On the third day of class I asked Professor Robinson to change the seating of the class. The tables were lined up like this:
I didn’t like it. And, as the most important person in a classroom of 35 students, I decided to ask to change it to this:
Classroom seating is something I hold very dear to my heart. I don’t like looking at the back of people’s heads when they speak and I like being able to make eye contact with people when I talk (and make sure they’re not rolling their eyes at my jokes).
There were a few grumbles at first but the seating stayed that way for the rest of the semester.
Was it because of me? Maybe.
Was it because people were too lazy to move the tables back? Probably.
In our U-shaped paradise, we had a lot of discussions about the future of mass media. They were usually insightful and sometimes redundant, but I think the U-shaped made the discussions more personal, more intimate and more open to free-flowing conversation.
When talking about the history of journalism and media, we tended to focus on the contributions of individuals. Shawn Fanning, Mark Zuckerburg, Steve Jobs, Tim Berners-Lee, etc, etc. We lauded them for their creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. We looked to them as the people we could become.
While we looked at these heroes of media and technology, we also developed a central theme (or so I think) in the course: Technology will continue to make us more interconnected and the dissemination of information and news is revolutionizing journalism and how we interact with the world around us.
So we had this funny contradiction throughout the semester: we harped on our ever-increasing interconnectedness as we looked to individuals who single-handedly changed mass media.
Professor Robinson liked to say, “Someone in this room is the next Zuckerburg, someone will come up with the next big idea.”
I would look around the room at everyone and wonder which one of us would do it. And I couldn’t narrow it down. At first I thought it was because our classroom was flooded with talent and ingenuity. I still think that, but there isn’t going to be one student who flips their tassel to the other side of their cap and skyrockets to success with the best idea ever.
The future of journalism isn’t a one-man show. The ideas that will push mass media into the future aren’t going to be lightbulb moments from one brilliant person. One person isn’t going to save journalism. If our world is more interconnected, why won’t our ideas be interconnected too?
When I was doing my final project, I was frustrated that I was supposed to write 10 pages on what I thought would happen to mass media in the future. I was writing about the future of political satire and political reporting and I knew that change was coming. But I couldn’t figure out what the change would be. Initially, I was annoyed at myself – how could someone so incredibly smart and innovative not have anything more than speculation about the future? Of course, with my face I can never be mad at myself for long; I realized it was wildly contradictory for me to think one person should be able to come up with the idea that will change mass media.
I understand that Professor Robinson wasn’t expecting our final projects to be accurate predictions of mass media in 10 years (although it would be funny to read my paper again in 2025). Yet, I felt that our individual final projects mirrored how journalists and publications are addressing the future. They’re waiting for that one person to come up with that one idea. That’s not going to happen.
The future of journalism depends on the kind of discussions we had in class. They depend on me nodding when Hallie says something insightful and then I raise my hand and contribute, and one of the Nicoles takes it and adds something I would never think of.
Having the mentality that ideas come from one insider or a group of experts is dangerous. It’s a threat to journalism and the critical role journalism plays in society. The individualistic attitude means people try to develop solutions on their own and discourages the “outsourcing” of ideas to others who could contribute.
We’re a part of a world that sees constant interaction between people and their opinions. The entire world is a U-shaped think tank and the future depends on us understanding this. We need to tweet our budding ideas, share them on Facebook and bring them up in mass media classes.
That’s the most important thing I’ve learned this semester. It’s not that one of us will grasp the solution, it’s that we have the technology and the means to communicate in a way that encourages widespread problem-solving. And we need to embrace it.