Monday, February 16, 2009

Teaching the Digital Natives

We need to recognize that we teach the front edge of the networked generation. Our freshman grew up with the rapidly maturing internet, and from this point forward, they will be the digital natives. Their world is the one without time or space; they have lived their lives with the answers to questions at their fingertips. They bring a more cosmopolitan view to college. We must respect them as thinkers and meet them where they are. There is no awe in the classroom. That access to information makes them both smarter, and more vulnerable. We must recognize that the low barrier to entry into Networked Media is open to all – the journalist, the honest advocate, the provocateur and the propagandist.

Multiple platforms lead to multiple personas among journalists; a rise of the punditry class. The generation that grew up with the Crossfire school of polarized debate doesn’t understand the studied objectivity of Woodward and Bernstein. The blogger generation sees objectivity achieved simply through transparency. As long as all the cards are on the table, it is an honest game. They don’t see that revealing ones bias or connections to a story does not always equal fairness. The blogosphere contends that to say Woodward and Bernstein were objective is to overlook the obvious – they were convinced of the guilt of Nixon; as surely as the New York Times staff today was toward the Bush administration and Iraq foreign policy. What they were was scrupulously fair and meticulous in their attempt to get the story right.

Is this to say that we abandon traditional objectivity because it is no longer the fashion of the day? Let me be clear – no. At the same time, we would not be preparing our students for the sliding scale of personality that exists in the Networked Media if we don’t address it. Future employers require straight news coverage, but also request opinionated blog entries. A journalist who covers the state capital turns around and appears as a part of an opinion panel in another medium.

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