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IMM, news presentation and news delivery: A case study

Clem Lloyd and David Blackall
University of Wollongong, New South Wales


IMM has generated an extensive literature and impressive commercial product in recent years, but it has had surprisingly little impact on the news media. While news media, both print and electronic are facing up to major change, IMM has not entered into news media management planning in any significant way. The news media have predicated change largely on the basis of conventional concepts of news gathering, news presentation and news delivery. Thus, technological and organisational change is usually conceived in both print and electronic news media as essentially the refinement and upgrading of established patterns. To take a handful of examples: Significant as is this body of change it is essentially incremental, building on and, in some CUM transforming, traditional patterns. It owes virtually nothing to IMM. It does provide, however, a climate of innovation and ferment in which IMM concepts and practices might eventually flourish. The manifest complacency of the electronic news media in particular may work to the ultimate advantage of IMM. The death of the conventional media has been threatened so many times that it is easy to dismiss IMM prophets as criers of 'Wolf'. The print media have been a long time dying, and oven in the mid-1990s the newspapers remain relatively strong, particularly at the 'quality' end of the market. Evening newspapers in Australia are virtually extinct but morning dailies, the so called '24-hour dailies' and weeklies are holding up well. Newspaper publishers are optimistic that colour will slow market erosion, although it is unlikely to recapture relinquished circulation or attract significant new markets. It is expected that technological adaptation and innovation will continue cost reductions and better marketing will rejuvenate revenue flows. Magazine publishing is healthy with strong growth in niche publications.

The newspapers deflected with relative ease the last much heralded direct technological challenge - that of Teletext in the 1970s. This may have instilled a false confidence about the superiority of traditional delivery systems over new technological fixes. While publishers are talking seriously about electronic publication, they perceive its benefits more in terms of production rather than of delivery. The prospect of an electronic menu allowing readers to assemble their own news sheet is canvassed but without any clear notion of implementation. It is also arguable how interactive such customised newspapers might be. In IMM terms such a newspaper is not all that much of an advance on conventional newsagency services, such as AAP's Newstrack, which allow choice of stories from a menu but lack capability to go beyond and behind the rigid story formats. These systems are also priced beyond the means of average news consumers. It may be possible to make printing of items chosen from an electronic menu cheap and to adapt such a system to incorporate limited interactivity, for example, the ability to call up background and other supplementary material. Even so, control of news would remain with suppliers with only restricted access for consumer demand.

Network television practice is an increasingly ossified reflection of the way things were done in the grand era of the 1970s and early 1980s. In Australia, audiences may have peaked and revenues declined but there is little concession that change is necessary, much less any perception of serious danger. Network news services remain wedded to the conventions of one major presentation every 24 hours, usually with less than ten items presented in a format that is as much a ritual as the Gregorian chant. Pessimistic assessments have already consigned traditional television organisation and delivery to the dustbin of media history. In Australia, the extremely defensive reaction of the television networks to pay television suggests that the 'outmoded box' may indeed be on the way out. Rapid development of desktop video may link an obsolescent technology and the futuristic telecomputer such as the Frox P3 TV described by Gilder (1992, 112):

Actuated by a 'wand' that controls an entire array of video and audio appliances, Frox machines digitise ordinary TV images, double the number of lines, upgrade the pictures to near (High Definition Television ) quality, suffuse them with CD quality 'surround sound', program the VCR, search databases for pre-chosen news items and potentially answer the telephone ... (The telecomputer) will be a personal computer adapted for video processing and connected by fibre optic threads to other telecomputers all around the world. Using a two way system of signals like telephones do, rather than broadcasting one way like TV, the telecomputer will surpass the television in video communication just as the telephone surpassed the telegraph in verbal communication.
This, says Gilder, will make the television set and the video cassette player as irrelevant as last century's ice chest and ice wagon. It also opens the way, of course, to much greater interactivity in news services.

Thus, network television's prized and popular news services may already have begun their death throes. The news services have already been damaged, although not fatally, by the 24-hour news channels, particularly Cable Network News. This challenge would be a mere fleabite compared with the sophisticated interactivity that the 'telecomputer' would bring to news delivery. It can't be assumed that network TV news services would prove as durable as conventional print which has some countervailing assets of flexibility, accountability and record that are not possessed by network news.

Gilder (1992,104) has criticised American print media executives as having an excessively Luddite approach to the new telecomputer presentation and delivery that he sees emerging. He argues that telecomputers would enable newspapers to usurp the supremacy of their real rivals - the network television stations - as the 'prime purveyors' of immediate news and information:

On electronic data bases accessible from a telecomputer, they could provide their in depth stories, pictures and even videos at the time the news breaks... Local papers could produce distributed database 'dialogs', bulletin boards, and archives that could be tapped by travellers across the country and printed out whenever and where devised. Yet the newspapers feared any change...
Australian newspaper publishers appear more receptive to change and less vulnerable to Gilder's 'Luddite' strictures. Limitations remain on their ability to conceive change in term of the revolution of news services depicted by Gilder.

