Columbia's Pavlik Points To Brave
New Reporting World
Notepad... Hello Cyclovision
Pavlik walks briskly to his office, unlocks the
door, and stalks into the spacious room with a
student (actually, "apostle" is a
better description) hot on his heels. Pavlik
figures he can better extol the virtues and
influence of new-media studies on modern
journalism by having one of his students present.
That student is 27-year-old Rob Frehse, a former
assignment editor at an ABC affiliate in Boston.
are surprisingly orderly for an innovator,
gadgeteer, and inventor of tomorrow's media toys.
You'd think there would be tools, computer disks,
notepads, even half-consumed coffee containers
and little packets of mustard and mayo scattered
around some evidence of controlled chaos
to capture the workings of the techie mind. One
large room is used for teaching, research,
meetings, and seminars; the other is his office.
Frehse is just
one of the new generation of journalists being
trained by Pavlik to use all the nifty toys
new-media techies will be turning out. These
journalists won't be charging out to cover
stories with the traditional reporter's notebook,
a few pens, and a camera, says Pavlik, professor
and executive director of the Center for New
Media at Columbia University's Graduate School of
Journalism in New York. Rather, each may be armed
with a half-dozen high-tech tools, including a
portable hand-held wireless computer, the newest
cell phone with Internet access and e-mail, a
"mobile journalist's work station," and
a camera with Cyclovision, a process developed at
Columbia's new-media department. It's a
360-degree imaging system requiring nothing more
complicated than attaching a parabolic mirror to
the lens of an off-the-shelf camera.
you a feeling of space, allowing you to design
your own view. And it takes less than 20 seconds
to load," Pavlik explains.
And that's just
for starters. Pavlik says a PC-and-camera
combination will enable a reporter to shoot and
send pictures, and stories, to his or her
newspaper or to a colleague working on the
same story in a different location. "This is
all real-time communication," says Pavlik.
If you think
Pavlik is excited about present innovations, just
ask him about his vision of the future. He
normally speaks at the speed of sound, a
challenge to any journalist who aspires to catch
every information nugget. But if you ask him
about the future, Pavlik shifts into overdrive,
and there's no keeping up with him. Along with
better information-gathering tools for reporters,
newspaper readers can look forward to electronic
paper, Pavlik predicts.
No joke. Pavlik
said a researcher at Columbia is developing
electronic paper technology. "It's
tomorrow's newspaper," he says. How does it
work? "The paper is filled with millions of
electronic transistors," Pavlik explains.
"The paper updates itself every time it's
connected to the Internet. You don't ever have to
throw it out."
of Pavlik's office are two back-to-back
workstations equipped with oversized monitors.
One workstation running Windows NT boasts a
special video capture board that allows Pavlik
and students to work with full-motion 360-degree
video and other digital video. Enmeshed in
technology, this is where Pavlik spends countless
hours, often working well into the night surfing
the Net, critiquing students' projects, as well
as his own.
Rob Frehse is
just as hooked on new media as his mentor, who he
respectfully calls "Professor" or
"Dr." Pavlik. In these days of
disenfranchised youths and open relationships
with teachers, it is surprising and impressive to
witness the deference bestowed upon Pavlik.
Maybe it's the
scholarly aura of Columbia University's
century-old museumlike stone buildings that
triggers respect between student and teacher. Or,
possibly, it is as basic as Frehse realizing that
Pavlik could teach him things he could learn
nowhere else. Or maybe it's a healthy combination
of both. Pavlik, 43, is so immersed in his work,
so excited and consumed in his own thoughts, the
time-honored distance separating teacher and
student probably doesn't cross his mind.
Why should it?
Pavlik might toss it off as an irrelevant detail.
He's teaching someone who is just as addicted to
technology's toys and the promise of an exciting
future as himself. What's more, Pavlik is all
about turning out the next generation of wired
journalists, a generation that's being molded and
nurtured in his classes.
with a closely cropped beard and short hair,
casts anything but a formal academic presence.
