The Human Communications Map

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
20 March, 2018
Editorial: 186
Fecha de publicación original: 26 octubre, 1999

Nobody says they are fine without adding: “For the moment, anyway”

The Internet has substantially altered the information production process as we have known it. On the one hand, it provides the tools and context for creating new ways of generating and disseminating information to audiences which, in many cases, appear from nowhere. On the other, it encourages the invention of new kinds of relationships amongst those that produce content. The traditional communications model, which coexists with the new, has been taken on board as well, although the latter tends to permeate the former when it appears on the Net. Organisations which suit emerging digital communications models form the backbone of the new ways and means of communicating. Predominating factors here are social relations of an increasingly horizontal kind, constant decentralisation of information centres and global range. The Internet has turned the information profession on its head and, at the same time, is causing serious upsets in the way we train journalists and communicators, especially at university level.

If, as we have seen in previous articles, we are in a phase of the multiplication of communications models and, thus, have only a very sketchy idea of what the new professional profile of journalists (and management) entail, then it is only logical that the training of journalists reflects the uncertainty of the moment. Traditional communications models, based on powerful and selective information emission centres transmitting an image of society to vast audiences, overlap with emerging models based on reciprocal activity amongst multiple emitters and receivers, and this, to a large extent, affects the type of training that is being delivered. It explains why training on offer at present, especially at university level, deals more with the fact that the present communications model is in a state of crisis (although often enough this is not even stated), than with the characteristics of alternative models emerging on the Internet. The difficulty of making them compatible lies, largely, in the complex task of bringing together the new needs of digital communication with the acquired knowledge needed for working in the traditional media. Research in this field is at a very embryonic phase but is becoming more and more imperative.

Thus, it is not at all surprising that we find ourselves at a moment of “acute disparity” on the communications labour market. The demands of the new communications model are not satisfied in the “journalistic sector”. And, the latter are finding it more and more difficult to adapt their knowledge to the demands of an overwhelmingly dynamic environment. What they have learned so far at university does not appear to be enough, nor is this new situation properly addressed by the proliferation of special courses and “masters” on offer in an attempt to resolve the difficulties of training journalists at the moment.

In my opinion, the main disparities could be listed, (and I will not attempt a complete list), as follows:

  • Just as the traditional media adapt their content and “modus operandi” to the Net, in the same way what prevails in training is a certain transposing of the knowledge belonging to the traditional media to the Net environment. This mixture of experience, knowledge and communications technology turns what is new into a concoction of different phenomena difficult to systematise.
  • Creating and designing information systems on the Net, generating and producing information on the Net, organising information flows for “manufacturing” new information products, etc., which are some of the possibilities the Internet has to offer, are obscured by a sudden sanctification of technology. Communication is frequently reduced to designing beautiful web pages with good links and the use of tools that make them “user-friendly”, from video and Java, to the unfailing distribution lists, forums and chats. Learning to manage these tools, to moderate them so that they approximate the experience of outlining patterns of communication that bring audiences together, is rare.
  • Journalism faculties basically prepare students for salaried jobs on the market. They leave universities trained –to a certain extent, and sometimes to a very limited extent — to exercise their profession within a “stable” journalistic market organised by well-known communications media and a multitude of corporate information emitters. Given this “map”, the structured hierarchy of information production offers few alternatives. Now, the Net encourages the multiplication of enterprising communicators, of a new breed of information systems managers. And, training should reflect these new opportunities in the labour market.
  • One of the consequences of the previous point is the possibility, as we have already said, of creating new communication flows, of organising information production and, above all, of designing conceptual technology capable of bringing together supply and demand for information and knowledge in a context for generating content. This is fundamental to digital communication, it is what the new media are based on and one of its defining features: the organised packaging of information and knowledge to satisfy personal needs. In other words, rather than producing for the people out there, producing with them using new communication tools. Here again, research into training is needed.
  • The new information professional, therefore, amongst other possibilities, is less and less of a witness to events (which occur in a sphere beyond its control), and more and more of a designer and constructor of information realities, explorer and cartographer of information and knowledge. Just as in the fields of biology and bioinformatics the human genome is being mapped, in our field –despite the differences– we are charting the human communications map (global, regional, local, personal). In order to fulfil this task, we need to draw on other disciplines and knowledge areas closer to knowledge engineering. And these do not yet form part of digital communication training.

To sum up, the training of journalists has, so far, been based on a profile designed to satisfy a particular communications model. The multiplication of these communications models is what will determine the variety of profiles from now on. Training needs to acquire the diverse elements necessary to meet the needs of each of these models. It must do so without assuming that their characteristics are final, the be all and end all, otherwise it runs the risk of becoming obsolete in a rapidly evolving environment. At the moment, it is easier to predict a hurricane in six months time than to predict how these communications models are going to evolve over the next few years. Despite the increased prediction potential of our tools, experience has shown that we have consistently made the wrong predictions so far. And it it is this that we will be dealing with next week.

Translation: Bridget King.