One possibility is that traditional print and television news services could merge their skills in the delivery of IMM news services by telecomputer. Electronic publishing already has the capability to blend text, picture, sound and publishing elements. An electronic newspaper delivered by telecomputer could inject interactivity while retaining the traditional elements of newspapers, particularly the notion of 'dailiness' or any other regular publication schedule. Furthermore, it could include the database role which many analysts are signalling as a future path for the traditional newspaper. Under this thesis, newspapers would be converted into a virtual online operation gathering news and information for presentation in a continuous flow which could be tapped by customers according to need. These separate strands of electronic publication and online data base organisation have been foreshadowed as possible destinations for the conventional newspaper. There is no reason, however, why the two functions could not be merged into one mechanism of delivery, with journalists retained in their traditional roles as gatherers and presenters of news and information.

Journalism education and IMM

Journalism education has a tradition dating back to the late 17th Century but is perceived more commonly as an American phenomenon, emerging in the late 1860s but gathering strength from early this century. In Australia, journalism courses began shortly after World War 1 but did not really flourish until the 1970s. The remarkable growth of journalism education in Australia over the past 20 years was driven by the former Colleges of Advanced Education (CAEs) which recognised journalism's attractiveness to students in a news media saturated era. The incorporation of the former CAEs into the university system has given journalism a greater legitimacy and a further stimulus to rapid growth. Journalism courses are now taught at 19 Australian universities and several private colleges. There are no accurate figures for total enrolments but, at a conservative estimate, at least 1500 students enter journalism education each year. Many undertake journalism subjects for general interest purposes without any strong vocational intention. Numbers graduating with a firm eye on the job market probably would not exceed 300.

Journalism education is one area of expanding education in mass communications media which include media studies, mixing media skills, including journalism, with a critical, evaluative approach to media product. Communication, or communication studies, is a rubric used to cover a crowded spectrum ranging from highly theoretical subjects to instruction in advanced technology. Journalism has a relationship with communications as a tertiary education discipline and journalism courses are commonly housed in communication faculties or schools. Apart from theoretical and technological studies, communications can also incorporate vocational areas such as advertising, public relations and design. Other disciplinary areas are related to the entertainment and cultural media, such as creative arts, performing arts, and visual arts. One way of approaching a notoriously messy area of education is to conceive it in terms of news media, entertainment media, and information media, all of which are converging rapidly.

Traditionally, journalism education has offered courses directed to the vocational practice of journalism in conjunction with broader educational courses in social sciences, humanities, science and economics. Vocational elements include news gathering, writing and presentation skills, media law, ethics and standards, history and structure. Most courses cover skills in print, radio and television news production, some at a relatively sophisticated level with publication of creditable newspapers, magazines and smaller publications, and production of broadcast quality radio and television segments. Most journalism departments and schools can cope with desktop publishing instruction but not m yet with desktop video. Some schools have access to excellent laboratory and production facilities, although heavy equipment costs are major constraints on all schools. Generally, journalism educators have not been enthusiastic about tackling IMM in their courses, partly because of conceptual problems but also because of an understandable caution about making costly investments in an area whose relevance to news media is still emerging.

IMM and journalism: UOW's course

So far, this paper has tried to indicate possible impacts of IMM on traditional news media end journalism education to set a context for describing a course in journalism and IMM presented by the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of Wollongong over 14 weeks in the first session (semester) of 1993. To the best knowledge of the authors, this has been the first IMM course in journalism yet offered in Australia. The ability to present the course was greatly facilitated by access to the IMM unit of the UOW's Faculty of Education. The unit has a deserved reputation as a pioneer in the development of IMM educational materials, particularly through the prototype development of the Lake Iluka project.

This course was designed to introduce students to the processes and potential of IMM and to explore how it might be used for the delivery of news services. It was pointed out to students that previous attempts to usurp the traditional methodology of news delivery, such as teletext, had largely failed. With the increasing convergence of media technology transcending traditional barriers between print ad electronic journalism it was increasingly likely that long accepted patterns of news delivery would be transformed. It was essential, therefore, that contemporary journalists understood IMM concepts and practices and be prepared to accommodate them within traditional journalism.