When he speaks about new media, he's not just
pontificating about the history of the Internet
or the evolution of the computer, but describing
what he considers the most exciting and vibrant
innovation in journalism since Gutenberg's
printing press. By the sheer breadth of his
knowledge about new media and the importance of
the Internet for both print and broadcast
journalists, Pavlik strikes a commanding
talk fast," a visitor observes.
nothing, you should see me in class," he
He is most
passionate when discussing the state of
journalism. Pavlik says, "We're in a
transitional stage in which we are being flooded
with news. There is going to be a sorting-out
process in the next five to 10 years in which
we'll have to learn how to manage all these news
All of Pavlik's
students are involved in the experimental use of
new tools. "This is what distinguishes
graduate and undergraduate education,"
Pavlik preaches. "Students are encouraged to
help create the new knowledge."
agrees. That's why he came back to school
and not to just any journalism grad program.
Frehse chose Columbia because it's lauded as a
mecca for new-media experimentation with the guru
behind it being John Pavlik. "I wanted
exposure to the new tools and how to apply them
in the real world," says Frehse. "I
wanted to learn about alternative story options
and a new way of thinking."
So did Dan
Goodrich, 49, a veteran photographer with Long
Island, N.Y.-based Newsday and a 1998
graduate of Columbia's Graduate School of
Journalism. Goodrich returned to school so he
could learn about the new tools and become a
photojournalist. "You can't help being
inspired by the guy [Pavlik] because he
completely loves his work," says Goodrich.
"I used to
be pretty much a word person," testifies
Carla Baranauckas, 44, an editor at The New
York Times, "but now I think in terms of
what is the best way to convey information."
says, introduced her to a wide array of video,
photo, and graphic imagery, "but the
emphasis was always on storytelling. He taught us
to be discerning instead of just using technology
for the sake of technology."
* * * *
new-media world, Pavlik is an innovator and
prophet rolled into one. Prior to joining the
Columbia University faculty, he was founding
director of the School of Communication at
California's San Diego State University. He has
written several books on new media and computer
networks as well as contributed to more than a
dozen software packages for education in
journalism and communication.
Is Pavlik a
techie, teacher, journalist, or futurist? Answer?
All of the above. That's why Joan Konner, former
dean of Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism,
hired him. "We needed to increase our
intellectual resources in new media," says
Konner. "We had to adapt or else we'd become
obsolete. There were few new-media experts who
had both a research background and practical
experience with new-media technology. Pavlik was
well-known and skilled in a practical way."
University didn't want to be left in the
technological wake and needed to bolster its
journalism school's image as being part of the
experimental vanguard. By the late 1980s, Konner
and other faculty members felt they'd better
master the technological tools that were changing
journalism. "We saw the revolution [a
favorite word among Columbia's faculty] coming,
and by 1992, it was under way. The changes were
overwhelming. Students needed a technical
knowledge base, and John could give it to them.
He was writing about the convergence phenomenon
very early," Konner says.
Yet Pavlik says
the word "convergence" had a powerful
meaning to him before it ascended to a power
buzzword in techie circles. He says he owes his
fascination with journalism and technology to his
family. His grandfather published a weekly
newspaper in Minnesota around the turn of the
century, and his parents ran an electronics-parts
store in Racine, Wis., where he grew up. "It
was the convergence of electronics and journalism
that led to my strong interest in technology and
news," Pavlik explains. "Unconsciously,
I have been trying to bring them together since
epiphany pointing him toward his life's obsession
occurred when he was about 9 years old after his
parents bought him a crystal radio set. Pausing
to stroke his short beard, he says, "It was
amazing. Here was this crude device. It had no
antenna, electricity, or battery. You had to wrap
wire around a coil and assemble the thing. With
an alligator clip, I attached it to a radiator,
and, lo and behold, I picked up news and music.
It bowled me over. Unconsciously, I must have
thought to myself, 'How could I play a role in
this trajectory that brings media into people's
lives in a meaningful way?'"
