Emerging Technologies Lab manager attends ONA 2017, sees growing presence of tech in journalism

Alexis Barnes ’17

Alexis Barnes graduated in May 2017 from the UNC School of Media and Journalism with a specialization in multimedia. She now works with the Emerging Technologies Lab.

Over four days, twelve UNC School of Media and Journalism students, faculty and staff attended the Online News Association (ONA) conference in Washington, D.C., from October 4-7, 2017. Small and large news organizations, technology companies and students come together during the annual conference to discuss the present and future of journalism and digital media. Barnes shares her experience at the conference below. 

ONA 2017: Through the eyes of an Emerging Technologies Lab manager

By Alexis Barnes

A topic prevalent throughout the ONA conference was emerging technologies, such as 360-degree video, virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence. From schools to newsrooms, journalists are exploring these technologies to tell more engaging stories. At the moment, emerging technologies are polarizing — either journalists are ignoring them completely or they are actively trying to figure out how to incorporate them into their work. The former believe emerging technologies in journalism are fads. The latter see emerging technologies as the future of journalism.

Amy Webb, founder of the Future Today Institute, gave a fascinating talk at ONA called “10 Tech Trends in Journalism.” Webb is concerned that the journalism field is not working on these technologies. There are several tech companies — Google, Facebook, IBM, to name a few — that are making decisions about how we use tech. Webb warned the lack of interest from news organizations allows those few companies to make all of the decisions about using these technologies and, therefore, make decisions about the news.

I agree with Webb; if the people and companies in journalism do not take these new technologies seriously, then the tech companies will have a lot more influence in the journalism field in the future. That is why I am thankful that the MJ-school provides opportunities for students to learn about these technologies and how to work with them. Graduates with this background are equipped to be involved in decision-making about these technologies in newsrooms.

MJ-school senior Madison Walls watching The New York Times’ “The Fight for Fallujah” 360-degree video experience.

After Webb’s talk, I heard a student saying she wanted to switch from user interface design (also known as UI) to emerging technologies. I do not think we need to totally drop our current work to focus on emerging tech, but it does need to be taken seriously because it’s growing fast. Webb generously shared her research on these new technologies for free. Now that we have some of the tools, it is up to us what we do with it.

Finally, congratulations to the MJ-school students, faculty and staff who were part of “Cuba’s New Wave!”  The project won The David Teeuwen Student Journalism Award for a large newsroom.

Left to right: Adjunct Professor Tamara Rice, Alma Washington ’18, Lindsay Carbonell ’17, Peyton Chance ’18 and Ally Levine ’17 celebrate winning The David Teeuwen Student Journalism Award.

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