Sala de Prensa

110
Diciembre 2008
Año X, Vol. 4

WEB PARA PROFESIONALES DE LA COMUNICACION IBEROAMERICANOS

A R T I C U L O S

   


Applied Cybernetics(1) and Its Implications
for Teaching Journalism

J. T. Johnson *

ABSTRACT:  Journalism education traditionally has focused on the work product of the profession: writing the news story.  The changing information environment — wherein quantitative and textual data are stored in digital form, retrieved with telecommunications tools, and subject to analysis with a variety of personal computer applications — demands greater attention to the first three steps of the RRAW-P [research-reporting-analysis-writing and publication] process.  Suggestions for an analytic journalism curriculum are made, along with a call for faculty training.

There have been four dramatic, intellectual contributions of significance to journalism in the last half of the 20th century, contributions that will play important roles in shaping the profession well into the next 100 years. Journalists or journalism educators, however, made none of those discoveries.

First was the introduction of the semiconductor/ transistor in 1948, which set off a chain reaction of basic research and technology transfer that ultimately led to hyper-miniaturization of hardware, increased speed of communication and massive storage of digital information.

Nearly simultaneous with the development of the transistor was Claude Shannon's and Warren Weaver's articulation of the mathematical theory of communications in 1949. It was their insights that data and information were not the same thing -- along with their definition of the elements in the process of communications -- which gave rise to Information Science. (Shannon & Weaver, 1949).[2]

Third was the explosion of knowledge in biology, specifically and cellular and microbiology,[3] whose neo- modern era can be conveniently, if arbitrarily, marked by Avery, MacLeod and McCarty's 1944 finding that DNA is the basic genetic component of chromosomes or Watson and Crick's conceptualization and description of the double helix of DNA in 1953.

Fourth has been the work in cognitive neuroscience, the learning about learning. This includes both physiological and conceptual/theoretical discoveries about the process and mechanics of learning.[4] Theory, experimentation and findings about how the brain's cells and circuits work and the insights and hunches of how learning and human memory and emotion are interrelated[5] have generated theory and process applicable to other disciplines.

At first glance, these seem disparate subjects without meaning for journalists and journalism educators. Yet, the broader meaning of discoveries in all four fields can help educators better comprehend the process of learning and communication. Such comprehension has implications for recognizing and understanding the process of how journalists work. And that, in its turn, has direct significance for what and how we teach our students, especially now that we are deep in the Digital Age.[6]

The effect of the transistor is a given, stipulated to de facto by journalists in and out of the classroom in our daily use of electronic information tools such as tele- phones, radios, television sets and computers.  The mathematical theory of communication has been the compass rose for all digital communications integral to the Age of Information and post-modern civilization.

The impact of discoveries in the biological disciplines, however, is less apparent. The fields are united not simply as life sciences. They also are bound by a philosophy that has prevailed at least since Descartes, that is, scientific reductionism, the studying of ever-smaller parts of a process, organism or phenomenon. (Waldrop, 1992, p. 60-61)

These philosophies and theories, coupled with the analytic process implicit in General Systems Theory[7] and the gestation of Information Science, has led researchers in most disciplines to focus on the "variables" or "elements" of any process, organism or phenomenon along with the relationships connecting those variables. As biologists study subsystems nested in subsystems, they are also always looking at the elements that comprise the systems and the relationships among those same elements.

Subsequently, these approaches led to an appreciation -- if not always complete understanding -- of the importance of the three fundamental stages in any biological or intel- lectual activity: resource or data input, processing and message outcome. It follows, in a linear manner, that the quality of the data input determines the quality of the process (or analysis) and subsequent outcome. As the old programmers' cliche has it, "Garbage in, garbage out." The parallel is "High-quality data in, high-quality information out." Thus, if journalists are to deliver high-quality news stories, data gathered in the pre-writing process must be of the highest-quality possible. (Hresan, 1992; Pitts, 1989) Furthermore, management (or manipulation, in the non-pejorative sense) and analysis[8] of that data to produce information must be of a superior level to produce superior results, i.e., news stories.