Specifically, the course comprised the following elements:

  1. An introductory overview of the traditional presentational and delivery skills of journalism, and how pressures of technological innovation might change them;

  2. A brief review of the processes of media convergence and digitalisation of media technology over the past decade;

  3. An outline of theoretical issues underlying the development of IMM, and a critical analysis of contemporary multimedia product;

  4. An account of the relevance of IMM to the gathering, presentation and delivery of news and information services;

  5. Basic skills training in specific components of multimedia production, including HyperCard, imaging, digitalised video, design and elements of animation;

  6. A project designed to integrate as many of these elements as possible in a single IMM product designed to explore the problems of news gathering, presentation and delivery in an IMM dimension.

IMM news project

Early in the course, it was decided that the IMM news project should be based on a university event, the Opening of a satellite campus at Berry 50 km south of the main campus at Wollongong. A number of other options were considered, including an attempt to capture a 'spot' news event such as a fire or major accident. These were rejected because of course constraints on place and time and also the uncertainties involved in efforts to attain immediacy. The opening of the new campus had excellent visual elements such as a helicopter fly past from a nearby naval base, an academic procession, bush bands, groups of school children, and the campus was picturesquely sited in a converted agricultural station originally used for inseminating cattle. The class of ten students was divided into units to obtain a video record, still photographs, audio interviews, and print text. These ingredients were processed and prepared for incorporation into an IMM format.

Many of the ideas put forward by students in preparatory session were influenced by the examples of commercial CD-ROM software, and also project packages prepared by the UOW's IMM laboratory. A particularly influential package was Mission Impossible, prepared by a project team engaged in one of the unit's courses. This was commissioned by the NSW Cancer Council, and employed a rich range of presentational devices in a kiosk format to demonstrate precautionary measures against skin and lung cancer.

The main limitations of the technology were of a variety common to a relatively small teaching department equipped with only limited sources of hardware and memory. An enormous memory capability was essential; with only limited memory it was possible only to utilise audio and video software in fits and starts. With only a very limited knowledge of IMM technology, students had difficulty in conceptualising how text, sound and film could be integrated and presented in a CD-ROM format.

Figure 1: Headlines page

The early optimism that a novel structure for news delivery might be assembled soon faded. Apart from students' limited software skills, the technology itself was not developed enough to meet aspirations for sophisticated news presentation. Thus, the project drifted, perhaps inevitably, into an educational IMM package. The campus news event was used as the starting point, with the concept widened to include a background of news, historical and cultural material. The development of the project followed this pattern:

Development of the project

Because the material for IMM presentation was gathered very early in the course, the participants did not have a clear idea of how the news material might be used. This limited the opportunities for creative exploitation of news delivery opportunities in an IMM format. Furthermore, the conventions applicable to accustomed news gathering practices were not necessarily the most suitable for gathering IMM presentation material. This meant that the class failed to exploit the opportunity to gather good, newsworthy material. The collection of news material was essentially a scattergun approach. This had the offsetting virtue that it stimulated the clan to more innovative approaches in the actual preparation of IMM material to compensate for defects in news gathering.

This suggests a number of conceptual questions. Is it necessary to revise concepts of news values and newsworthiness which have been utilised by generations of journalists? Does IMM news delivery require a different conceptual approach to news information? If so what sort of different approach? Would it have helped if students had been more familiar with the software and its limitations when news was collected? Is IMM a suitable mechanism for delivering the elusive category of information generically described as news?

Figure 2: University campus opens at Berry - places to see

Once the news was collected the preparatory (brainstorming) sessions were compartmentalised because students had been working on only one aspect of collection. This, of course, was in accord with the traditional manner of news collection and presentation shaped to the idiosyncratic demands of news, radio or television presentation and delivery. Consequently, there were problems in conceiving a coherent, holistic framework for IMM presentation and delivery.

Because most students gathered sound and video grabs of people attending the campus news event, the class grouped much of the material around the particular role, function and predictable comments of people interviewed, for example, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wollongong and local politicians. The application of news values might be summarised as follows: "because we decided the day was newsworthy, everything we collected on the day contained intrinsic news value." It does not require a detailed familiarity with news criteria to appreciate that such an approach is fundamentally flawed. There was a lack of news discrimination and judgment in the treatment of the material.

Because of constraints of time and practical knowledge, the final product contained only part of the material gathered and processed. Additional material was saved for possible insertion into a revised project shell. This original shell has been retained as it existed at the end of the course in a HyperCard stack. After the course was completed this prototype shell was revised as a more news oriented structure. Particular problems addressed were particularly technical, such as difficulties in ' browsing' through the presentation, and party conceptual, as in the feasibility of the structure for repeated news bulletins. The following criteria were adopted:

It is intended to demonstrate the project in as advanced a format as possible at the 1994 IMM Conference in Perth.

