Texas State professor examines the New York Times Interactive News Technology department

Amidst all the talk of the demise of newspapers and the reports on newspaper closures and the failures of journalism, sit the academics. When a story is written about the collapse of a media organization, it is written by professional journalists within the industry. But, in the background, university academics analyze the situation, research it thoroughly, provide recommendations, and eventually trickle it back into the operational aspect of the industry. It is a cycle that often goes overlooked, but one that remains important. The International Symposium on Online Journalism brings the two sides together.

Cindy Royal, an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Texas State University in San Marcos, will present an original paper at the 2010 conference. Her research was sparked by a meeting with Aron Pilhofer, editor of Interactive News Technologies at The New York Times, during the 2008 symposium and was intrigued by the work he was doing.

“After I met Aron, we kept in touch, and last year I started thinking it would be great to visit with him and see all that the department is doing,” Royal said. “No one has actually studied their processes, so I took the opportunity to spend some time with them and get an assessment of those processes and the backgrounds of those who work there.”

The result, Royal said, will be an “ethnographic observation” of the department, including, perhaps most importantly, recommendations on how to integrate their practices into the communication curriculum.

“Communication majors need higher technical skills,” Royal said. “Computer science people are not really the best for journalism jobs. The goal is still about storytelling, and that takes a unique group of people with a passion for communicating, but they also need strong technical skills. The team [at the INT department] has both of those requirements. It is a personality, and we need to figure out to how develop those personalities within our students.”

Royal attended the symposium in its very first year in 1999, right as she was preparing to enter the University of Texas graduate program in journalism, thanks to an invitation from symposium chair Rosental Alves.

“From the very beginning of the conference, I have enjoyed the combination of professional and scholarly at the symposium, and over the years, the connection between the two has grown stronger,” Royal said. “There is less of an Us versus Them mentality and we are finally ready to deal with the issues facing online journalism.”

Every symposium attendee has his or her own opinion on what the hot topic will be or what should be discussed at the event this year, but the answers overlap. Royal said the main topic should be a discussion of the role of social media and how to better increase the user experience in journalistic stories.

“The recent situation with the plane crash [that destroyed an Austin IRS building] and the way the Austin American-Statesman handled it was a great example of improving the user experience,” she said. “They were engaging the public and providing a service, and that is what is important.”

Along with her teaching duties, Royal also operates On That Note, a music blog featuring interviews, performances and more.

She can also be followed on Twitter here.