This paper measures journalism education against these fundamental findings in other disciplines and presents a plan to implement the necessary teaching of information management skills. It also addresses a recent shift of focus in the debate among journalism educators from whether we should be teaching computer skills[9] to an increasing recognition that skills in information management and analysis might be valuable after all. Indeed, the current debate has become "Who should be teaching what information management skills, where and how?" (Reddick, 1992; 1993) I shall argue, too, that the term computer-assisted journalism (C-AJ) is a confusing misnomer because users of the phrase often neglect to differentiate levels of necessary instruction, skills and application. (Davenport and DeFleur, 1991) Additionally, the term mistakenly implies that computer-assisted journalism is somehow different in form and function from information management and knowledge-generating tools used by other disciplines. A more exact term is Analytic Journalism. Finally, I shall outline the content for a two-level approach to teaching these information management skills to journalism students and for integrating them across the journalism curriculum.[10]

Working Assumptions and Objectives

Five assumptions are fundamental to the analysis that follows:

·         Assumption #1 -- Any publication or news-producing organization is either an "A" or "B" in terms of quality.

·         Assumption #2 -- Members of any newsroom staff can be categorized as displaying "A-Team" or "B-Team" performance.

·         Assumption #3: Journalism educators need to teach intellectual survival skills as a prerequisite to Assumption No. 4.

·         Assumption #4: The obligation of journalism educators is to prepare students for professional careers 20 to 40 years hence.

·         Assumption #5: All journalism students will be required to have a personal computer and modem, and superior journalism education will naturally integrate instruction across the curriculum in using those information management tools.

As surveys of journalists and journalism educators periodically indicate, a perception exists that there are two broad quality strata of news operations in the United States and, indeed, internationally. (Namewirth, 1970; Nayman et al., 1973; Lepape, 1976; Rogers, 1970; Hays & Rowe, 1985; Anonymous, 1969; Kelly & Mitchell, 1981)

These news organizations can be termed the "A-level" news producers and the "Bs." The A-level publications and broadcasters generally exhibit a richer vision of the complex issues for the community, nation and world, and they are willing or able to devote resources to reporting them. They recognize the importance of explaining these issues and their subtleties, and recognize that it might take more than 15 or 20 column inches or a 90-second news segment to do so.[11] These publications also value imagination in reporting and preparation of the end product. The "B-level" news producers are all those who do not cover the news with the depth, imagination and intellectual grounding as the "A" producers.

In a similar fashion, editorial staff members in any newsroom are informally classified as being on the "A" team or the "B" team. The "A" reporters are brighter and more intellectually aggressive. Instead of waiting for assignments from editors, these reporters inundate their bosses with story suggestions and queries.

The "A" reporters are capable of taking a longer view of an issue or event, both in recognizing that a subject's history always reaches back farther than the clips in a publication's morgue, and that the topic's significance will carry beyond the immediate deadline. These reporters can deal with -- and welcome -- the intellectual challenge of a complex story. Finally, "A" reporters often possess a high- level knowledge of a specific analytic skill and reasonable familiarity with others such as statistics, accounting, foreign languages, measurement and classification systems, psychology, history, law, medicine, mathematics, a scientific discipline and so forth. In fact, these reporters have or could employ their skills at the level of their non-journalistic counterparts. These skills usually go far beyond those picked up in on-the-job training[12] or as the result of covering a beat for years.

The "B-team" journalists are, at best, pedestrian in their approach to any story, and they seem to be most secure in the status quo.[13] They are, however, vital to the news operation because somebody needs to edit the sports agate, write up the arts calendar and routinely call the sheriff's office to see if there have been any arrests this week.

Journalism education programs must focus on developing A-team journalists. The A-teamers make a greater, more vital contribution to democracy, especially in what seem to be increasingly complex times. (Arthur, 1993) Plus, in an era of fewer jobs for traditional journalists, there are already sufficient numbers of B-team players in the business. (Weaver and Wilhoit, 1992, p. 3).

So how to develop A-team journalists? That first requires examining how reporters do what they do and then setting educational objectives that will prepare students to maximize their intellectual assets and effectiveness in the profession.

The Research-Report-Analyze-Write-Package (RRAW) Process 

The stories one reads in the morning paper, hears on the radio or sees on television -- the hard, breaking news, the feature stories, the in-depth analysis pieces -- are all the result of a journalistic process summed up by the RRAW-Process. That is:

Research --> Reporting --> Analysis --> Writing -- > Packaging (or Production)

That entails, ideally, eight definable, integrated steps for the reporter/writer:
[14]

1) Getting an idea. These typically come from personal contacts, other publications or press releases.

2) The quick, initial -- sometimes intuitive -- formation of questions and key words related to the topic/idea. These are often based on the reporters' general knowledge of and experience with a subject and can be crudely related to "hunches."