Figure 3: University campus opens at Berry - cattle farms surround the location

Some closing observations

It is difficult to make any firm judgments about a project which is still some distance from completion. The following observations are directed firstly at educational considerations, then an attempt is made to tease out implications for news media.

A basic problem for courses in multimedia at tertiary level is lack of basic course materials. In short, there is a need for a good basic text book devoted to IMM theoretical development, giving some case studies of successful projects and providing some basic project templates which could be employed. In the UOW course, the collected papers from the IMM conference at Perth in January 1992 were invaluable sources of instructional material. Useful supplements were obtained from the pioneering US collections of Kristina Hooper and Susan Ambron, from trade journals, and from the computer columns of the daily press. Such a collage of materials reflected improvisation rather than any consistent, coherent approach to assembling a good set of teaching materials. With the likelihood of increasing numbers of IMM courses in tertiary teaching departments, the demand for good teaching materials will become increasingly urgent. A valuable by-product of this conference would be the preparation of a book of readings drawn from papers presented at the two Perth IMM conferences and other relevant sources. A succinct basic textbook would also be an excellent investment at this rudimentary stage of IMM instruction at tertiary level.

Without doubt, the course outlined above was overloaded. It was asking a lot of untrained students to absorb IMM concepts in some detail, to pick up skills in at least some of the software involved, and to partly complete a substantial project. The total amount of lecture time available over 14 weeks was less than 45 hours for each of ten students. The experience of IMM projects using CD-ROM suggests that satisfactory prototypes can be produced in an intensive two week course with up to 14 students, most having some experience in relevant software. Even so, much post-production refinement needs to be done. For students essentially unfamiliar with IMM concepts and software, greater allocations are necessary for any effective product development. Ideally, three standard length courses are necessary. The first would be devoted to IMM origins, development, theory, and project planning; the second would involve thorough drilling in requisite skills; and the third would encompass project production. In the current university system this means three half year sessions (or semesters) and a total commitment of 18 months to complete a sequence of IMM courses. Cramming these three phases into one is an unsatisfactory compromise.

Given these limitations, course performance was generally good with most students adjusting effectively to an unfamiliar environment. The majority were able to extend skills in traditional news gathering, presentation and delivery by picking up software skills and using them to contribute to the final product. Conceptually, most were able to explore IMM and its implications for news services. Professional journalists taking the course were generally sceptical about IMM's practical impact on conventional practice, although prepared to concede that rapid development of IMM delivery capability might change their views. A positive feature of the course was the emergence of a research overhang which enabled further development to be undertaken for several months after the formal ending of classes and assessment.

In terms of news presentation and delivery, it is proposed to offer a fuller assessment. when further research work is completed. A few brief points may be made here.

  1. Much preparatory work will be needed to break ingrained mindsets of audience committed to traditional means of news delivery. Lack of audience acceptance of an innovatory, unfamiliar mode of news delivery was a principal reason in the failure of teletext in the late 1970s. The grip of network television news, in particular, will not be easy to break.

  2. Journalists have become accustomed to both organisational and technological change in a turbulent era beginning in the early 1980s. In general, they have adapted well to new skilling, particularly those involved in design, graphics and production processes. Journalists working on news gathering as distinct from news presentation and delivery have been less exposed to change since the digitalisation of the 1970s. This division of function emerges in journalistic attitudes to further change, with the news gatherers more like to show scepticism about possible IMM formats. Production journalists are more likely to make the conceptual leap to greater interactivity between news producers and news audience. Both types of journalist, however, are critical of what they see as potential for lack of control, indiscipline, sloppiness and waste of time in IMM systems. The case for IMM is not helped at the moment by the erratic performance of some CD-ROM and laser disc product, even when adequate hardware resources, particularly memory, are available.

  3. Despite these reservations, there would seem to be excellent opportunities for the IMM industry in making a pitch to the news media industry. It seems remarkable that so little joint research and development has been initiated.


The authors wish to thank participants in the 1993 Journalism and Multimedia class conducted by the Graduate School of Journalism, University of Wollongong. In particular, we thank Stuart Hill for sustained work on the development of this project and for contributing material for this paper. We express our gratitude to Barry Harper and Christine Brown, of the IMM Laboratory, Faculty of Education, University of Wollongong for invaluable help in the teaching of this course and the development of the IMM news project.


Gilder George, (1992). Life after television: The coming transformation of media and American life. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

Authors: Clem Lloyd and David Blackall
Graduate School of Journalism
University of Wollongong, New South Wales

Please cite as: Lloyd, C. and Blackall, D. (1994). IMM, news presentation and news delivery: A case study. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Second International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 304-310. Perth, Western Australia, 23-28 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1994/km/lloyd.html

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