By Mark Tatge
DePauw University students are learning how to make Web sites sizzle. But the climb hasn’t been an easy one. In the process, I’ve learned not to discount the importance of habits and culture when assessing the impact of technology on changing behavior.
My conclusion: text will be with us for quite awhile despite what media futurists say.
I am a visiting journalist who teaches multimedia storytelling at DePauw. I always tell students that Web world is a visual one – people graze, they browse. Web users don’t read. When it comes to text, less is more.
It isn’t that my words are lost. The students understand the concept. But I have run into a major obstacle: Like their Baby Boomer parents, these sons and daughters are hooked on the printed word.
As a group, these 18 to 21-year-olds are heavy Web users coveted by marketers. The students can’t pull themselves away from watching YouTube videos. They are always on their iPhones or updating their status on Facebook. Ask a question and they immediately turn to their iPhone in search of the answer.
This fact is driven home at The DePauw, the twice weekly student newspaper at DePauw University. The newspaper is produced by a dedicated crew of students who work hard into the night hours, producing the latest spot news, sports and features.
But mention multimedia and many of these same students get a pained look on their faces. This isn’t for lack of skills or interest. They just feel more comfortable with old-fashioned characters and text.
I find this contradiction rather fascinating. It shows that it is going to take another 10 years or so before multimedia becomes firmly embedded in our culture.This just proves to me that multimedia content is an evolution – not a revolution. Most people remain hooked on text – even students who consume enormous quantities of multimedia.
This is one reason the incumbent media remains stuck in neutral. If early adopters aren’t disciples, how can you expect old-established businesses to change and adopt new formats?
Take newspapers. The industry has struggled to adapt to the Web. So have magazines. Most have responded to the challenge not with new content, but by cutting costs. But I wouldn’t give up on newpapers or magazines yet. The industry is still evolving and making changes.
One example is USA Today. The newspaper modernized its site in the last month – making it look more like a magazine. The weather map is sleeker. The TV listings are much improved and the newspaper has started to look more like a Web site. Much of this change is the work of Larry Kramer, the paper’s president and publisher. He came to USA Today after founding MarketWatch.
“We are trying to think of USA Today not as a newspaper, but as a news company,” Kramer told the New York Times.
What USA Today does will more than likely be copied by newspapers nationally. USA Today is the flagship of Gannett, a company that owns 82 newspapers and 23 broadcast TV stations. The company is beginning to approach news more as a form of content – than something delivered on a particular platform. That makes a lot of sense.