Go digital or go home. That was the message Dr. Dave Parry, assistant professor of Emerging Media and Communication (EMAC) at UT Dallas, told an audience of journalists at the National Conference of Editorial Writers (NCEW), held Sept. 22–25 in Dallas.
UT Dallas was a sponsor of the event, which included an appearance by Gov. Rick Perry and a keynote address by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
In a session titled, “Emerging Media: What Works, What Doesn’t: How You Can Get Ahead of the Curve,” Parry sat on a panel alongside Paul Burka, senior executive editor of Texas Monthly; and Mark Medici, director of audience development at The Dallas Morning News.
While each discussed their connection to and thoughts on emerging media, Parry differentiated himself right away, saying, “I am not a journalist. It is my job to look at broad cultural changes.” He went on to say that newspapers and their vertical communication business model were in decline and had no future.
“There is a larger opportunity for journalists to do something new,” Parry said. “They have an inherent value and social function. The Internet is creating a sense of horizontal communication, where readers can address other readers and form a crowd, a consensus. Now that anyone with a smartphone can be a ‘reporter,’ journalists are hosting, not driving, conversations.”
According to Parry, within five years the desktop computer will disappear, as the Internet moves into “real space” via mobile devices. He added that this shift means “online and offline aren’t separate spaces anymore.” Journalists must move with this trend, or be left behind, he said.
Parry’s co-panelists had varied opinions about his assessment. Burka, who said he was told to start blogging by his boss, at first felt it was a demotion from his magazine column. But he now feels that the power to reach an audience in the electronic world is much greater than what he experienced in print-only media.
As a newspaper man, Medici took issue with some of Parry’s points, but acknowledged the growing importance of mobile devices and the need to re-evaluate the large core audiences of newspapers to better address their wants and needs.
When an audience member asked how journalists should best strike a balance between their newspaper columns and their online presence, the panel was split. O. Ricardo Pimentel, an editorial writer at The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, said, “The answer was elusive, but all speakers urged editorial boards to go digital as a concrete means to address the changing needs of new audiences.”
And Parry went for broke, advising, “Burn the presses. The more you try to have one foot in each, the more you’ll fail at both.”