Last Thursday, I attended the Communication Advisory Council program put on by the College of Charleston’s Department of Communication entitled Traditional vs. New Media: The Times They Are A-Changin’. I have blogged about the Advisory Council before — they are a group of prominent professionals in the communication field who take time out to assist students in honing their skills. They are an absolute blast to work with, too, and Thursday was no exception.
The program on Thursday featured discussion from Bill Hawkins, the executive editor of the Post & Courier who spoke for the state of print media; John Palmer, a former NBC News correspondent who now works with Retirement Living Television, testified to the state of broadcast news; Noel Mermer, publisher of the Charleston City Paper discussed the role of “alternative” weekly newspapers; and finally, Phil Noble, president of Phil Noble & Associates, represented “new media.”
I got a nice surprise when Jason Zwiker stopped in, notebook and camera at the ready. It was especially cool to have a fellow blogger stop in for a very relevant topic (I’m surprised I didn’t see more of you out there!). We both frantically took notes as Bill Hawkins discussed the increasingly locally-focused role of the Post & Courier and how Charleston.Net is about to drive their newsroom when they launch the new site next month. I was impressed with his confidence in his Web strategy, as he declared “I am an editor that embraces the Web.” That’s how a newspaper survives (and thrives!) in this 21st Century media climate, and I’m very impressed with it. (I think that what has transpired with the Lowcountry Blogs group has done a lot to instill this confidence in the upper echelons of the P&C editorial staff. I don’t think I’m too far off the mark with that thought, and I have a feeling a lot of you agree.)
John Palmer was intriguing, as well, because I have always admired broadcast news. His anecdotes were quite interesting and quite hilarious at times. I do think he was more poignant about broadcast TV’s role in the new climate, though. He spoke of the decrease in bureaus in cities, and seemed to think that broadcast news was going to have to find a way to shift to the Internet in order to continue to thrive. He did reiterate to the crowd of mostly students, though, that there will always be jobs for writers, reporters, and producers — Internet, broadcast, or otherwise, those values are all still needed.
I’ve been a fan of Noel Mermer’s City Paper since I first came to the College of Charleston. I’ve watched it grow in popularity and enjoy its unique perspective on Charleston. I’ve also found it to be a great way to find out what’s going on if I ever get that itch to leave the house. He spoke on how it doesn’t get easier from the early days — it is, as he calls it, a “constant battle.” He spoke of how the Web is especially important to the City Paper as they only publish once a week (Wednesdays), though he reiterated that the City Paper doesn’t necessarily intend to compete with the daily paper. Mermer noted that alternative newspapers present many opportunities to embrace technology, and the City Paper certainly has, running a great blog called The Back Channel. Think of it as the City Paper’s irreverent view on topics far and wide, updated daily, with a few reminders of shows and stuff mixed in. It’s a great thing to keep tabs on to help keep tabs on the pulse of Charleston.
Phil Noble, Jr. pulled no punches, saying that the students in the room are “coming of age in the beginning of a revolution.” He had some great advice for everyone in the room, and that is that everyone should have a blog — and I agree. That’s really the beauty (and the pitfall!) of this new medium — everyone can stand up and shout out. Certainly the signal to noise ratio is another topic for another day, but the fact that blogging has become so accessible to anyone with a computer and Internet access (with no real knowledge of Web development or anything required thanks to services like Blogger and WordPress’s hosted blogs) makes the barrier to entry a lot smaller. Noble discussed how citizen journalism is making an unprecedented impact (and cited the “Hillary 1984″ video that made the rounds last week as a great case in point) and that it will supplement or even supplant traditional journalism in the next few years (if it hasn’t already, really). I like his closing advice a whole hell of a lot: “You can change the world. Now go do it.”
After the panelists gave their presentations, we were split up into groups to tackle a breaking news story involving a fictional presidential candidate. In this case, Sen. Horace Fudrucker of Nebraska, running for president on a platform of strong gun control, a federal DWI statute, and compulsory military service to name a few, ran his car into a light pole. It was determined he was driving with a 0.18 BAC and was driving with an unregistered firearm in the vehicle, along with his secretary. The objective of the groups were to tackle the story in the style of either a traditional print newspaper, a broadcast news outlet, an alternative newspaper, or a blog. Jason and I were in a group that handled the story like it was an alternative paper (such as the City Paper, for example.) After getting the initial tongue-twister of “Fudrucker” out of the way (yes, I managed to bungle the “f” and the first “r” in a very inconvenient place), we titled our paper The Lincoln Log (and the companion blog — wait for it — The Lincoln Blog) and went on to create an article called Fudruckus. Because it’s an alternative newspaper with an irreverent bent, we tackled the tough questions, such as what he was drinking (his past includes 30 years as a beer distributor, so wouldn’t it have been ironic if he was drinking vodka or rum?), why he, a married man with four children, was with his secretary (great family values there, too bad he didn’t play that card in his platform!), and if he is ready for that mandatory jail sentence for having an unregistered firearm. It turned out incredibly hilarious. I was unanimously voted to deliver the speech, and it went to perfection. Our group’s story had the room rolling. It was truly great.
Afterward, I met up with a few of the Advisory Council members as well as Noel Mermer. It was great networking and a fantastic experience, as usual. It really bothers me, though, that after the speakers, half of the students got up and left. They, in essence, missed the really fun part. I will never understand that. Did they need to get going early to get their party on (c’mon, it was Thursday for crying out loud), or what? I think they missed out on the best part, and that really bothers me. Such is life, though…
It was a great time, and I’m anxiously awaiting the next Advisory Council visit. It’s a guaranteed great time.