My office is a laptop. My colleagues are online. My world is interconnected. For better or worse, I’m an online journalist. The web is where I do my research, it’s where my work is published and it’s where I communicate the most. I’m at home with it, and I love it.
And I’m not alone.
If Facebook would be a country, it would be the third largest on earth. Mark Zuckerberg’s social media platform is closing in on 600 million users – and is fundamentally changing the way we communicate. Social media has already become an integral part of our daily lives – but what we experience today is only the beginning.
“New developments will shape the very fabric of our behavior, culture and identity. They will challenge us to consider important questions about the future of our experience as connected people”, writes Ravit Lichtenberg, founder and chief strategist at the media consulting company Ustrategy.com.
In other words: We are living through a transition. The way we connect with others and receive information is changing. Everything is faster. Everything is anytime – and anywhere. But can the average consumer keep this pace at all? Are we achieving the necessary “new levels of cognitive flexibility, which are creating a new way of thinking”, like Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center says?
Or are we rather losing our knowledge in information? Like poet, playwright, literary critic and Nobel Prize winner Thomas S. Eliot moaned in his “Choruses from The Rock” back in 1934? I’m eager to find out. And the College of Communication Arts & Sciences at Michigan State University with its Ph.D. program in Media and Information Studies is exactly the right place for me to do just that.
Why? The program combines the knowledge of MSU’s outstanding School of Journalism with the new media expertise of the Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media that has a strong emphasis on social and interactive media.
And that is, coming from a strong background in journalism, exactly what I am looking for. After working as writer and editor for one of Germany’s most innovative online sports magazines (being responsible for its social media activities as well as user generated content), I return to higher education and take my knowledge to the next level.
I want to study the influence of new and social media on journalism and how both can benefit from each other. How can media companies present their products in a facebookizated world? Will traditional journalism merge with user generated content and be mostly presented in applications like Flipboard? And what does all that mean for tomorrows journalists? We might be facing the end of traditional publication methods – but not of good journalism. The question is: How can we benefit from this new age of reporting with a worldwide network of non-professional reporters? The answer is: We don’t know – yet.
What we know, is: “The success of new media forces everybody to rethink”, writes my former teacher and internet journalism pioneer Prof. Dr. Klaus Meier in his book “Internet Journalism”. “Almost anybody has to deal with new media in order to succeed.”
And that’s why I will engage in graduate study at MSU. I want to interact with its outstanding faculty and leave my mark in the field of communication. I want to contribute to the development of a new form of journalism that is suited to a web reorganized around people. How can location-based services, for example, change the way mass communication works? Will we, like Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley pointed out in a recent statement, be meeting up with friends in a restaurant, check in on Foursquare, Facebook and Twitter to find that “The New York Times” and several of our friends recommend that restaurant?
The foundations are already in place. Now it’s our time to make good use of them.
“The highway has been there, but until now we needed a special car to get us to our destination”, says Philippe Suchet, recipient of the Web2.0 Summit award in 2010. “The average pedestrian was not going to get there. But now technology barriers have been lowered and new mobile [and social media] will become an extension of who we are”.
True. But to guide the travelers along this highway, we need well educated new and social media experts. And the Ph.D. program in Media and Information Studies at MSU will help me become just that. It will enable me to guide future generations to more enlightened use of the rapidly changing communication technology. It will help me enhance the intellectual understanding of new and social media – in both, the audience as well as media professionals. My goal is to teach at a university and/or to help media organizations and governments to make better use of new media technology – so that they are able to create messages that use the full potential of the new and social media in an information society.
But why is this so important? Can’t today’s society already draw on more news sources than ever – and should therefore be better informed? For sure. But while new forms of information technology provide the public with more freedom of choice, they also pose a threat to credibility. The gatekeeper, traditionally provided by mass media, isn’t always available with new technologies.
Even today, the “generation online” uses Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and whatever tidbit of information technology comes along their way, but reveals an alarming tendency towards new media illiteracy. People around the world use new media in their daily lives, yet they don’t think about the implications of these technologies – or how they affect their personal life or their toolkit as communication professionals. That has to change.
Because: “The ongoing digital revolution represents an important new beginning in public life and is likely to have a fundamental influence on how individuals, social groups and societies define themselves and how individuals come to know the world around them”, writes Russell Neuman in his book “Media, Technology, and Society: Theories of Media Evolution” .
Therefore, it is more important than ever to educate audiences as well as mass communication professionals for whatever the future of communication with all its emerging technologies will hold. Web 3.0 is clearly on the horizon – and we better be prepared.
Studying at MSU will put me at the forefront of all that. Faculty members in the Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media were among the first in the United States to conduct empirical work on Facebook – and today are considered world leaders in research on social media. The Online Interaction Laboratory, The Social Media Research Lab and the J-School will provide viable resources for my research.
Just as much as the outstanding faculty does. Being able to receive advice from professor Charles Steinfield, for example, who is regarded as one of the leading researchers in social and organizational impacts of information and communication technologies, would help me leave my unique mark in the field of mediated communication. I’m excited about the opportunity to work with interesting and inspiring people like Rick Walsh, Mark Levy and Lucinda Davenport, who represent a cross section of my intended field of study.
New and interactive technology is driving us to rethink everything we’ve learned and re-imagine the possibilities. People are changing the ways they give and receive information. The epicenter of those developments are the colleges and universities in the United States.
And now I’m a part of it.
More about Jan Boehmer and his research on social media and journalism can be found here.
 Ravit Lichtenberg, 10 Ways Social Media Will Change in 2011, ReadWriteWeb.com, 15th Dec 2010
 Dr. Pamela Rutledge, in 10 Ways Social Media Will Change in 2011, ReadWriteWeb.com, 15th Dec 2010
 T.S. Eliot, Choruses from The Rock, Opening Stanza, 1934, retrieved through insidework.net
 Klaus Meier, Internet Journalismus, UVK Verlag, 2002, page 18
 Philippe Suchet, in 10 Ways Social Media Will Change in 2011, ReadWriteWeb.com, 15th Dec 2010
 Russell Neuman, in: Media, Technology and Society: Theories of Media Evolution, University of Michigan Press, taken from the Draft Manuscript, 2008, page 3