Democratizing the News Media: New Technologies May Be Changing Journalism -- but Will They Also Make It Easier to Participate?

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Democratizing The News Media: New Technologies May be Changing Journalism. -- But Will They Also Make It Easier to Participate?

Now that enormous quantities of raw information are available to anyone with a computer and a phone line, questions arise not only about the role of journalists and journalism educators, but also about whether people of color will be an integral part of the information superhighway.

At the recently concluded National Association of Hispanic Journalist's (NAHJ) Conference in Chicago, the focus was on new technologies and their impact on the journalism profession. The conference was titled: "Welcome, Move Ahead. The Future is Here." Its focus was on the need for journalists "to be fluent in yet another language, the language of computers."

Said an organizer, "More and more media companies continue to venture into new [areas]. Newspapers, television networks and radio networks are unveiling Web pages faster than you can say Internet...On-line, digital, World Wide Web and cyberspace are fast becoming media industry buzzwords."

The conference, by its very existence, made plain what Claremont College's Tomas Rivera Center (TRC) and other think tanks have warned about: a technological gap exists between communities of color and mainstream society. As if to buttress this assertion, very few Latino information and technology companies participated in the conference.

Further Separation?

In a report last year on Latinos and the information superhighway, TRC warned: "While technology has the potential to support democratic principles, without a guiding social contract the highway may further separate our already segmented society."

Henry Ingle, chairman of the communications department at the University of Texas at El Paso and vice president of technological planning, worries that this gap between the information "haves" and "have-nots" will also affect schools of journalism. While he believes the role of journalists is becoming more important in the information age, he is not so sure that schools of journalism will be able to keep up with the technological demands.

"The advances in technology will require journalists to do more critical analysis, more in-depth stories," says Ingle. "It will require them to go deeper into their stories. As a result [of the information explosion], journalism and journalists will become much more important."

But, beyond that fact, Ingle says, "The Internet is not mass technology. It's a personal technology. People go to the Internet as individuals, not en masse."

Rising to the Challenge

Through the use of fiber optics, the Internet will eventually combine with cable television (with up to 500 channels), and access will be much faster. Although there is an abundance of information on the Internet, someone still has to verify and corroborate the information.

Says Ingle: "Someone has to check references [and] original sources...multiple sources become more important. Someone still has to check the accuracy of the facts. Computers don't have superpowers."

In light of this, says Ingle, the biggest question facing schools of journalism is, Who will train future journalists in both in-depth analysis and the new technologies? Currently, he says, journalists aren't trained in in-depth analysis. For that reason, Ingle is pushing for a new approach to educating journalists.

In addition to teaching journalism and communication skills, Ingle would require that journalism students receive a well-rounded education -- especially in the fields of economics, education and political science. Following this approach, he reasons, journalism schools would teach students how to analyze information, not just present it.

Ingle is not sure that the schools are up to the challenge. He suspects that the industry itself, which is profit-driven, may take the lead in this training.

"That's a slap in the face to schools of journalism," says Ingle. …