3) Doing the initial research. Optimally, this is to determine the history and evolution of the issue or idea and to learn how others have examined the topic. It also functions to locate potential sources. Until the 1980s, this activity rarely meant more than a visit to the publication's morgue to "pull the clips" and a couple phone calls.

4) Formulation of new questions. Ideally, these questions, or hypotheses, expand upon former approaches to the topic and challenge old or current assumptions.

5) Gathering of data and information. This step is the reporting. In the traditional application of the process, a reporter spent most of his or her time interviewing sources on the telephone or in face-to-face conversations. Today, however, an equal amount of time can, and perhaps should, be spent acquiring quantitative and textual data relevant to the issue.

6) Analysis of collected data and information from interviews. Depending on the story and time available, this step could involve anything from a quick review of a reporter's own notes to more sophisticated massaging of the data using maps or homemade indexing and sorting systems. Some reporters like to draw elaborate flow charts while others are given to an almost meditative review of the information gathered.

7) Sketching an outline for the story. This is usually done in an informal, on-the-fly manner by an experienced journalist if the newspaper story is less than 1,000 or 2,000 words. Longer projects, or the individual reporter's method of operation, can call for greater elaborations of this step.

8) Writing the story, doing a fast edit and sending it to the editor. (Each aspect of this component can have highly variable degrees of complexity, but that discussion is not germane here.)

9) "Packaging" the story in the specific form (newspaper page, film, broadcast news story, etc.) of a specific medium.

Step No. 1, getting an idea for a story, is the easiest of all. Any reporter in the business 12 weeks should be able to reel off a list of 20 viable story ideas on any given day. And moving to the second step -- initial questions -- requires little more than saying "What's new?"

The shortcoming of much journalism, that is, the "B" level, is that reporters too often take the simplistic questions of Step No. 2 and jump to Step No. 5 -- Reporting -- with, at best, little more background, data gathering or analysis than the clips from last week's issues of their own newspaper.[15]

This approach is the "Yellow Pages School of Journalism," wherein the reporter's leading technique for uncovering primary sources to supply all the necessary background is to flip through a Rolodex or the telephone book. Too often, the quest ends there. The resulting stories have a level of understanding, context and perception equal to what is in a single year's phone book.[16] -- probably somewhere in this region]

However, that superficial approach to reporting cannot produce the quality of insight and interpretation that journalists must seek because little of intellectual value will happen until we learn to locate, recognize and retrieve information more quickly and more broadly. The quality, and in some cases quantity, of the initial information found in Steps 2 and 3 is the foundation for whatever analysis and new questions -- and, in turn, more data and analysis -- will follow.

The keystone step in this journalistic process is No. 3: The initial research. That means reporters go not only to the publication or station's library for background data. They must be trained to throw a wide loop around their information resources when asking: What are the major issues relevant to a topic? What is the social, political and economic context? What is the chronology of events leading up to the current news value? Who are the most interesting and knowledgeable sources and where are they? If there is a problem, what have other locales, agencies or individuals done to solve it? What is the clichéd interpretation of the topic and what seems to be leading-edge thinking and analysis? Most importantly, what seems to have gone unreported about the topic? (We are, after all, in the news business.)[17]

Establishing the Objectives and Components

This description of the RRAW-P process illustrates the need to produce students who fulfill what should be the first objective of any education program: training students to be skilled at fast, thorough, imaginative research. Such are the foundations of "intellectual survival skills." By this, I mean that students must first have a solid grounding in fundamental (i.e., traditional library) research techniques. Then, and increasingly important, they should be able to transfer those generic skills to the digital information environment. Instruction in how a library is organized and works -- in tandem with training in relevant computer skills -- should begin in the student's first semester at the university and/or in the journalism major. The instruction should continue and be integrated throughout the journalism curriculum at an ever-increasing level of expectation.[18]

For example, at the end of this first semester information management course, a student should know the difference between general circulation periodicals and academic journals and the relative merits and demerits of each. Furthermore, she should know the fundamentals of Boolean search strategy in an electronic data base, be able to retrieve citations and full-text articles and know how to catalog and store them in an organized fashion on her personal computer's hard drive.

A second semester writing course would expose the student to other electronic information sources, more sophisticated searching techniques and teach handy skills such as how to remove duplicate "hits" from the search effort.

