Online Journalism Expert Discusses Internet’s Impact on the Media

Professor-in-residence Rick Hancock talks about the current state of the news business.

Emmy-nominated Fox 61 news anchor Rick Hancock is teaching three courses this semester, including Advanced Online Journalism. An assistant professor-in-residence with the journalism department in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Hancock was selected in 2003 as an Academic Fellow by the Western Knight Center for Specialized Journalism.

He recently sat down with staff writer Colin Poitras to discuss the current state of the news business, and how UConn is preparing journalists for the future. These are edited excerpts from the interview.

Rick Hancock, assistant professor-in-residence of journalism, works on his computer. Photo by Frank Dahlmeyer
Rick Hancock, assistant professor-in-residence of journalism, works on his computer. Photo by Frank Dahlmeyer

Q: What do you feel newspapers, broadcast television, or radio must do to stay relevant in a world dominated by multimedia and the endless boundaries of the Internet?

A: Create multimedia. Create content that’s relevant, understanding the power of the Internet. The Internet’s greatest power is its level of interactivity. That’s not in our nature as journalists necessarily – to engage with the public. We produce a story, write a story, we broadcast a story, and that’s it. We followed all the solid tenets of journalism, what else is there to be said? Why would you question my authority about what I produced? Well, the Internet has allowed people to question that, engage, share, debate, add to the conversation, and that’s been a culture shock to a lot of journalists who never had to deal with that, especially journalists who have been in the field for a number of years. The Web has democratized news and information in a way that some journalists are still struggling with.

Q: It sounds like journalism today needs to redefine itself and its relationship with its market.

A: Journalism is journalism. How we approach it is what’s changing. Telling great stories, factual stories, transparent stories, speaking truth to power, all those really important elements of journalism – that’s not going away. How we engage with our public? That is changing and that’s something we have to come to grips with. How we produce our content? How we distribute our content? These are things we need to think of. It’s more of a mindset.

Q: Do you think the Internet will be the demise of newspapers?

A: Will the Internet destroy journalism? No. I think it’s going to increase our ability to communicate. Short term will there be fewer journalists? Yes. In 2008, we lost thousands and thousands of journalists from the payroll. But that doesn’t mean that that’s the end of journalism. I’ve always advocated that entrepreneurial journalism is something we should all be considering. Journalism is a business. We have to understand it’s a business. People are looking at it as a commodity to turn a profit. I think the Web and digital media, mobile media, have created a whole bunch of very unique opportunities for us to dominate some of that space.

Q: Are your students … seeing opportunities beyond traditional formats like print, TV, and radio?

A: They want to be journalists. They want to tell stories. It has nothing to do with the technologies. I teach online journalism and I teach a class – Publications and Practice – and we have students who are creating an interactive journalism website. So we put them through a boot camp of learning Photoshop and Dreamweaver [software] and non-linear editing, and it’s like “Wow, I want to be a journalist. I just want to tell stories. Why do I need to learn all this kind of stuff?” But they realize when they apply for internships and when they apply for jobs … that they … need to be in that space to be competitive.

Q: What is your online journalism class like?

A: In Intro to Online Journalism, students don’t touch any applications for the first two weeks of class. In fact, I have them reading a book called We, the Media, by Dan Gillmor … about where we are in the media. It needs to be put in context. There was a process for how we got here. Then I have them create a blog. But … they can’t just be sitting in their pajamas writing and riffing about the news. They have to go out and do some original reporting. So I teach them these basic elements of “online” journalism, but it’s still journalism. Who, what, when, where, why – sometimes how much. We’re going to be incorporating all those things you are learning in [other journalism] classes, but we’re going to be introducing some of these multimedia tools that you now have at your disposal. And you now have to make the decision, do you use them? Or when do you use them? Online journalism classes are primarily that … it’s getting them into the right framework.

Q: Where do you see the world of journalism five or 10 years from now?

A: I think you’re going to see a lot more migration to digital platforms again out of the Web, mobile devices, gaming systems. … As far as newspapers, we see it right now. They are struggling. Some are folding. … Those that can, survive; those that can’t, die. But the industry of journalism will never die. It’s how we produce it and consume it in the future that’s going to change.

The following are audio excerpts of Rick Hancock from the discussion with staff writer Colin Poitras:

Q: Newspapers and other traditional media outlets are rapidly trying to reinvent themselves in order to survive in the current business climate. They are reducing their size, laying off dozens of reporters and moving a lot of their content to the Internet. Yet many loyal readers and advertisers have not followed. Why has the transition to the Internet been so difficult and why aren’t more advertisers investing in this new online journalism?

A: Rick Hancock on investing in online journalism

Q: Some people worry that the increased role of “citizen journalists” and the unregulated content of the Internet will erode the fundamental principles of journalism and open the door to undisclosed biased reporting and the deliberate misrepresentation of facts. Do you think the Internet will be the demise of newspapers or is it a growing platform and an as yet untapped resource for newspapers and other traditional media?

A: Rick Hancock on the future of printed newspapers

Q: Are your students excited about the new opportunities that may be found through online journalism and the Internet? What expectations do they have when they come to your class? Are they ready to forego traditional media venues such as newspapers, television and radio?

A: Rick Hancock on students and online journalism

Q: Where do you see the world of journalism five or 10 years from now? How will people get their news? Will there still be newspapers? And if so, what will they look like?

A: Rick Hancock on the future of journalism

Q: With so many problems prevalent in the journalism industry today, is this a good time for students to enter the field of journalism? Are you optimistic about the future of the industry?

A: Rick Hancock on journalism as a career