Beyond Gingras: Tech Innovation Alone Will Not Democratize Media

Published Sept. 10, 2012 by PBS MediaShift

The choice of a keynote speaker says a lot about an organization’s outlook, so I was eager to hear what Richard Gingras, Google’s head of news products, had to say at the annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) in August in Chicago. The self-described “technologist” revisited good questions about the future of journalism practice and pedagogy, and received a standing ovation for his calls to “rethink everything” and create “constant innovation” through digital media technology. As he noted, today’s educators will help inspire tomorrow’s innovators.

But his broader message was disconcerting to those of us who feel that a celebration of new digital media too often deterministically assumes that new technological forms will and should dictate journalistic practices and participation. This worship of the limitless potential of technology ignores the limitations faced by journalists and citizens alike as online power is increasingly concentrated in the hands of traditional profit-oriented players who dominate the media landscape and impede the democratic potential of new technology.
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A Philosophy of Teaching

Back in the old days, much time was devoted to pondering the true nature of journalism: Is it a craft or a profession? Today that question seems mostly moot, if not decided. Anyone with the means (certainly not everyone) can practice journalism today, for better and for worse. For the sake of teaching, perhaps we should now wonder whether journalism is an academic discipline rooted in scholarship and the liberal arts or simply a set of vocational tools to be taught—how to make a website, operate a camera, put a sentence together. Ultimately, of course, it needs to be both.

But the challenge facing journalism is the same one facing higher education in general. How does a university best equip young people to grow and flourish as humans while also teaching the often highly technical skills required to be employable? As the university becomes more like a business, it aims to “serve its customers” with the short-term benefit of being able to get a job. But like most profit-oriented business strategies, this neglects the long-term needs of a human and the larger needs of society, as well as the university’s social responsibility to meet those needs.
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I teach courses in journalism and mass communication at Boise State University, and my research focuses on media literacy, media policy, and media sociology, with attention to the role of media in a democracy. Before coming to Boise State, I completed my Ph.D. at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. I’ve worked as a newspaper reporter, documentary filmmaker, musician, record producer, magazine writer, and theatrical lighting designer. This site is intended to provide a sampling of my work and experience as a media producer and scholar.

Department of Communication
Boise State University
1910 University Drive
Boise, ID 83702
Phone: 208-426-4495
Twitter: @sethdashley

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