The next objective is to improve competence in Steps Five and Six of the reporting process: gathering and analyzing data. One might jump to the conclusion that I'm talking strictly about quantitative or statistical analysis. In fact, a much broader application of the term analysis is needed to allow for methodologies appropriate to a specific problem. Just using a computer to pull together a reporter's notes can be considered a form of analysis. At a higher level, downloading all of George Bush's speeches and using a computer program to pluck out all of his references to Cuba and then studying the adjectives adjacent to "Cuba" is a type of time-series content analysis that could generate deeper questions, conclusions or insight for the reporter.

In a related fashion, a spreadsheet is a perfect tool for studying past elections, voting patterns or the demographics of health care. A data base program can give quick and new insights into the expense reimbursement forms filed by city council members or patterns of crime. And a geographic information system (GIS) program can add yet another perspective to data used in both of the former tools.

Levels of Instruction

I suggest that there are two levels of computer-related instruction necessary to give journalism students -- indeed, all university students -- the skills of intellectual survival appropriate for the length of their professional careers.

The thrust of this instruction, however, is not just to teach key-sequence, rote skills and technique. The overall emphasis must always be on the analytical and intellectual objectives desired. Appropriate, specific methods flow from those instructional goals.

Instruction Level #1: Chevy-Sedan, Manual-Shift Analytic Journalism

This category has a definition as pragmatic and functional as a no-frills Chevrolet: It includes whatever makes a journalist a more efficient user of his or her tools of the craft. That means, initially, the student should be instructed in the basics of computer hardware such as:[19] how a floppy drive works and how it differs from a hard drive. How to install an internal modem. How to utilize a transfer program like LapLink and the different types of plugs and connectors.[20]

This instruction quickly moves into the fundamentals of memory management and software. If they are going to realize their potential and that of their machines, students need to generally understand the difference between ROM and RAM and how RAM memory differs from the storage space on a floppy or hard disk. This knowledge can become especially important when installing a new program or a new version of an old program, something which will occur at least yearly.

New programs sometimes conflict with other software, causing the machine to lock up or the infamous Macintosh bomb to show up on the screen. Even if they are not equipped to remedy the problem, users need to have enough knowledge to explain to a technician what happened in terms that contribute to a successful diagnosis.

This utilitarian instruction should also cover the computer's operating system (i.e., a version of DOS, OS/2, Windows or the Macintosh Operating System) so the user can take advantage of the resources built into it. For example, DR-DOS includes a command that lets a user search the entire hard disk for any "string" of characters. The "hits" can be displayed on the screen and tell the user the name of the subdirectory, the file and the line in which the string was found. This function is helpful when a reporter is writing follow-up stories and trying to remember exactly how he handled a person's title or the complex name of an organization in earlier articles. A one-command search is a lot faster than reading nine clips of hard copy or doing an electronic search story by story.

Students also should be taught how to find, install and use utility programs to manage their computer more cheaply and efficiently. While there are numerous commercial programs to "defragment"[21] a hard disk, for example, there are many free or shareware programs available that accomplish the same thing quite well at a fraction of the cost.

Next, the student should be taught how to use the first three of the Basic Five applications of computer usage with a fairly high level of skill and efficiency. The three applications are desktop utilities (such as PC-Tools or, on a Macintosh, a suite of Desktop Accessories), telecommunications programs and word processing systems. Desktop utilities have multiple uses that benefit journalists, including pop-up note windows, Rolodexes, calendars, calculators and even automatic telephone dialers. All of this knowledge lays the groundwork for advanced instruction in the other four applications for information retrieval and analysis: telecommunications, word processing, spreadsheets and databases.

Telecommunication skills are the key to not only finding and retrieving data and information for stories, they also are a lifeline for computer users and journalists. More than 350 companies maintain technical and product support bulletin boards to bail out a customer who cannot interpret the hardware or software manual. (Anon., 1993, p. 77) Other journalists have found writing assignments, conducted international interviews and received story-saving advice using a variety of online networks like CompuServe and Internet. (Krumenaker, 1992-93, p. 27)

Word processing is taught in many journalism programs, but the instruction is usually barely enough to get the students writing a story in Newswriting I and sending it to a printer.[22] Typically, the instruction stops there, often because journalism educators have not taken time to explore the potential of the software. What is needed is relatively deep student exposure to the usually unrealized power in most word processing programs. It is discouraging and confounding to walk into any university computer lab (or faculty offices) and see someone erasing a paragraph one character at a time by tap, tap, tapping the backspace key. It is sad to see an editor paging down through a story, looking for a particular phrase instead of using the program's "find" or "search and replace" command.

