Death of print media?

Spent an interesting afternoon yesterday at Prior Pursglove college in Guisborough as a guest of Eric Walsh. Following his attendance on the joint training session we ran back in February he has been exploring with his staff ways to introduce aspects of handheld learning to the college. The specific reason for my visit though was a “guest appearance” lecture to the media students by the editor of the Northern Echo Peter Barron. Peter is a local lad, from Southbank, who has been editor of the paper for 18 years. He outlined the difficulties that he now faces in a rapidly changing world in terms of how people access news. 10 years ago he had a readership of 93000 people, now that is around the 40000 mark. However, he explained that if you factor in the thousands of Twitter followers he has, website hits and Facebook likes then potentially he is hitting more “readers” than ever before. One of his opening questions to the students sat in front of him was “who reads a newspaper?” Through interaction with the audience it became clear that the only student to read a newspaper regularly was a paperboy! The consensus was that most of the students accessed news via the web either through traditional computer browsers or, increasingly, through mobile devices.

Peter developed this theme as it is obviously something that he has had to be aware of for some time and explained how the process of writing and publishing a story has changed immeasurably in the last few years. No longer must a man on a bike wait at Darlington station to take dispatches from reporters across the region to the main news desk to be rewritten, passed through sub editors then onto the presses. Now a reporter will be expected to take footage, write the piece, then transmit it immediately to the newsdesk. Peter suggested that even this will become archaic within a few years, a reporter will be expected to get it right first time and be able to electronically submit a completed piece complete with headline and embedded media from wherever they are. Those are the key skills that he would be looking for in journalists of the future. The role of the “safety net” sub editors will deteriorate dramatically.

This has obvious implications for youngsters wanting to work in the media. High levels of literacy will actually become MORE important as you have to get it right without being checked. The ability to manipulate images, capture the ones that you really need, and embed them into a story are integral to that notion of literacy. Being good at reading and writing in the traditional sense are no longer the defining skills. The move by schools to encouraging use of devices that can capture text, video, stills and sound then allow students to manipulate them for purpose and audience is obviously going to give them a huge advantage over students that have not had that experience through their education.

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