The segmented boundaries between radio, television, and newspaper that have long been associated with journalism are beginning to blur. The Edward R. Murrows of today are giving “more” by converging yesterday’s journalism with tomorrow’s technology. At the MU School of Journalism, more and more students are taking the opportunity to become more than just print journalists or broadcast reporters; they are classified as a new breed known as “convergence journalists.”
For many newsrooms, convergence is still a new idea being tinkered with on a daily basis. “They are increasingly realizing the need to have reporters with a convergence mindset. That is just a practical survival instinct,” McKean says. “But it is still difficult to try to do all of those things, and do them well, in an environment."
McKean talks about his background in journalism and what inevitably brought him to become chair of the newly created convergence sequence at the Missouri School of Journalism.
McKean describes the process of starting the convergence sequence, and what needs to be done to expand the program.
McKean explains how the new journalism sequence was created in 2005. He says convergence teaches the “best ways to teach digital media skills to our students.” After looking at the strengths and failures of other journalism sequences (for example, magazine, photojournalism, news editorial, and broadcast), McKean and his colleagues were able to construct a curriculum that would introduce all sorts of media skills and apply those to reporting, editing, and producing.
The convergence sequence is broken down into classes, each introducing essential skills for a convergence journalist. The classes range from a basic fundamentals course introducing convergence to reporting, editing, and a capstone.
McKean says a journalist who can tell a story in multiple media bridges the gap between the audience and the reporter. “They have to interact much more closely with the audience and not just assume that they are passive receptacles for the content that we create,” McKean explains. “There are multiple correct ways to tell the story depending on the story itself and the content that is available to tell it.”
Unlike students in other sequences at the Missouri School of Journalism, convergence students work for media outlets across the country, including CurrentTV, MSNBC, and ESPN.
In recent years, McKean has helped universities in other countries start their own journalism sequences. He says the experience has opened his eyes up to the barriers to journalism in other countries and what other institutions must do to clearly report news and information.
McKean says because of the current technological age, many young journalists have grown up with multimedia platforms (such as facebook, cell phones, and blogs), and there is an unconstrained desire to implement many of those media with the news. “I think students that are coming to us now do not want to be shackled by one way of telling stories, ” McKean says.
McKean explains the concept of the backpack journalist, an all-in-one journalist who can do anything without the help of others. “The backpack journalist idea is one notion of how convergence works;” however, he proclaims, “nobody can do everything equally well, and nobody can go out on any given story and do everything and come back with a really compelling story.” A major part of the convergence sequence is to prepare students to be able to work in many different mediums of storytelling, but also to understand the importance of teamwork.