I’m back from my one-day visit to Columbia, Mo., where I witnessed two of the big events held to mark the centennial of the world’s oldest school of journalism. As I wrote earlier, I’m a graduate of that school and wanted to be part of the commemoration. My wife and I attended two events:
- The President’s Roundtable: Communication for a Digital Globe, a panel discussion about the future of journalism, communications, etc., featuring a cross-section of journalists, technologists and thought leaders.
- The dedication ceremony for the Reynolds Journalism Institute, a building and program designed to explore new technologies, citizen journalism, and the future of journalism and communications in an increasingly disintermediated world.
The President’s Forum was interesting, but shed no new light for those who’ve been listening to the discussion about the future of journalism and media over the past decade. Ably moderated by J-School grad Russ Mitchell, an anchor and correspondent for CBS News, the panel peered into their crystal balls and described what they saw for the future of media and communications. One technologist on the panel, Ralph de la Vega, the president and CEO of AT&T Mobility, kicked off the discussion by describing a world of all-pervasive mobile communications, where your mobile device will wake you up in the morning, start your coffee pot, and read you the day’s headlines all before you’ve put on your robe and slippers. Offering a less glowing view was another technologist — David W. Dorman, chairman of Motorola — who pointed out that much of the innovation in mobile computing was occurring outside the United States. (de la Vega later countered that the rise of the iPhone was proof that U.S. companies — or at least Apple — were leading innovation.)
Bridging the divide between the technologists and journalists on the panel was Susan L. Bostrom, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Cisco. Bostrom talked about the emergence of “empowered end users” — folks like you and me, the bloggers, tweeters, YouTubers, social networkers — who have changed the communications game.
This bothered Mitchell and fellow J-School grad Mark Hoffman, now president of CNBC. Both expressed fears about the future of journalism as we know it. “Is anyone worried that there will be no gatekeepers? I know I am,” said Mitchell at one point. Motorola’s Dorman seemed to downplay the significance of blogging and other forms of citizen journalism, saying that the idea of “citizen journalist” is the same as “amateur physician.”
Dave Senay, the president and CEO of Fleishman-Hillard, put a good spin on the future of PR in these times. The business of public relations has always been about “informing people, persuading people, and connecting people to people,” he said, and that’s what social networks facilitate. Senay predicted “unlimited horizons” for the PR business.
Hoffman’s best contribution to the discussion was to point out that regardless of the medium or the technology, the most important thing for business is to know what the customers want and create the services and products that will meet their needs.
As for the dedication ceremony for the Reynolds Journalism Institute, it was, like most dedication ceremonies, too long. One would think that former journalists in charge of creating the program for such an event may have been assigned to cover such an event at some point in their careers. One would hope they would have remembered how tedious such events can become for the audience. But that wasn’t the case for this event. None of the speakers were that long-winded, really — it’s just that there were too many of them, too many introductions, and too much of the same gratuitous thanking of the donors. But maybe it’s because I was standing in the back of the room. Thankfully, I could watch the presentation on one of the institute’s big-screen monitor embedded in the walls — this is a state-of-the-art media facility, after all.
The building itself is impressive. But like most buildings designed to be state of the art — and designed to showcase the latest and greatest (read: most expensive) technological advances — it’s only a matter of time — and a short time in this climate of rapid innovation — before the facility becomes aged. That’s too bad, but it’s going to take a lot of money to keep the facility up to snuff in the coming years.
I hope I’m not coming off as too critical about this institute. It is an impressive structure, with impressive labs and impressive research under way. I think the Reynolds Journalism Institute will play an important role in advancing the craft of journalism into the future. And I’m proud to be a graduate of a school that is foresighted enough to develop such a place.