Finally, beginning students should be taught the fundamentals of spreadsheets and flat-file databases. A spreadsheet is fundamental to reporting just about any election or budget story and can be used in a broad range of stories with quantitative aspects. At a minimum, setting up a matrix of election results before election day will force the reporter to review data and think about trends in previous polling. When the results start to come in, the reporter need only worry about entering the correct vote count in the correct precinct. The spreadsheet will calculate appropriate percentages, ratios and numerical differences between candidates. At the very least, the graphics package in most spreadsheet programs will help a newsroom artist see the appropriate charts, graphs and tables. A flat-file data base -- think of it as a deck of index cards with multiple fields of data on each card -- can quickly help a reporter assemble her notes or tally up the number of automobile accidents at a particular intersection.

This training -- covering the functional and conceptual basics of hardware and software and utility programs, telecommunications, word processing, spreadsheets and data bases -- should be in the basic curriculum for all university students and especially journalism majors. But the instruction cannot stop there after one semester.

Instruction Level #2: "The Philosopher's Cave" of AJ

The second level of instruction in Analytic Journalism shifts from management of the hardware and software and retrieval and low-level manipulation of data to techniques that help the scholar and journalist answer the larger question: "What's it all about?" These skills use applications introduced in Level #1 but with greater sophistication. Not only is the students' earlier learning reinforced, but raising their skill levels seems to improve their critical thinking and sense of accomplishment and empowerment.

Once the foundation has been established in Level #1, the use of electronic data search and retrieval, spreadsheets and data base programs can become second nature throughout the journalism curriculum. The same tools can be used to mine greater insight and levels of intellectual significance. Exposure to a wider range of online data is an appropriate point of beginning. Encouraging students to tap resources like the Federal Election Commission data base or the resources available on Internet reinforces the lesson that just about any piece of information is available, it is just knowing where to look. As before, telecommunications is the fundamental tool to retrieve data for analysis with other applications.

Spreadsheet instruction can include sorting and "slicing" data into various subsets, writing of complex formulas and the production of intricate reports. Similar complexity can be brought to data base programs. And greater understanding can be wrung from the data with the introduction of sophisticated graphs, charts and statistical analysis. Instructions in how to move data from spreadsheets to data base programs and back again are introduced, as well.

New applications can be introduced in this learning segment, specifically: Geographical Information Systems (GIS); nine-track tape data conversion, retrieval and analysis; Structured Query Language (SQL).  GIS is as old as maps, but off-the-shelf software like MapInfo or Atlas Pro can give a journalist with a PC unparalleled power to analyze a variety of social, economic and political circumstances. Even the social and economic impact of the weather can be anticipated.[23]

These programs can provide a quick way to sort and correlate data at richer levels of abstraction. What are the demographic factors under a map of crime incidents? What are the time and seasonal factors of the crimes? What does the system tell -- or more important, allow the reporter to ask -- about the economic dimensions of the crime location?

The power of computers is that they permit us to ask questions, draw conclusions and find answers by arranging and rearrange data without much cost in time or materials. Few applications demonstrate that power more readily than GIS. Nine-track tapes are the storage medium common to mainframe computers often used by large corporations, government agencies and universities. There are specific programs necessary to convert the data on these tapes to a form usable on personal computers, should there be ample storage space. Use of those programs is a relatively trivial challenge if one has a good foundation in PC-class spreadsheet and data base applications.

SQL is a standardized language commonly used to retrieve data from a mainframe or minicomputer for manipulation on a desktop PC. While neither nine-track tape or SQL skills are essential, such knowledge adds breadth to a student's ability to be in control of a story. When the time comes that a bureaucrat tells a reporter that the information he is seeking is on a tape and impossible to get to, he will at the very least know otherwise.

