Finney’s Findings

What is the future of Mass Communications?Speaking with Brandon Chicotsky, new Ph.D., from the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa.

Speaking with Brandon Chicotsky, new Ph.D., from the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa.

MF: What is the future of Mass Communications?

BC: It’s already arrived. The future is already here.

MF: How?

BC: Much of the media that will encompass the majority of user experiences and communication dissemination are in pilot or beta testing from various market segments that include prominent social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat. Examples: Oculus Rift from Facebook, which offers virtual reality immersive social engagement. Right now, VR is iterated through gaming but will soon be part of retail experiences and and communication processes that we most readily associate with traditional media like journalism. So journalism will soon be disseminated through VR experiences. And it will be social, and it will be obtained on platforms like FB today, or some would say fake news.

MF: So then, given this, how do we distinguish between the real and the fake?

BC: It depends on what you consider real, because branded content doesn’t have to be factual to be bottom line effective.

MF: But from an ethical point of view…

BC: Ethically it is terrible, from an ethical point of view I hate it, but we need to figure out how to teach our students to influence that environment. For example, BuzzFeed has changed their content. They started as click bait, but evolved into more reporting-based social feeds, and are now moving in a direction where one can click through and find in depth pieces in digestible language, similar to what you might find on Skim or Vice, which offers human interest stories.

MF: But how do we deal with the ethics of sites that don’t do it?

BC: But you asked me what the future is, not what the ethical environment is. The future is going to be a messy, chaotic, internet environment delivered through social experiences. And there will be ethical challenges posed to those who are on the front lines of dissemination, which are very likely our students. Their challenge will be to measure the business objective of their jobs with the journalistic ethic that we teach.

MF: So you see the traditional media continuing to fade away?

BC: Yes, it will evolve into an instant gratification landscape. The most readily accessible and gratifying news will be the primary source of exposure for consumers.

MF: And everything else gets compared against that.

BC: Well, everything else will be less salient because of its minimal social component.

MF: So, in a sense, we’re going back to Ivy Lee’s world of yellow journalism, the first to tell the story wins?

BC: It’s different because the new model is built on potential captive user experience and trending in order to drive advertising revenue, compared to constructed narrative for stakeholder interest.

MF: But we still have the constructed narrative for stakeholders.

BC: That will still exist but it could be overtaken by the priority of more viral or trending storylines regardless of constructed principles or PR initiative. A meaningless story about a dress on the Internet could make more news than a political story, spun out of genuine controversy.

MF: Which we have already seen. If news is that thing that we’re supposed to use in order to be an informed constituency, and if we’re in a world where our media organizations are using “trending and reach” as their criteria of newsworthiness, what does that mean for our civic body?

BC: It will undoubtedly degrade, as will our civic discourse, but that is tied to our education system which has less emphasis on civics than previous generations. But it will create a more engaged media society.

MF: What’s that?

BC: Which presents an opportunity for civic innovation for journalistic activism, much of which can be drafted out of the academic environment for the betterment of society.

MF: Such as?

BC: Student newspapers. The civic priority is often enacted among student populations and the student publications can become a frontline of instilling the fourth pillar of democracy if those publications become successful they may provide the market indication that broader journalistic industriousness towards civic activism is possible, which of course would be a reclamation project.

– Dr. Mark Finney

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