any other undergraduate program on campus. The faculty is large and comparably diverse, representing a wide range of professional and academic backgrounds.

"New media" means different things to different people. For some, cable TV may be seen as a new medium. Others would not think of cable as new but might think of media using hypertext links that way. Still others may not yet have been fully aware of such technologies at the time of this study in 1994. …