Al Tompkins, Broadcast/Online Group Leader at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, urged Belmont University journalism students to prepare for an interactive, multi-media world rather than for a career in just print or broadcasting, during a class Tuesday at which Tompkins was a guest lecturer. “Interactivity is the future of news,” said Tompkins, a former news director at Nashville’s WSMV Channel 4 and a member of the board of advisors for Belmont’s New Century Journalism Program.
At Poynter, Tompkins writes and teaches about trends in media convergence, and especially on writing, producing, storytelling, ethics and leadership in broadcasting.
Tompkins took students on a brief tour of the changes that the Internet is bringing to journalism, starting with the 1997 special report by Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Mark Bowden detailing the 1993 battle in Mogadishu, Somalia, that led to the deaths of 18 American soldiers. Bowden’s work eventually became a book and a movie, both titled Blackhawk Down.
But it first was a series of newspaper articles that the Inquirer also published online. And the way the Blackhawk Down articles appeared online was revolutionary. Instead of just static text on a web page, Bowden’s articles were filled with hyperlinks to additional materials and resources, raw Pentagon video of the rescue raid, audio, photographs and much, much more. In addition, after publication of his reports Bowden participated in 20 online question-and-answer sessions, or web chats, and all of those are archived on the Inquirer’s website.
“What struck me was not just how cool it was but how it allowed the journalist to interact with the public,” said Tompkins. “Interactivity is absolutely the future of news delivery.”
Tompkins also showed other examples of “converged” media, including an Orange County Register series, “Toxic Treats,” that looked at the problem of imported Mexican candy with a high lead content. That series was published both in print and online, and the web version was also published in Spanish, and with accompanying video reports in both English and Spanish. In addition, the paper published its supporting documentation online, including government documents, lab tests and much more.
“I love that,” said Tompkins, “the transparency of the data.”
Tompkins told the students that, by developing multi-media skills and an ability to produce journalism for print, broadcast and the web, they will have an early career advantage over the thousands of current journalists who are trained for just one media platform.
“You’re going to have to think across media, not just in one media,” he said. “The most important part of the word ‘newspaper’ is not ‘paper.’ News is news. It doesn’t matter what platform we send it on.”
He also noted Wikipedia – an online “open source” encyclopedia that is edited and added to by its readers – and South Korea’s OhMyNews, which is written by thousands of unpaid citizen journalists and edited by a small staff of professionals, as examples of the future of interactive news.
Photo by Belmont University staff photographer Michael Krouskop. Click to enlarge.