Over loaded plates of linguine and pork chops, about 15 students crowd around a dinner table above Butler College’s Wu Dining Hall. They’ve gathered to discuss the nebulous future of journalism – and to “geek out” over NPR’s This American Life .
The students, many of whom are aspiring journalists, are here for Butler’s Wednesday night “new media” discussion table. Led by Ferris Professor of Journalism Dan Grech ’99, students and faculty members discuss new media – essentially, journalism in the digital age – and meet multimedia journalists. This week, it’s producer Lisa Pollak of This American Life , and excited students spill onto nearby couches.
“The idea is to create a space on a weekly basis where students and interesting members of the faculty can have a conversation,” said Grech, a former reporter for The Miami Herald and for NPR’s Marketplace , who will be the radio news director for the WLRN Miami Herald report when he leaves Princeton this spring.
But the new media conversation is just starting at Princeton, he says. As Grech explains it, “We’re a little behind the times.”
The former University Press Club stringer describes the college campus as an ideal setting for “experimentation” in journalism – places where students can find new and different ways to reach out to audiences and tell stories.
“Because the cost of experimentation in this new media age is relatively low, college campuses should be at the forefront of the kind of experimentation that this new media age requires. Sadly, very few campuses live up to this potential,” Grech said.
Princeton’s Humanities Council sponsors new media courses each semester, including Grech’s class “The New Audio Age of Journalism,” but some students say they want more opportunities to learn on the frontiers of journalism.
“Unless you’re one of the few people lucky enough to get into one of the journalism classes or you’re involved in WPRB, there’s really not that much of an opportunity to get into broadcasting or new media,” said Ian Auzenne ’10, chief engineer at WPRB and one of the students at the dinner.
As campus media outlets adapt to the changing industry, however, students are gaining opportunities to work with new media tools.
Matt Westmoreland ’10, editor-in-chief of the Prince , said that the newspaper has been attempting to shift its focus to the Web site, which features slide shows and podcasts and gets an average of 30,000 pageviews per day.
“Not only is there so much more we can do on our Web site that we can’t do in print, but there will come a time in the future when The Daily Princetonian is an online-only publication,” Westmoreland said. “We need to make sure that we’re making as much progress as we can, so that when that time comes … we’ve built a new media infrastructure that will have the opportunity to grow even more.”
An increasing number of campus publications are finding a place on the Web, to expand their readership and offer more multimedia content. Well-established magazines like American Foreign Policy (www.afpprinceton.com) and Tiger Magazine (www.tigermag.com) are just now launching Web sites.
“We were looking at other magazines on campus and at other colleges, and they all had online components,” said Myra Gupta ’12, editor-in-chief of the 127-year-old Tiger Magazine . “We figured it was time to enter the 21st century.”
The newest trend in campus media seems to point to an online model that embraces blogging and multimedia. Three of Princeton’s newest publications,Equal Writes (http://equalwrites.blogspot.com, soon to be www.equalwrites.org),the University Press Club’s The Ink (www.universitypressclub.com) and Students For Education Reform’s American Education Review were started as Web sites.
“We began as a blog because there were very few (if any) Web-only publications on campus [last fall], and we felt that people were inundated with print that they didn't really read,” said Amelia Thomson-Devaux ’11, who started the feminist blog Equal Writes with Chloe Angyal ’09 last year.
“I think that people in our generation want to get their news as they multitask, so they will look at pictures while they listen to an audio feature, or watch a video as they skim an article,” said Catharine Bellinger ’12, editor-in-chief of American Education Review, which launches officially in December. “An online format gives us more flexibility in the type of content we can produce.”
The impact of new media on traditional journalism has emerged as a prominent theme at the discussion tables. Tonight, students talk about adapting storytelling from print to radio and ask Pollak about how This American Life host Ira Glass interviews his guests. One student, gushing that he has listened to almost every episode of the show, begins a wave of what Grech welcomes as “geeking out” about This American Life .
These tables serve to give students a taste of how media outlets are experimenting with technology. But with guests like Amy O’Leary, multimedia editor of The New York Times ’ Web site, and Marc Fisher ’80, enterprise editor of The Washington Post , these weekly dinners also have allowed students to interact with prominent journalists on a more personal level.
As the evening stretches on and the pasta is replaced by cheesecake, the talk drifts to reporting tips and stories from Grech, Pollak, and science journalist Michael Lemonick, who also teaches at Princeton.
“It does get people to think about what’s going on in the greater world of new media and how to bring it back to Princeton,” says Aku Ammah-Tagoe ’11, a student in two journalism classes, including Grech’s audio course. “At the same time, this discussion table is kind of fun – it’s talking to people about their jobs and what they do for a living.”