Who’s afraid of HTML?

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    Bel Air News & Views had a great time visiting with Towson University’s Writing for New Media class yesterday. We bloggers always appreciate an opportunity to kick off our bunny slippers and mingle in the off-line world. Prof. Thom Lieb invited me to speak to his students after one of them interviewed me for a cool class project they did called Journalists on Journalism. If you follow the link, it will take you to podcasts of interviews journalism students conducted with area media professionals. I was honored to be included in the group. Yesterday, I got to meet Prof. Lieb’s students in person. I had a lot of fun and learned quite a bit. I was pleased to hear Prof. Lieb has a reputation as being merciless with his red pen in copy-editing class. I was disappointed to hear that his class enrollment consistently shrinks to half by the end of the semester because the students are intimidated by the technology he wants them to master. Let me repeat that. His college-age students are intimidated by technology. I was floored. Here I’d been thinking that this peer-to-peer music sharing, iPod toting, text messaging, cell phone fused to the ear generation was going to successfully usher journalism onto the information superhighway, and figure out a way to make money doing it. Apparently HTML gives some of them hives. But if this new generation doesn’t do it, who’s going to find a way to help journalism survive this seismic shift in the way people are getting their news? Who’s going to find a way to capture the attention of distracted, time-starved readers in a way that’s useful and relevant to them and can generate enough money to keep media companies afloat? I still think there is hope. Two Towson students in particular have seized on some key concepts: Be interesting. Be relevant. Get readers. Towson senior Brian Stelter authors the TVNewser blog on the TV news media that gets about 30,000 hits a day and furnishes him with a salary. (He posts at least 10 times a day) Towson junior Ryan Reed started a blog, as required, in Prof. Lieb’s class, then noticed that The Examiner was welcoming citizen blogs. He applied and was accepted a short time ago to write about life at Towson. Click here to see his Examiner blog called The Reed Report. Those 10 students who stuck with Prof. Lieb through the semester are now blogging, creating their own web pages and producing multimedia presentations online. It should serve them well. But, it may be up to them to figure out how to take what they’ve learned and turn it into a viable career. Media companies are just now getting up to speed on incorporating sophisticated multimedia techniques into their coverage and figuring out to generate enough revenue online to make up for what they’re losing in subscriptions to the newsprint products that support them. (See Washingtonpost.com ) Others, like Gannett, are going for a slightly rougher approach using reporters equipped cameras and microphones and laptops they can use to upload dispatches from the front seat of their cars. The internet is providing journalists with a potentially powerful vehicle to tell compelling stories. But we have yet to unleash much of what it can do. Let’s hope students like these find the key.