Saturday, March 19, 2011

Media Metamorphosis

As Bob Dylan would croon, "the times they are a-changin'" at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. Coming this summer, faculty, staff and students will temporarily abandon Allen Hall (above) in anticipation of a major two-year renovation project that will break ground in September.

The Allen Hall Transformation project, as it is known, will involve a three-story addition and a remodel, including energy and seismic upgrades to the existing wings built in 1923 and 1954. When completed In September 2013, a renovated Allen Hall (rendering below) will feature a sky-lit atrium, media galleries, signature lecture hall, new classrooms and faculty offices and a digital commons -- an open-air collaborative computer lab environment.

Pondering the impending changes to Allen Hall, I reflected upon my arrival on the University of Oregon campus in the early 1970s as a young pre-journalism major. "If technology advances as much in your careers as it has in mine, who knows what to expect?" I offered to students in my public relations writing class last week.

Back then, the newswriting labs had manual Underwood typewriters. In my photojournalism class, we learned how to roll film for chemical development and use an enlarger for making prints in a "darkroom." When working on page design and layout, we'd use "wax machines" to paste headlines and body copy onto galleys or "dummies," which would then be photographed onto metal plates for offset printing.

Today, new iMacs line the very classrooms previously occupied by the Underwood manuals. With digital photography eliminating the need for darkrooms, that space was reclaimed with more desks and iMacs with PhotoShop and other up-to-date photographic software. Publication design and production in this day and age begins and ends in a computer lab. The times have indeed changed.

Back then, broadcast production -- be it news or advertising -- could take weeks of scripting, shooting and editing in studios that very few facilities could provide. Today, you can write, shoot and edit a video production (some of it on your iPhone) during the day and have it posted on YouTube by dinnertime.

By way of example, check out this video, a j-school promo piece produced by two of my recent students and members of the UO PRSSA executive management team -- Claire Tonneson and Jesse Davis -- for their Strategic Public Communications class.

Over the past four decades, new technologies have revolutionized the traditional formats in the field of journalism while introducing new ways to communicate using social media. Although the school has experienced upgrades over the years, the time for a comprehensive renovation was overdue.

Since 1954, the j-school had simply outgrown the physical space available in Allen Hall. When I graduated from the school in the mid-70s, the student population numbered about 600; today, we have about 1,800 journalism and communication students.

And although media and methods of communicating will change, what will not change is the need for excellent communication professionals: public relations practitioners who can communicate through their writing and through the visual arts, as well as verbally.

Even with the power of the Internet and its transformation of communication, the veneration of bullet points, the cryptic quality of email and "tweets" and the digital onslaught that favors an almost brutal compression, good writing will continue to be the hallmark skill that students will develop at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication.

In this case, anyway, the more things may change, the more they remain the same.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Willkommen Bei Den Bayerischen Alpen

Faithful readers, as many of you who peruse these pages already know, the closest town to Owl Farm -- our recreational property in the North Cascades of Washington State -- is Leavenworth, a Bavarian-themed tourist attraction. As a result, I have been intrigued by the prospect of exploring the real Bavarian Alps for some time.

Well, now I get my chance: I've booked passage on June 13 to Munich (above), where I will meet my daughter Gina, who will be completing a one-year stint teaching English in Poland. In addition to visiting the many "biergartens" of Munich, the plan is to explore the Bavarian Alps and catch many of the spectacular sights, including the Berchtesgaden and Gamisch-Partenkirchen, where the views of the Zugspitze -- Germany's highest peak -- are breathtaking.

Wedged into Austria, the Berchtesgaden is a compellingly gorgeous corner of Bavaria. Local legend has it that angels -- given the task of distributing the Earth's wonders -- were startled by God's order to get a move on and dropped them all here. The area features he Eagle's Nest, a lodge built for Adolf Hitler, the notorious German dictator (who was actually Austrian), for his 50th birthday.

Garmish-Partenkirchen is a beloved hangout for outdoor enthusiasts and the weathy bourgeoisie. Forming a stunningly beautiful natural divide alone the Austrian border, these mountains rise from the foothills so abruptly that the impact is all the more dramatic.

The rest of the time will likely be spent exploring Munich, the capital of Bavaria and -- who knows -- maybe we take a quick trip to Italy while we're in the neighborhood (it's only 289 miles, or about the distance from Eugene to Seattle). Benedictine monks, drawn by fertile farmlands and proximity to Catholic Italy, settled in Munich (below). The city derives its name from the medieval "Munichen," or monks.

Perhaps we will be obliged to visit my newfound friends in the land of my forebears: Genoa, the heart of the Italian Riviera.