When he was
older, he witnessed changes in communication in
his folks' store. "We sold TV antennas, but
when cable came in the 1970s, I witnessed the
transformation of the media system," says
changes in communication motivated Pavlik to get
a bachelor's degree in journalism and a master's
degree in mass communication. Then he built a
career as a researcher and teacher, and, more
recently, has become an outspoken advocate for
If Pavlik has a
mission, it's to change the way reporters gather
news. To accomplish that end, he hopes to play a
part in creating tomorrow's tools. That's not to
say newspapers are ready to embrace these
are just beginning to use interactive
tools," says Pavlik. "One of my goals
is to get reporters away from their computers and
show them the best way to use these tools. It's
easy to get stuck behind a desk just roaming the
Internet all day. Reporters need to be in the
field so they can do their best work."
To assist in
that end, Pavlik sees a battery of new tools on
the horizon, many of which are on the drawing
board, or already developed, right now.
home-grown Columbia toy is Pavlik's experimental
mobile journalist's workstation (or
"wearable augmented reality system")
that enables users to experience hypermedia
presentations integrated with actual outdoor
locations. It boasts high-speed Internet access
and a GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) system
that locates its wearer geographically.
prototype uses a see-through head display to
overlay 3-D graphics, imagery, and sound on top
of the real world, and presents additional
material on a hand-held pen computer,"
Pavlik explains. "You can use it to create
what we call 'situated documentaries.' You can
walk around the Columbia campus and relive the
1968 student revolt and strike. Or you can
journey back in time to see what the campus
looked like 100 years ago. The headset is
translucent. Layered on top of it in almost
ghostlike form are images, graphics, text, and
Along with the
360-degree camera and the mobile journalist's
workstation, wireless e-mail is just around the
corner. "Imagine how useful this will be to
a newspaper reporter in the field," he says.
"Instead of finding something to connect to,
you can file literally right from the field.
You'll also be able to do research in the field.
If someone makes a claim, for example, you can
check facts right there and not have to wait to
get back to the office. You don't need a massive
news organization behind you. It translates to
more thorough field reporting."
journalists will also rely on wearable computer
devices. These are likely to be devices no bigger
than a pager that clip on your belt. You'll be
able to enter data by using either a
voice-recognition system or a hand-held keyboard.
Ray Kurzweil, one of the pioneers of speech
recognition," Pavlik reports,
"forecasts in his 1999 book, 'The Age of
Spiritual Machines,' that in less than 30 years,
computer processing power will far exceed that of
humans and will have been so miniaturized that
microchips will be biologically inserted into
people giving them access to vast repositories of
knowledge and internal computer power.
part of the future of journalism in the 21st
century? It's not as farfetched as it
seems," he claims. "Microchip
technology is already being designed for use as
aids to the blind or hearing impaired, in some
cases successfully restoring sight or
Many of these
innovations, if they come to pass, will directly
affect the future of newspapers. Pavlik envisions
a renaissance for journalism in the 21st century.
"Reader penetration has been dropping
steadily," he says, "because we have
taken too many things out of context. The new
media give journalists the ability to put stories
back in context. Take conventional photography.
The basic paradigm has been to put a frame on a
bit of reality. Well, that's useful in focusing
our attention. But, it takes the context away.
When you put something on the Internet, for
example, you have a frame where you can start the
image. But, then you can also pan-and-tilt or
zoom anywhere within a 360-degree view."
young people, especially, want more and better
information. "They want to look around and
draw their own conclusions," he adds.
"We need to re-convince the public that they
can trust journalists. By taking advantage of
new-media tools, we can recapture and engage an
increasingly alienated audience."
una columna semanal sindicada sobre carreras
tecnológicas, titulada"Tech Watch."
Este texto fue publicado en Editor &
Publisher On Line y se
reproduce en Sala de Prensa con la autorización por escrito de su
editor, Carl Sullivan. © 2000,
Editor & Publisher.