How well equipped do you feel to take on the challenges of producing and sharing your own media content? How confident do you feel that you have sufficient skills to record or edit a piece of video or audio, so that it clearly represents your ideas, and sounds and looks fantastic? Can you interact with this piece of media? Are you getting a buzz from people sharing and talking about it? And, are you making any money from your media endeavors?
In the Department of Media Technology at De Montfort University, I’ve been working with colleagues for over ten years to establish courses that answer the questions above – and more. We’ve pioneered the development of technology and production focused media courses that allow our graduates to say yes to all of the above. Which we have done by establishing an approach to media technology that, I believe, has been ahead of the game. Pioneering even.
From music technology to digital imaging. From electronics for audio production, to television production and 3D imaging. From multimedia technology and radio production, to social media and interactive media. The pace of development and change of our courses has been breathtaking. We’ve pushed the boundaries and broken new ground because we have stuck to our passion for technology. Particularly this is a passion for the power of technology when it is at its most effective – in peoples own hands. “You are what you make” says David Gauntlet, who reminds us that the real potential of new media technologies is clearly to be found in its transformational potential, as a catalyst for new personal and shared experiences. A couple of recent articles in the national press, then, have really stood-out to me in the last couple of days. They have given me a growing sense that other people are now starting to get what we do, and are starting to get in on the act.
Take for example the daily run of stories in the Media Guardian about the latest developments to hit the news industry. The latest new-media push is, of course, in the area of smart phones, tablets and news aggregation. Profiling the NEWS360 app, the Guardian describes how the app has been developed to take advantages of the shift away from an exclusively curated news service, to one that is increasingly based on the aggregation of multiple news sources. The story of the the app described this as a “device for intelligent people who want to read the news and be informed citizens, but who don’t have the time or energy to put a lot of work into it.” Accordingly the main problem that this app sets out to solve is “content overload”, making it possible by using the NEWS360 app “to follow everything [the users] want to follow.”
It’s curious then, that this is process of technological change in the news industry is simultaneously being brought to life in Aaron Sorkin’s latest TV series, The Newsroom. Billed as a look behind-the-scenes at the events at fictional Cable News channel, the series brings to life many of the challenges that a traditional broadcaster is facing in the teeth of a revolution. This revolution started some time ago, but it continues to be felt in the way that we access information via the internet, allowing us to interact with our news makers, and thus to use these new technologies to bring people stories that matter to them, individually. Indeed, The Guardian is running it’s own interactive discussion group about The Newsroom to encourage viewers of the show to discuss the issues it presents. A case of dog-biting-dog perhaps?
The prescience of the moment of change has also been encapsulated for me in another Guardian article by Antonia Senior, who asks a somewhat taboo question – who will survive the media revolution? According to Senior “while humanities graduates squabble over dwindling media jobs, those with technological skills hold the controls to creativity”. Senior outlines how “modern media [is] dogged by a “two cultures” mentality. On one side are the traditional bastions of media – humanities graduates who tell the stories in newspapers, on billboards, in adverts and books. On the other side are the tech crew: the developers who provide the increasingly complex and flexible infrastructure by which those stories can be told.”
Indeed, it has only been a couple of weeks since the BBC Academy announced that they will be developing their own digital media apprenticeships. Caroline Thomson of BBC Academy recently gave a speech to the Apprenticeships Conference where she said “We, the broadcasters, need to produce great content that resonates with the lives of ALL the people we’re trying to reach. So while of course we need people who are bright academically, we need more than that. We need people who bring with them a variety of life experiences and attitudes that reflect those of everyone, whoever or wherever they are.” To do this Thomson suggests that The BBC has a “big issue we’ve got to crack” in the form of “some pretty challenging skills gaps”.
According to Thomson these skills gaps have been made more problematic “by the extraordinary pace of change in technology.” The BBC, Thomson explains, is now all about how they can “support different digital platforms and digital workflows”. These workflows have the “huge potential to bring together technical and creative innovation to encourage an explosion of brilliant new ideas… and we all need those!” says Thomson. Thomson also rightly points out that “ninety years ago when the BBC was founded the second most important person after the Director-General was the Chief Engineer. In the modern media world we are moving back to this territory. Without great creative software engineers and technicians we cannot remain competitive.”
I cannot say that I know where things are going to be heading over the next couple of years, and to what extent things will turn out. But I do know that if we stick to our passion for technology and the user experience that it enables, then we won’t be far off the mark.