Future Media Fest: Digital Media Skills for Citizens? Workers?

The Digital Media Skills panel underlined the importance of communication skills for all students looking to get jobs in media and technology. Eric Berger argued in his introduction that, in the future, communication will be the skill employers will look for when hiring. Most of the panel agreed. Rebecca Burnett added that “just as important as what you say is how you say it, who you say it to, why you say it, and the medium in which you say it.” Other panelists agreed, suggesting that given a highly technically skilled job prospect and one who is perhaps not as skilled but is a better communicator, most employers will hire the communicator.

Still, two of the most important topics for the panel were only mentioned briefly: the need for funding communication instruction and the need for communication to integrate what one member of the audience, a Business professor called, a “global sensibility.” He argued that rhetoric may be necessary for the future workplace but that it isn’t sufficient. Awareness of the cultural context of communication is important in our more globalized age, where workers compete with people from China and India.

In terms of funding, Rebecca Burnett suggested that initiatives like Plain Language, a program designed to improve communication between the government and the public, can provide a framework for the kinds of public monies needed to improve communication skills for students and workers. Burnett’s example of Plain Language also hinted at a perspective that was in the background of this panel, and many of the other panels at Future Media Fest: that of the citizen. While the omission is understandable, given that many of the presenters were focused on marketing, the question of the importance of communication skills for the public good cannot be overlooked.

For example, what kinds of digital skills are going to be important for citizens to maintain our democratic way of life in the future? Funding programs for communication skills in order to remain competitive with China and India, but so is having a government that can ensure the free and equal use of the internet for all people. The recent rulings against FCC efforts to enforce net neutrality have only made this process more difficult. If communication is important for the worker, it is doubly so for the citizen who must navigate through corporate lobbying, politicians who are more than happy to help spread falsehoods in order to win elections, and media corporations who are becoming less and less willing to challenge those falsehoods.

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