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How television news is being transformed by a class at Ball State University - and by the click of a mouse. 

HUDDLED AROUND A 42-inch monitor like kids gawking at the latest iPod, Ball State University students are eager to see what the future of television looks like. The group began gathering at 8:30 that morning to hash out the day's stories for a daily newscast that's aired on Indiana Public Television, and the spirited discussion in their news meeting is the only thing that closely resembles what we might consider traditional television news.

Here in the school's college of Communication, Information, and Media, students and professors alike might be tempted to call the linear broadcasts we currently see on ABC, CBS, and NBC a bit, well, archaic.

What's different about this five-minute newscast, aside from its being produced largely by students, is how it lets viewers casually troll for information, much like the Internet does.

As the anchor, Chris Bavender, a slender woman in a red pantsuit, delivers a story on problems having to do with overdue toxicology reports in Muncie, Indiana, instructor Vinayak Tanksale stands in front of the screen, using a remote control to show how viewers can learn more about the effects of alcohol in the bloodstream merely by clicking on a button at the bottom of the screen. A click from Tanksale sends Bavender to the lower-right-hand corner of the screen, and up pop several graphics that explain how alcohol levels are tabulated and that illuminate the tragic story of how a Ball State student (who may or may not have been drinking) rammed his vehicle headfirst into a minivan.

This is the future.

Last year's Pew Internet & American Life Project study cited that more than 50 million Americans get the bulk of their news online. This information, paired with the fact that people are now looking beyond immobile TV sets for entertainment, to laptops, iPods, game players, and PDAs, is indication enough that the consumers expected to sustain TV news tomorrow won't want to watch it - they'll want to use it.

"Interactivity is definitely the future - across the board," says Timothy Pollard, the Ball State associate professor of telecommunications who last year began offering an interactive-television class, which was met with both celebrated glee and downcast skepticism (oftentimes from his own colleagues). "These kids are trained now to multitask. They have their headphones on, their iPods, cable and satellite hookups, a DVD playing, video games at the ready, and all the while, they're text messaging and grabbing for their cell phones with Facebook open. They need that kind of stimulation. They're getting away from TV because it's a one-way experience. You need to keep their eyeballs there. And the way you do that is let them interact with it."

Thus, Ball State initiated the bold move of offering a semester-long course that's designed to head down the ambitious path we all know exists but are hesitant to tread because it looks so unpaved, so bumpy - so unknown.