Anthony J. Pennings, PhD


Emerging Areas of Digital Media Expertise, Part 1

Posted on | April 28, 2015 | No Comments

A couple of years ago I was working with a group of Digital Media MBA students doing an independent study course and it helped me conceptualize some changes going on in the industry and related employment changes. In extensive discussions about their goals and their perspective on the dynamic high-tech sector in Austin, I began to reflect on the trajectory of the digital media field and what types of knowledge, skills, and abilities were becoming increasingly required. I was also getting feedback from media managers and venture capitalists about what they were looking for in new and re-trained employees.

I decided to post six areas of expertise media and information management students were gravitating towards, based on their interests and competencies. I suggested the terminology “digital media archetypes” to refer to the “recognizable character types that emerge from the systemic organization of activities and responsibilities in the modern digital environment.” Individuals look to situate themselves in occupations according to their interests and perceived skill sets and knowledge. Sometimes they specialize and sometimes they incorporate overlapping areas.

The major areas of digital media expertise:

Strategic Communications
Analytics and Data Visualization
Business Management
Global Knowledge

Work environments involving global media and culture environments require and utilize various combinations of design, technical, communications, analytics, global knowledge, and business acumen. Most people may specialize in one or two areas of expertise; others may take on many, particularly in small organizations. Still others may take on leadership roles that require them to establish rapport with, and orchestrate people with different types of competencies to accomplish different types of creative tasks.


Design abilities require the refinement of aesthetic sensibilities creative abilities, and the mastery of media skills. This may involve a number of imaginative activities involving image composition, info-graphic construction, video editing, page layout, typography selection, character drawing, and user interface schemes.
Understanding how human users interact with a design is important, particularly with the proliferation of touchscreen and other “human” interface technologies that provide haptic as well as visual feedback.

Design skills involve aligning informative and iconic content elements, organizing similar types of information, setting up intriguing contrasts, and repeating important elements. A website for example needs a structure with a logo in a predictable place, navigational systems that are quickly decipherable and easy to operate, chromatic texturing and shading, typographies that convey the intention of the site, and meaningful content that is sharply aligned and easy to read.

Visual literacy and skills remain vital to design and media quality. Composing a shot or constructing a grammatical sequence of meaningful images continues to grow as a fundamental media production competency. Capturing authentic or staged moments with digital photography has been given a new impetus by social media sites such as Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and photo sharing sites such as with their ability to distribute widely and encourage commentary, tagging, and feedback.

High definition camera phones, with near broadcast quality, provide extraordinary amounts of content for news programs, DIY social entertainment, and source materials for ads and public relations videos. Youtube, Google+, Facebook and other social media sites like Snapchat, Twitter, and Vine provide outlets for creative camera work. Drones now provide an extraordinary new source of visual content. Even the construction of virtual reality environments for games and other simulations require knowledge of camera perspectives and environmental compositions. Of course, television and film still provide a number of opportunities for camera work.

Design activities often draw on global, regional and local knowledge. They frequently infuse cultural, social and economic contexts and meaning into their work. Lastly, design projects require strong execution skills that may require both working independently as well as with groups or partners.


Technical skills for these areas may include computer coding and networking skills, but primarily involve mastery of specific software applications involved in the production of media content. These might relate to animation, games, photography, television or movies. While being able to code in HTML5, Javascript, node.js or a C language is extremely useful, as is being able to configure a Local Area Network or a Content Delivery Network; technical expertise in the global media will more often involve combining artistic and creative abilities with these new “cultureware” applications. Furthermore, the management of teams of technical media specialists and their creative counterparts requires a unique combination of leadership, accounting, collaboration, and project management skills.

While applications tend to change over time, Adobe’s Audition, Illustrator, and Photoshop are central to creative media production in a wide range of industries such as book, magazine, music, and web publishing. Autodesk’s Maya 3-D software is the current standard in game development, video animation, as well as building and environmental design. Avid’s non-linear editing suites are used to compose musical soundtracks, edit news stories, color correct TV advertisements, and structure the workflow of visual editing for movies, sports and other complex video arrangements such as e-commerce product demos. Avid’s ISIS systems not only store and manage large amounts of HD, 2K, and 4K digital media but allow teams from around the world to add files, collaborate on storylines and edit simultaneously in real-time. Avid’s Media Composer now handles 4K editing.

Strategic Communication

Communication is central to advancing personal and organizational goals. It is central to aligning internal management and employees and connecting with external clients, customers, and vendors. Social networking and other digital media are proliferating and augmenting or replacing traditional media. Social networking, mobile telephony, text messaging, video conferencing, email and virtual reality are some of the new forms of mediated communications that each present new challenges and opportunities for profit and non-profit organizations.

Communication and digital strategists are people who analyze and solve organizational problems with communication skills and digital media tools. They combine a deep understanding of how organizations work with powerful new abilities in design, media production, media analytics, writing, cultural and global sensitivities. They orchestrate the use of media channels and platforms to promote agendas or products.

The dynamism of digital technologies has renewed the validity of Communication and its various sub-disciplines such as organizational communication, rhetoric, dispute resolution, nonverbal behavior, computer-mediated communication, mass communications, semiotics, public relations, advertising, speech, film and television analysis, discourse analysis as well as drama and theatre.

Communication has a rich history of not only studying the communications and media industries but interpersonal and speech processes as well. Furthermore, the area has a strong tradition of developing and using methodologies that are both empirically based and generalizable to lived social situations. Diffusion of innovations and network analysis are two examples of communication research that are extremely applicable to today’s Internet-enhanced social media environment.

The famous Lasswell model above provides a useful conceptualization of the communication process and identifies key roles and components: communicator, message, medium, receivers, and the effect that is produced. This model was turned into the popular saying in the field: “Who? Says what? In which channel? To whom? With what effect?” These generate a Lasswell Modelseries of questions relevant to advertisers, publishers, and others involved in media and cultural production. Understanding the varieties of media firms or the people who are eligible to speak; the types of meaningful messages created; the influence of the medium on the audio, visual and written content that are transmitted through media channels; and also the influence of the messages and processes on audiences and individual receivers that decode and interpret the communication.

In the next section, I will cover the three other areas I mentioned above. These are Analytics and Data Visualization, Business Management, Global Knowledge.


AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is the Professor of Global Media at Hannam University in South Korea. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas and was on the faculty of New York University from 2002-2012. He also taught at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand and was a Fellow at the East-West Center in Hawaii in the 1990s.


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    Professor at State University of New York (SUNY) Korea since 2016. Moved to Austin, Texas in August 2012 to join the Digital Media Management program at St. Edwards University. Spent the previous decade on the faculty at New York University teaching and researching information systems, digital economics, and strategic communications.

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