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My Walk in Wonderland: Theory Turned Practice

April 21, 2011

What we take for granted: television, telephones, e-mail, the Internet and time.  And that’s just from where I’m sitting at a particular time in a particular place on a rock spinning through space.

I’m watching a live baseball game from Baltimore as I’ve just e-mailed my sister in Pennsylvania while checking for missed calls from who knows where as I’m writing a blog that might exist (depending on your philosophical stance) for an electronic eternity.  And I’m actually behind the times.

I could be tweeting this (though that creates the conundrum of whether the act of tweeting becomes its own content). Or using my Web cam to Web cast my act of web casting. 

So conjugate this thought:  The medium is the message, is the messenger, is the mess.

No wonder we have such trouble in wonderland.

But just today wonderland—which, being wonderland has its own citizenry of wonderful people—paid off. Today, seven print journalists realized a little magic.  They learned how to render and save video so that it could be sent literally all over the world.  Two weeks ago they weren’t on a first-name basis with the software.  Four hours later, some of those students were involved in a breaking news story complete with a threat of lawsuits (just to add a bit of spice) about a local company that sells a likely-to-soon be illegal sex enhancement drug.  The editor managed to find the “company headquarters” using Google maps.  Turns out to be a house in Florida with a pickup truck out front.  Another found a diagram of the chemical structure.  A third was searching business licenses online to verify that the owners were who they said they were.

And all of this came two weeks after the staff broke a story on a professor charged with battery after purportedly shutting a laptop on a disruptive student’s fingers.  (Student claimed a broken finger.)  That story came with its own police harassment and threat of a lawsuit.  But that wasn’t the fun part.  The fun part—the object lesson—was that in less than a day the story had gone national online and climaxed a day or two later with  a mention (I’m told but haven’t had time—pardon the pun– to verify) in Time magazine.   It clearly hit a nerve as it sparked a debate about classroom discipline. (By the way, comments are running 3 to 1 in favor of the professor.)

The second object lesson—what I teach students from day one—is that journalism changes people’s lives. Two people—the professor and the student—will never be the same because they became a disembodied topic on the Internet saddled with the long tail of a story long after their 15 minutes of fame expired.

The upshot is that wonderland has been a busy place of late, teaching us to take a moment out of time to consider action and consequence. Real people acquired new tools to tell the news.  Real people got hurt because the news was told.

The final object lesson—that technology makes theory turned practice too powerful to take for granted—should be taught daily in the classroom and newsroom, even in wonderland.

 Especially in wonderland.

Pat Miller

Valdosta State University

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 22, 2011 10:13 pm

    This is wonderful. You have managed to integrate theory with the experience of students publishing online, something I hope students will get to share with you, as well as the joy of doing real journalism that actually gets read! My hat is off to you!

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