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Featured Interview: Professor Doug Powell on New Media in Academic Practice

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Social media has exploded in popularity among our generation. Facebook, Twitter, and other online outlets have become the primary channels of communication between people young and old. The online blogosphere expands by the thousands everyday. We have no doubt evolved into a technologically savvy society, where social media reigns as the king of communication. While the benefits of new media expand into multiple horizons, I sat down with Professor Doug Powell of Kansas State University to discuss the benefits of new media for academic purposes. Professor Powell is an expert in the field of food safety and has served on national and international food safety advisory boards. Recognized as an expert food scientist, Professor Powell teaches diagnostic medicine and pathobiology at K-State. He also hosts a successful blog that informs the public about foodborne illnesses.

Perks of New Media in Academics

According to Professor Powell, new media allows for more interactions. He states that new media elevates academic content above and beyond classroom learning through a channel of instant communication. The accessibility of research and findings provides academic scholars with precise information relevant to a specific field of study. The key benefit of new media is that it presents accessible academic content to the entire world.

Traditional publication methods take time to research, edit, and publish in a complex stylistic form. New media complements traditional publication because it serves as a medium to share information in a more informal manner. While traditional publication calls for proper citations, distinct formatting, and all sorts of rules to fit a formal status quo, new media provides a casual channel of communication for academic scholars to interact. If conducted with accuracy and integrity, new media provides a much more efficient channel of communication for academic studies.

Writers also learn to write short and precise excerpts via social media, rather than the long, strung-out reports seen in traditional academic reporting. Professor Powell describes this as the democratization of information: the accurate, to-the-point reporting conducted by academic scholars, which is accessible to the general public via social media. He reiterates that social media is great for quick, accessible information, but the traditional form of reporting is not outdated and remains very practical for in-depth research. Thus the two forms of communication are complementary, each supporting the other in order to supplement the academic community with reliable, up-to-date information.

The Food Industry and New Media

It is crucial to stay up-to-date in reporting since new outbreaks and illnesses arise in the food industry everyday. Similarly, it is necessary to gather accurate information in order to provide an unbiased opinion on current issues. If opinions fuel biased reporting, evidence must be present to support them, otherwise the source will lose credibility. Professor Powell believes there is a lack of reliable news regarding the food industry, so he aims to inform the public on all food safety issues.

Rigorous evaluation is crucial in the reporting process in order to avoid data inaccuracy. Professor Powell stresses the importance of peer-review and the lack of scholarship in numerous works ranging from social media to government and business journals. He argues that if social media is not evaluated, it is a waste of time because research and reporting errors destroy the validity of any report. For example, the UK Food Agency states that one must not eat meat until it is “piping hot,” while certain meats vary in cooking temperature to kill off bacteria. Powell stresses that “piping hot is not a measurement; using a tip sensitive digital thermometer is.” It is vague reporting such as this that puts consumers at risk of unnecessary foodborne illness.

Students evaluate all forms of social media, so it is essential to provide a source of reliable information that targets a young demographic of college kids. Accurate social media serves as a quick self-education hub for students. Professor Powell relates to his younger demographic through pictures, fun facts, and other pop culture trends. He is known for his infamous “celebrity barf blog” on his personal site, where he spreads current news related to food safety among his audience.

Blogging: A Personal Success Story

Professor Powell aims to educate his students and the general public through informed, accurate reporting. Despite his humorous approach, he offers insightful information on all things related to food safety. He provides the public with food safety information to achieve his ultimate goal, to limit the number of people getting sick from foodborne illness. Currently, 48 million people get sick each year from foodborne illnesses. The majority is unaware of the potential dangers of the food they are eating. Barfblog provides instant risk communication of foodborne illnesses through a quirky yet insightful tone. Through social media we can communicate important information in a fast, easy, accessible way.