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College of Information and Communications

  • Individual photos of Andrea Hickerson and David Lankes

Table talk with Andrea Hickerson and David Lankes

Posted July 28, 2020
Compiled by Andrea Betancourt, junior journalism major.  Reprinted from InterCom

With collaborations and new programs coming to the College of Information and Communications, what might the future hold for its two schools? We sat down remotely with Andrea Hickerson, director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications, and David Lankes, director of the School of Information Science, to talk about this and more.

How do the two schools’ missions and goals align?

Andrea: I just started last August, and I was struck by how the college described itself. Giving information for public consumption was something that really appealed to me and I feel like it’s one of those areas of crossover.

David: There is so much in common, not only in the type of folks we prepare, whether they’re librarians or information scientists, journalists or ad folks. [It’s] in how we see the center of what we do, communicating to people who may focus on different aspects of different parts of it. That still comes down to the idea of, “How do we help people make smarter decisions?”

What are the challenges?

Andrea: Speaking to some of the trends in journalism, we have a financial model problem in the business. I have a lot of friends right now who are on furlough because of the coronavirus. And I was just thinking about how they all will tweet out before they go on furlough. ‘You know, I’m not tweeting this week’ because they’re not allowed to work at all and then they always say but subscribe to your local paper and I think that’s really interesting, right? Because they haven’t thought about the business model, right? There’s been a wall in a lot of journalism, but I’m not sure that shaming the public is the right approach. I worry that it overshadows the product, which is still very good, and we need to find a way to be inclusive of our members like they’re part of an event or part of a movement rather than just used as a subscriber.

David: Particularly with this pandemic it was very interesting when you talk about wording and narratives and how they go forward. I think there was a really bad narrative going on when libraries closed. It happened instantaneously, right? “Now we’re closing.” Usually it wasn’t the call of the librarians, it was the call of a county, governor or university president. We spent all this time building up to being able to deliver things beyond just the physical facility and yet then it came to “Well we’re closed.” How do they learn from that narrative? This is another exciting area when I look at potential collaborations. Marketing is crucial to what libraries do. And yet, the word marketing is often seen as commercial, negative. Once again, it all comes back to, “How do we build these messages and connect with our communities?”

What courses — current and future  lend themselves to crossover credits?

Andrea: We’re very excited about the information science side, about teaching our students how to organize data and look at large data sets and make sense of that. That just seems like a natural fit.

David: And we’re really interested, for example, in the visual communications aspect. As information science folks, how do you visualize the data? We may have spent a lot of time on how they take a couple hundred thousand tweets and work through them, and how you organize different resources over time. But how do you then make that into a compelling visual? How do you make that into a compelling narrative around it?

Is there research going on that presents opportunities for both schools?

David: I think one of the exciting areas that we’re really working on now between the two schools is around fake news and the idea of how you can trust information.

Andrea: I’m working on a research project about deepfake videos and developing a tool that will help journalists detect deepfakes. But when we talk about expanding it, librarians are the next natural fit to find what we call professional fact-checkers.

David: I also think we share a desire not simply to watch, but to help shape conversation. This is the appropriate role of bringing people in who understand this topic. And it’s not just job protection, but it really is a matter of community protection of when expertise makes a lot of sense and when it can get in the way.

Andrea: In addition to the fake news class, and I think we want to make that permanent, we could benefit from some media and news literacy classes.

David: We’re working on a shared master’s degree where we take some of the data and information science, a lot of the reporting and management experience and knowledge of the communications industry, and put it together, so that we’re preparing people across the media spectrum, as well as people across the information spectrum, to use data appropriately in those fields.

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