Training the faculty; Integrating the curriculum

Integrating the above information skills in a curriculum means that literally every faculty member needs to know the basics of managing and analyzing information in the digital environment just as we assume journalism educators know the fundamentals of First Amendment protections and how to type.[24]

The first challenge is how to train our colleagues. The second is to make sure that the skills and techniques introduced in the classes described above become commonly used in courses throughout the journalism curriculum. Drawing on my experience as a consultant to publications, teacher and observer of journalism faculties, I believe the faculty training and shifts in teaching philosophy can be accomplished over the course of an academic year, with one caveat: Total integration of information management tools can only occur with the full support and encouragement by the highest level administrators. Unlike some cases of technology change, AJ cannot be integrated into an organization in less than a generation with a "ground-up" strategy. And it is not just a matter of capital investment. At the simplest level, if the editor, publisher, department chair or dean does not understand the value of, say, electronic mail -- the information glue that can keep the entire program on track -- or appreciate personally using spreadsheets for simple accounting records, he or she will never be in position to perceive the intellectual value of the more sophisticated analysis tools.

The following teaching scenario is designed to take place during the two semesters preceding implementation of AJ in the department's curriculum. The objective is to teach all journalism faculty to use and teach at least the Basic Five: desktop utilities, telecommunications, word processing, spreadsheets and data base programs. This is so all faculty can and do teach the fundamental information tools course on a regular, if rotating, basis.
First, agreement needs to be reached on what will be the standard programs used by the department. This doesn't mean that faculty member who has a DOS computer at home but teaches in a department with Macintoshes will be out of the loop. A spreadsheet program on a Macintosh, for example, is fundamentally the same as a spreadsheet written for the DOS hardware.

Next, an inventory should of made of what skills and knowledge individual faculty members have in which applications. This is important because peer-to-peer instruction will be used to train the faculty. However, contrary to traditional teaching, I believe the instructor for a particular segment should not be the person who knows the most about that application. The teacher of the segment on databases might well be a professor who is a whiz at doing desktop publishing, but can't balance a checkbook. The faculty member selected to instruct the others in, say, telecommunications, should be the one who doesn't yet know a modem from a motorboat. 
Here's why: The natural tendency will be to teach what one already knows. This is fine if all members of a faculty are equally versed in the Basic Five and the seminars are designed to just hone existing skills.

If, however, faculty members are not uniformly knowledgeable in the basic applications, why not take the opportunity to expand one's repertoire? And what better way to gain a thorough understanding of a skill than to prepare to teach those techniques. Keep in mind the medical school dictum: "Watch one. Do one. Teach one." In doing so, the peer instructor will be able to appreciate the student experience and also engage in the excitement of personal learning that we all experience when teaching is at its most rewarding level. The fundamentals of the Basic Five can be taught in four to six hours of instruction per application. The "students," though, will need to practice the applications outside of the lab. Exercises -- using a spreadsheet to design a grade book or a database to create a mailing list of department alumni -- should be pragmatic uses that can capture interest. 
During the second semester, the on-going faculty seminar should concentrate on presentation of high-level skills so that even if all the faculty do not regularly use or teach something like geographical information systems, they are fully informed on the potential of the application.

Second, this time should be devoted to discussion and planning of how to organize the introductory information management course sections for the students and specifically how the newly learned skills will be integrated in all courses offered by the department.

Summary

There has long been an unwritten assumption that college students came to the campus reasonably experienced in traditional research and analysis skills. Consequently, the bedrock of journalism education could be on the work product of the profession. How to write a lead, organize a story, edit copy and design a page were commonly the foundation of instruction. It was a rare journalism curriculum that emphasized non-interviewing research techniques. But changes in the modes and methods of information storage and retrieval have changed the working and intellectual environment for journalists and journalism educators.

The overall intellectual process described by researchers in the life sciences and computer science -- data input, analysis and output -- have provided a theoretical scaffold with which journalism instructors can erect a curriculum that will help prepare students for their career environment in decades to come. Building such a useful monument, however, requires an investment of time and dedication on the part of all journalism educators and their administrators.

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END NOTES:

