Spring 2006, NY Matrix
Despite reports to the contrary, the “digital divide” remains alive and well, although altered. The term originally described the fear that technology would rest overwhelmingly with the wealthy, while those who couldn’t afford computers would fall further behind. Now, it distinguishesthose who understand and use information and communications technologies
(ICTs) from those who don’t.
Staying abreast of tech developments is tough—no matter how savvy you may be today. But it’s an imperative for communications professionals. The currency of new media is content, and the explosion of multimedia channels has created tremendous opportunities within the industry. Those who can use new media effectively will thrive; those who can’t will
find their options limited.
CHANGING COMMUNICATIONS CURRICULA
Many universities now offer courses that focus on new media opportunities, making it possible for new graduates to get their careers off to a running start.
Lauren Mack, a master’s student at Columbia and a 2005 NYWICI scholarship winner, specializes in print journalism, but she took a class on building a website to increase her marketability.
New media forms haven’t swayed Mack from her ambition to write magazine articles, but they have convinced her of the need for crosstraining. “The media are overlapping: print, Internet, broadcast/radio. When you write for a newspaper, the newspaper usually has a website so they can reach people online and in print.
“You have to reach people in more than one way now. If they are not reading your work, what’s the point?”
The changing media landscape prompted Jennifer Elliott, another NYWICI scholarship winner, to return to school.
“Emerging technologies and new platforms bombard us constantly. Keeping up is an exhausting challenge,” says Elliott, who’s pursuing a master’s in media studies at The New School. “I felt I needed to reground myself in the theory and basics of media so I could understand and navigate better as new technologies come.”
When she graduated from New York University in 1995, Elliott literally spliced film strips to edit video. Hands-on video editing has gone the way of the floppy disk, and NYU has long since replaced its tape decks with digital editing systems.
“Going back to school, whether you are pursuing a degree or taking continuing education classes, gives you exposure to the latest technologies and programs in an environment where you can explore and take risks freely,” Elliott says.
KEEPING UP WITH THE JOBSES
Even new college grads face the daunting task of tracking new technologies. According to Professor Sreenath Sreenivasan, Dean of Students at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, the challenge hasn’t really changed since 1995. Ten years ago, no one knew which technologies would stick and which ones would fade away. While the specific innovations have changed, people still don’t know which ones have staying power.
And that’s okay, according to experts like Wenda Harris-Millard, Chief Sales Officer of Yahoo! and winner of the 2005 Matrix Award for Online Media. Soothsaying isn’t necessary; desire to learn is.
“Don’t be afraid of [technology],” says Millard. “You need to read about it—not necessarily from a technical standpoint, but from an informational one. You want to learn what’s available out there…who’s doing what with it and why. You need to learn
from those in the know what the communications implications are: How do these devices and ways of experiencing content affect communications opportunities? And very important, you need to try it yourself.”
Laurel Touby, founder of mediabistro.com, recommends the following approach to keeping up with technology:
- Read The Wall Street Journal and the business section of The New York Times every day, without fail.
- Circle any unfamiliar buzzwords and search for these terms on the Internet.
“You can be your best educator,” she says. “First, learn the terminology. Second, try to figure out ways to implement the new technologies with your current clients. Don’t wait for your clients to bring up these crazy, off-the-chart ideas.”
PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE
The ultimate key to succeeding as a communications professional lies in the ability to use the new media effectively.
“The challenge for a brand in keeping communications consistent and on brand is incredible,” says Elliott, who spent several years as a branding director. Sending a message via mobile telephone differs vastly from marketing in print or on television. “The relationship between the consumer and the brands is completely different than it was 10 years ago.”
New media have placed control firmly in the hands of consumers.
“In an age of digital media, consumers can have what they want when they want it and how they want it—and they demand that,” Millard says.
“Marketers are challenged to find just the right combination of consumer touch points so that their messages get to the right people at the right time on the right device.
“The great news is that never before have marketers had an opportunity to engage consumers with their brands as they do now.”
Touby recommends finding creative ways to get clients’ products in the hands of influencers and tastemakers. “Those people are the ones who drive exponential growth of your idea,” she says. “Make sure you’re getting your clients mentioned in other blogs pertinent to their industry. If you can get their gadget mentioned on Gizmodo, you’re the king. That’s the coolest of the cool.”