prof. e.

Mass Communication, [multi]media, methodology and much, much more!

Archive for April, 2011

Digital Tools of the Trade

Posted by prof e on April 20, 2011

A recent article critical of technology requirements  for students attending Missouri School of Journalism got me thinking about what should be the minimal tool-set required for students of mass media. The article focused on student objections to a proposed requirement that each student purchase an iPad. Previously students were required to purchase either an iPhone or iPod Touch and other journalism programs, e.g. Virginia Tech, have required incoming students to have a laptop with specific software. Specific courses at various universities may require students to purchase a digital camera, audio recorder or external hard drive in addition to a course textbook and recordable media. The days of books, pencils, binders and 3-hole punched paper are long gone!

Here at CSU-Pueblo we have avoided requiring majors to purchase specific hardware but that may be changing. For several years we have been charging a course fee for certain laboratory-based classes that have a technology component. The fee, ranging from $25 to $50 per course, has helped to defray the cost of computer hardware and software and audio and video recording hardware and media. The University is moving away from course fees and proposing “department fees” that would be applied to every student who has declared a major. For example, a $5 department fee would add an additional $5 per credit hour to all MCCNM majors in an attempt to recoup some of the cost of offering courses that require access to expensive technology. For a student taking 15 credit hours, this would add $75 to the cost of each semester enrolled. Some students, and their parents, may object to these additional fees forcing university administrators to look for other ways to address the cost of technology. One such idea, also controversial, is the one taken by Missouri School of Journalism–to make the technology a prerequisite for students enrolling in the major or in specific courses.

So that got me thinking. What exactly should a mass communication major at CSU-Pueblo, or any other respectable university, have in his/her toolbox of media technology? At a minimum, anyone working in journalism should have a digital camera (still and video), an audio recorder, and, ideally, software on a tablet or laptop that allows for photo, audio and video editing. Without endorsing a specific platform or product line it must be noted that an Apple iPhone or iPad contains all of the above features. Better quality and flexibility can be gained by purchasing the components separately, but the cost would certainly be higher. For a few hundred dollars you can secure a digital still/video camera, and an audio recorder can be had for under $100. However, the editing/encoding/uploading process will likely require a laptop and software that may add $1000 or more. Extensive digital audio and video editing will require extended storage. The good news is that a 1TB hard drive can now be purchase for less than $80 and recordable optical media is relatively inexpensive.

If you want to work in design and layout of print media, a laptop with Photoshop and a page layout program such as InDesign may be the minimal setup with a price tag approaching $1,000. For those who want to work in TV/Film and related visual industries DSLR cameras capable of HD are now readily available for about a thousand dollars. Add another $1,500 or so for the editing hardware/software.

My point in all of this is to ask the question, what is an appropriate level of university support for future media professionals and what should be expected of students? Would a music major be expected to own his own instrument? How about an art major? Do they purchase all or some of their tools and supplies? How about in the sciences? At what point do chemistry or biology lab fees kick in to provide everything from beakers to cadavers?

What do you think? What kind of technology would you be willing to purchase on your own and what do you expect your tuition and fees to provide?


Posted in journalism, new media | 42 Comments »

Nuclear’s PR Problem

Posted by prof e on April 6, 2011

Some time ago I wrote about the PR problems confronting the climate change community. Questions about the integrity of the supporting scientific data were raised after leaked emails suggested that researchers had a hidden agenda.

The nuclear energy industry in America, and the world, is experiencing a PR problem as well. Part of the problem can be attributed to historical events while another part appears to be based on irrational fears surrounding nuclear technology. But certainly a significant part of the problem surrounding public perceptions about nuclear energy can be traced to mass media portrayals of real and imaginary nuclear events.

This blog post will not be an attempt to defend or defame nuclear energy or the nuclear power industry, but rather to explore the source of public perceptions about the nuclear power industry and how the media have contributed to that perception.

The China Syndrome, starring Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon and Michael Douglas, arrived in theaters on March 16, 1979. According to the NY Times, “With the no-nukes protest movement in full swing, the movie was attacked by the nuclear industry as an irresponsible act of leftist fear-mongering.” But then, just twelve days later, the nuclear industry experienced a devastating blow when an accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania raised new fears about the safety of nuclear power. I grew up just down the road (and down wind) from Three Mile Island and was quite aware of the pandemonium that ensued in the days following. In fact, the fallout from Three Mile Island is frequently blamed for a virtual halt to nuclear power development in the US. While public fear and panic was substantial, the physical damage from TMI was relatively minor. Again, the NY Times:

The T.M.I. accident was, according to a 1979 President’s Commission report, “initiated by mechanical malfunctions in the plant and made much worse by a combination of human errors.” Although some radiation was released, there was no meltdown through to the other side of the Earth — no “China syndrome” — nor, in fact, did the T.M.I. accident produce any deaths, injuries or significant damage except to the plant itself.

The most serious nuclear accident happened in April of 1986 at the Chernobyl reactor in the Ukraine. The accident resulted in 57 deaths, primarily among workers involved in attempts to contain and clean up the damaged reactor. And most recently, news coverage of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility damaged by the 8.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami has contributed to widespread fear of nuclear radiation poisoning, although no effects of radiation exposure have been recorded to date [link].

Despite the relatively few deaths and injuries related to nuclear power production, a significant segment of the public is strongly opposed to nuclear power based on concerns over safety. Media coverage of the Fukushima story continues to emphasize “potential” harm from radiation exposure even though there is little evidence of real consequences.

Of course who can blame us for being a little nervous. Godzilla, a mutant product of a nuclear explosion, wreaked havoc while the movie’s anti-nuke message resonated with post-WWII Japanese. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles gained their power from nuclear ooze while their impressionable adolescent fans “learned” nothing about the actual physics behind the technology. And with an inept Homer Simpson at the controls of the local nuclear power plant, disaster appears to be inevitable.

Whether it is sensational and/or uninformed reporting of news events or fictional portrayals of our worst nuclear nightmares, the media have been steadily building a case against nuclear in the court of public opinion. Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, authors of Freakonomics, dubbed the media’s role the Jane Fonda Effect and concluded their article by predicting that the future of nuclear power in the US, “may all depend on what kind of thrillers Hollywood has in the pipeline.”
What do you think? Have the media given nuclear power a fair shake?


Posted in media effects, PR | 38 Comments »