Every semester I face this same problem.
I am a university professor of mass media, and the challenge I face is threefold:
- Should I focus on the new media delivery systems, or on the nature, purpose, and impact of the media on news and entertainment consumers?
- If I focus on the delivery systems, how can I be sure my 20-year-old students don’t already know more than I do about them?
- Is anyone really paying attention to the kind of content we are getting from the media these days and, if not, shouldn’t I focus on that?
The challenge of time
The challenge is exacerbated by the fact that I have less than 48 total contact hours with these kids over three months time. In that time I must try and detail the traditions of the news and entertainment media since Day 1 while also going over the sea changes occurring just over the past decade alone.
Can I have a lifeline?
Speaking in tongues
Oh yeah, and add this problem to the mix: Few people have the same idea of what the following terms even mean, at least operationally, today:
- New Media
- Media Convergence
We’re not talking textbook definitions here, although even those change from generation to generation. We are talking about the nature, purpose, and impact of these terms.
Remember the old song lyric, “You say tomato, I say tomahto.” Just substitute any of the above media terms and you get the Tower of Babel scenario existing on college campuses existing between student and prof in talking about the media.
A relic from the past
A couple years ago, for example, I was talking about newspapers in a media class, and I held up an ink-on-paper copy of the Los Angeles Times.
A hand shot up in the back of the class and a student, who acted like he’d never seen one of these artifacts before asked: “Where do you get one of those things?
I’ve become used to what others might perceive as a startling phenomenon, so I suggested simply that the student walk just outside our building and buy one from the newspaper rack. I have no idea what he thought that sidewalk structure was for, since he had undoubtedly passed it several times a day.
The first chapter in the media text I’m using is called, “Media Literacy,” and I’ve come to understand why the author put that topic front and center. It simply means becoming literate about the most powerful institution in our lives today.
Not only is it important, given the huge influence the media have on how we run our daily lives, but it is also something a lot of young people have not thought much about.
Adrift at sea
Here’s what author John Vivian says about this in his book, The Media of Mass Communication.:
“We swim in an ocean of mass communication, exposes 68.8 percent of our waking hours to media messages. So immersed are we in these messages that we often are unmindful of their existence, let alone their influences.”
I mean, they know how to use the technology better than most of us. But what that technology can do for — and to – them is another matter that often escapes their attention.
A loaded weapon
In another realm, one might ask what kind of society we would have if everyone understood how to shoot a gun but gave no thought to how one should behave with that gun.
That’s not such a far-fetched analogy. Just ask the families of those young people like Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi who committed suicide after a sensitive video of him was uploaded to the Web. Or ask the families of the 25 passengers killed on an L.A. commuter train in September, 2008. The driver of that train was texting when he crashed head-on into another one.
Thinking back to my opening dilemma, I recall a saying that suggests we should always play to our strengths. That makes sense to me.
I’ll assume the students know how to pull the trigger of their iPad.
As for me, I’ll focus on gun safety.
I was listening this week to the Mason and Ireland talk show on ESPN/L.A., and was struck by how upset the duo was about NBC’s decision to air tape-delayed programming of the different Olympic events unfolding in London.
With London time running eight hours ahead of L.A., tape delays make sense unless one naively
assumes fans of swimming or gymnastics are going to be in front of their TV at 4 a.m., watching an event occurring live at noon London time.
And the gripe about the false suspense created by the NBC anchors who treat the events as if they haven’t happened yet is also a mystery. Do you really want to have the drama of an event spoiled by first knowing who won or lost?
It seems the Mason and Ireland criticism is more a comment on our times where we expect to know everything we want to know immediately. We’ve become accustomed to just that, thanks to the Internet and the social media.
Sign of the times
It’s a news-now environment that has made it nearly impossible for traditional media to break any significant news that others haven’t already heard about through the online grapevine.
Of course it is easy to find out, in real time, whether Michael Phelps or Missy Franklin has just won another gold. Twitter and Facebook take care of that, as do online sports sites like espn.com or si.com. Right now, for example, I’m looking at live results for women’s individual archery on espn.com.
Can TV be Twitter?
So it seems what critics like Mason and Ireland are actually bemoaning is that traditional media like NBC-TV can’t be more like Twitter. Of course they could if they wouldn’t mind trading their prime-time audience for a handful of stalwart fans in the wee small hours of the morning.
That’s not likely to happen, however, and if I were with NBC, I’d think it would be lunacy to do it. Let television be television.
Even though NBC-TV delays coverage of events, however, the network does offer up an online alternative that streams live coverage. That is found, of course, on nbcolympics.com.In addition to offering a plethora of videos, interviews, analyses, and features about the games and the athletes, the site features a “Live Extra” window that allows viewers to see what is going on right now. This feature is available free for anyone with a cable or satellite subscription that includes NBC or MSNBC.
So again, I’m somewhat baffled by those who seem to think we have to wait for 8 p.m. to roll around each night before we can find out what happened earlier that day in Olympic competition.
What I do find fascinating about these Olympics, however, is the way online and social media coverage has been enhanced since the last games.
A couple years ago, during the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, I wrote a post called, “Canada’s One-on-One Olympics,” noting the ways television had embraced the social media to connect fans with the athletes. We’ve seen that TV/online enhanced coverage blossom during the London Summer Olympics.
Franklin and Bieber
For example, when Justin Bieber tweeted he was so pleased by Missy Franklin’s gold medal win because he is such a fan of hers, Franklin tweeted back, “I just died! Thank you!”
Fans seem to like all this. Here are a couple comments from graduate students in journalism and public relations about the current enhanced coverage of the London Olympics:
The personal side
Kathelin Buxton writes, “I absolutely believe that NBC’s tactic (in the Vancouver Olympics) to share the personal side of the athletes with the audience and extend the viewing experience of the TV screen onto the web, was effective. On the eve of the 2012 London Olympics NBC is employing this same tactic, but has continued to expand the depth of the story for each athlete and to cultivate the relationships, and it has absolutely worked to lure me in. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t follow more than a few athletes on Twitter, or that I didn’ t get sucked into some of the online videos and in depth coverage of these remarkable individuals provided by the network.
The “mom” campaign
“What’s more intriguing is seeing how the Olympic partners and sponsors or getting into this tactic as well, the advertisers have taken notice of the broadcast networks success and are using it to their advantage. P&G’s mom’s campaign showcasing the woman behind the athlete is one of the adverts running and really taps into the personal connection, showing that these individuals are attainable and not behind human reality, but people just like you and I. This helps instill a sense of fandom in the individuals who represent our country. I know I’ll be rooting for Team USA.”
Knowing the athletes
Debbie Kearns observes, “I think viewers feel a more personal connection to the Olympics when they feel like they know the athletes better. NBC, taking a page from popular shows like “American Idol” and “Survivor,” is giving us an up-close-and-personal look at the athletes’ lives and accomplishments – in addition to the pulse-pounding coverage of the Games.
“I think this connects to viewers in a human way, particularly when it’s supplanted with social media interaction and glimpses into what the athletes are experiencing and most of us only dream about. The Olympics is a brand unto itself, and any athlete associated with the Games attracts attention.
A nice escape
“Even if you’re not an avid sports fan (I’m definitely not), the associated advertising and personal athlete stories have a profound and moving impact on viewers. For just a few weeks, we can put the doomsday headlines, personal stress and other negativity aside to admire the determination, sportsmanship and grit displayed by the world’s best athletes. In short, watching the Olympics on TV reminds us all, at least for those few weeks, that we’re all connected as one race: the human race.”
If this last observation is correct, score one more positive impact for the Internet.