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With focus on mobile, Kebbel ushers in change for UNL journalism

April 17, 2012 by

Gary Kebbel sees the future of journalism – and the world – in mobile.

“Cell phones and mobile devices are the one, only supreme way to bridge every digital divide I can think of,” said Kebbel (left), the Dean of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications and the current driving force behind its new Mobile Media Center (he is recruiting an associate dean to take over the center this fall). “If you want to reach everybody and reach everybody with the same message, you’ve got to do it on mobile devices. Some would argue you can do it on TV also, but who’s watching?”

Kebbel describes the Mobile Media Center as a hub to coordinate mobile-related activity that is already taking place across campus, and encourage people “to do what they normally do, but focus on mobile media.” It will collect and expand “a lot of what we already have but are not pulling together for maximum impact.”

“A lot of people can contribute to both the research knowledge and the use of research knowledge, creating a feedback loop,” he said.

The center will also act as a “re-granting” center, applying for grants related to mobile media, then re-granting them to projects across campus.

Kebbel has been dean of the college since July 2010. During his interview “speech,” he told faculty and students in the audience that they had the luxury of choosing their future. “I will be an agent of change,” he said; if they didn’t want change, they should choose someone else. “In my mind, it was a promise, not a speech.”

“If you want to reach everybody and reach everybody with the same message, you’ve got to do it on mobile devices. Some would argue you can do it on TV also, but who’s watching?” – Kebbel

Before moving to Lincoln, Kebbel was Journalism Program Director with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami, where he administered the $25 million Knight News Challenge and became aware of UNL as one of 12 participants in the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education. Before that, Kebbel held leadership positions with AOL News, USA, and He began his journalism career in upstate New York, after originally setting his sights on being a political science professor.

But it was through his experience overseas that the possibilities of the mobile revolution hit home for Kebbel, and he realized how far behind the U.S. remains. As a Fulbright Senior Specialist, he taught in South Africa in 2010. Students who were bored by his lectures would take out their phones and do mobile banking, he said.

And in China, Kebbel has used his phone to order and pay for a taxi, which picked him up by tracking his phone’s GPS signal.

“If you’re not paying attention to mobile, you’re missing the boat,” he said. (Indeed, the Pew Research Center‘s annual State of the News Media report cites mobile devices as a potential savior for the industry, as they may be “leading to a deeper experience with news than on the desktop/laptop computer.”)

But at the same time, the college Kebbel leads is still committed to teaching the basics of gathering, organizing, and presenting information, which graduates can use in traditional media outlets, with a startup or with some type of job that doesn’t even exist yet.

“I think that what we’re teaching them all is life skills,” Kebbel said.

“We want to try to teach students to be comfortable in a culture of constant change,” he added. “And particularly we want to teach them to be leaders in an environment of constant change. Because that’s what they’re entering.”


Credits: Photo courtesy of Kebbel.

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