(1) "Cybernetics, a term formerly used to describe an interdisciplinary approach to the study of control and communication in animals, humans, machines, and organizations, was coined by U.S. mathematician Norbert Wiener in 1946.... In the first few decades of its history cybernetics also influenced study of historical systems, cognitive science, linguistics, and Automata Theory. The term 'cybernetic' continues to be used in a very general sense in computer studies, but cybernetics as a separate discipline gradually declined as its insights were absorbed into the framework of other fields." (The Online Edition of Grolier's Academic American Encyclopedia, 1993).
(2) "The word information, in this theory, is used in a special sense that must not be confused with its ordinary usage. In particular, information must not be confused with meaning.... The concept of information applies not to the individual message (as the concept of meaning would), but rather to the situation as a whole, the unit information indicating that in this situation one has an amount of freedom of choice, in selecting a message, which it is convenient to regard as a standard or unit amount." (Shannon and Weaver, 1949, p. 99-100). Later definitions, which I prefer, describe data as the raw material for information, that which assists an individual in making a decision or reaching a conclusion about a particular question or issue.
(3) "Microbiology is the study of organisms that cannot be seen by the naked eye, including bacteria, viruses, certain algae, fungi, and protozoans. The existence of microorganisms was first demonstrated in the 1660s, when Robert Hooke of England built compound microscopes and Anton van Leeuwenhoek of Holland constructed powerful lenses, which these men used to study and illustrate various microbes. Further development of the light microscope in succeeding centuries enabled scientists to examine all but the smallest microorganisms, the viruses.  "The field of microbiology was rounded out in the 1930s with the development of the electron microscope, which made possible the observation of viruses." (The Online Edition of Grolier's Academic American Encyclopedia, 1993)  The key point here is the role "hardware" played in bringing new knowledge to the fore. Without the microscope, the invisible microbes would remain invisible. Without computers, invisible patterns of society will remain invisible.
(4) I have picked milestone dates for all four of these topics with a good bit of license, and historians of science are justified if they take me to task for minimizing nuance here. For example, it could be argued that the foundations for neuroscience were laid in the last half of the 19th century with the initial investigations into consciousness. Others might contend that an awareness of consciousness in the golden age of Greece marks the beginning of the discipline. (Jaynes, 1976,p. 1-6).
(5) Science is still a long way from knowing the precise form, location and neuro-chemical process of much of learning, thought and emotion. Where, for example, does sadness reside in the brain? How did the emotion get there and what, physically, triggers it? And, why --biologically -- are there degrees of sadness or any emotion?
(6) I mark the beginning of the Digital Age as 1890, when Herman Hollerith's newly invented punched card recording and storage system allowed the U.S. Bureau of the Census to store data in binary form. I use the term "Information Age" synonymously with Digital Age.
(7) "A whole which functions as a whole by virtue of the interdependence of its parts is called a system, and the method which aims at discovering how this is brought about in the widest variety of systems has been called general system theory. General system theory seeks to classify systems by the way their components are organized (interrelated) and to derive the "laws," or typical patterns of behavior, for the different classes of systems singled out by the taxonomy." (Buckley, 1968, p. xvii)
(8) A 1992 study indicated the proportion of working journalists with a college degree rose from 58.2 percent in 1971 to 82.1 percent in 1992. During the same period, however, the percentage of journalists who agreed that "analyzing complex problems" was "extremely important" fell from 61 percent in 1971 to 48.2 percent 20 years later. Those who thought "investigating government claims" an "extremely important" mission of the press dropped from 76 percent in 1971 to 66.7 percent in 1992. And "only a small minority of journalists see the adversary role -- directed at either government or business -- as extremely important." It is unclear whether these attitudes reflect upon journalism education specifically (less than half of all journalists had a degree in journalism in 1992), a university education overall or a fundamental shift in public attitudes. (Weaver and Wilhoit, 1992, p. 10-11.)
(9) Until recently, "teaching computer skills" usually meant instruction in only the most elementary word processing techniques (Johnson, 1992).
(10) These skills, however, are applicable throughout the university experience, a leverage point for journalism educators seeking to increase FTE or a higher profile on their campus.
(11) The classic example is the series on the American economy by Donald Bartlett and James Steele, which won a Pulitzer Prize for the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1989. While other newspapers have demonstrated that they can take on such complex stories -- for example, the Indianapolis Star's Pulitzer-winning series on medical malpractice in 1991 -- the A-level publications have consistently reported such stories over decades.
(12) Professional, extensive in-service training has long been absent in all sectors of the news media. Ed Baron, deputy director for Program Planning and Development of the American Press Institute, was formerly director of training for Gannett Corp. He said that at least through the late 1980s, Gannett Corp. never had a budget line item specifically for employee training and that the corporation had no idea how much it spent at the national or local level -- or did not spend -- on employee training and improving skills. "Money was invested in training, but no one knew how much or where," he said. (Baron, 1992)
(13) One team of researchers termed this group "'followers' because they typically obliged their superiors and were otherwise dependent on them for advice.... For example, while working on a routine story which initially entailed calls to several sources, [the reporter] constantly asked the assignment editor and other superiors whom he should call, reported back what particular sources had said, sought advice on further leads and possible sources, and sought assistance with writing." (Ericson, Baranek and Chan, 1987, p. 213.)
(14) My definition of publishing in this context is not limited to ink-on-paper, but includes work that reaches an audience via roadcast, film, online digital, or multimedia technology. Philip Meyer sees the journalist's challenge and task as three elements: "How to find information; How to evaluate and analyze it; How to communicate it in a way that will pierce the babble of information overload and reach the people who need and want it." (Meyer, 1991, p. 2).
(15) "Assignment editors or queries arm [reporters] with a few questions, but many are made up on the spur of themoment. Some are standard questions, developed by the profession for specific types of sources; other questions derive from the reporters' own conventional wisdom and common sense. As a result, the questions often reflect their professional or personal values. When they interview experts, reporters draw on the lay knowledge they have of the interviewee's expertise; when they interview people whose values they do not share, their questions may be tinged with antagonism." (Gans, 1979, p. 140-141)
(16) The penalty paid for this technique is apparent when one considers an urban concentration like the San Francisco Bay area, where there are 18 volumes of Yellow Pages for the region's three area codes. Increasingly, a San Francisco-based reporter is as likely to find the source for a story in Oakland. Or San Jose. Or Palo Alto. As corporations and government agencies continue to move their headquarters out of the central business districts to the suburbs, this problem of the geography of traditional information will become more vexing.
(17) Jacques Barzun and Henry F. Graff point to the abundance of books in two distinct categories: "...the usual 'Introduction to Research' [and the] usual 'How to Write' book. Rather, the need is for a new view of the single subject, Research-and-Report, which the ordinary manuals split apart." (Barzun and Graff, 1985, p. vii.)
(18) I'm talking here about the students having knowledge of reference tools beyond a vague sense that there is something called a card catalog that helps one find information or that an encyclopedia contains the sum total of knowledge. In times past, professors could expect that students came to their freshman classes having learned the library and research skills in high school. Observation at my own university and in conversations with colleagues across the country leads me to believe this is no longer true. (Cox & Johnson, 1992; Hansen, 1992; Olsen, 1992; Wiggins, 1992)
(19) Note that I have not specified a DOS or Macintosh computer for this training. The hardware and software is immaterial because whatever specifics the student learns today will have changed dramatically in the coming five to 10 years. It is understanding the theory and process that is important. Such debates are the equivalent of arguing which is better, baseball's American or National League. The answer can only be "Whichever gives you pleasure or meets your needs.” When I teach this material I have the students remove the top of their DOS computers. We talk about and touch the five components of any computer: motherboard, floppy drives, power supply, hard drive and circuit boards. I also have them pull out and reinstall a circuit board just to convince them that the hardware is not as fragile as many might fear. Not only does this begin to demystify computers and computing, it starts the students thinking that the components of data are manageable.
(20) An RS-232 connector with the potential for 25 pins performs exactly as the 9-pin serial connector, but to the uninitiated, their radically different appearance is confusing. Why is this important? If a journalist is on the road with a notebook computer, which often will have both types of connectors, and has to print a story, he or she might well need to know how to use a conversion plug to connect to an unfamiliar printer.
(21) When a computer stores information on a hard drive, it may scatter that data in multiple locations on the drive. When the user opens a file, the computer's operating system has to draw together that scattered data. That takes time and can perceptibly slow down the operations. Defragmenting a hard drive means to reorganize the contents of a file so that all information for that file is contiguous. Such programs also usually "block out" bad sectors on the hard drive, preventing a future loss of data.
(22) See Johnson (1992) for a review of the research on computer-assisted journalism in journalism education.
(23) As Hurricane Andrew built up and headed toward the Florida coast, ITT Hartford insurance company used a GIS program to track its possible landfall. That information, coupled with policyholder and demographic information, helped the company estimate the degree of damage to its clients and plan the assignment of claim adjusters once the storm hit. (Schroeder, 1992)
(24) In fact, it would be appropriate for hiring, promotion and tenure committees to include evaluation of such digital information management skills in their review of faculty members.


* J. T. Johnson es profesor del Departamento de Periodismo de la San Francisco State University. Una versión abreviada de este artículo se publicó bajo el título "Journalism Education in the Information Age" en Social Science Computer Review, Vol. 12 No 3 (Fall 1994), pp.


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