keeping up with convergence

an editorial for the Association of Christian Collegiate Media newsletter

Journalism is not dead. As Philip Meyer, Knight Chair in Journalism at the University of North Carolina has observed, “Most of the things that I needed to know for my Twentieth Century journalism career I learned in high school, and they are still useful today: Touch typing, writing a simple declarative sentence, respect for scientific method and the Bill of Rights.”

But journalism is changing, and Meyer is trying to keep up. His 2004 book, The Vanishing Newspaper: Saving Journalism In The Information Age is a call for, well, keeping up. He believes “We need good reporters who can bring appropriate tools to bear on constantly changing situations.” He’s right, of course, even though Christian college communication programs are often still mired in print while the digital age marches right on by.

If you haven’t seen the video on promoting the new Kindle you should take a look. It’s not just the tools for creating that are changing; the means of delivery are changing too. You can bet your iPhone on that. With the Kindle you can download books, magazines and newspapers onto a portable print-quality screen wirelessly.

Will one of my students be the first to publish a Pulitzer Prize article that isn’t distributed on a piece of paper? In Ecclesiastes we are told that of making many books there is no end. But the Preacher wrote that with a quill on a parchment. The technology changes. My students have much to learn, and so do I.

One place to start is with a new book by Mark Brigg, assistant editor for interactive news at the Tacoma News Tribune.He says he is “a recovering sportswriter who discovered what the Internet could do for journalism in 1998 and has been sharing his enthusiasm with whomever will listen (and some who won’t) ever since.

His book, a joint project with J-Lab and the Knight Citizen News Network, is Journalism 2.0:How to Survive and Thrive is available free, and of course it is an ebook (It’s probably a little elementary for some of my students, but it’s the advisors I’m worried about).

Another resource is the Center for Innovation in College Media at Vanderbilt. Conferences, contests, critiques, consulting– they will do just about anything to help, as long as it starts with a C.

Maryn McKenna, a guest columnist for the Poytner Institute, discusses the resistance to innovation in many newsrooms, particularly among mid-career professionals. She writes: “Here’s the opportunity that’s being missed: The central issue for writers isn’t where the story is, local or national; it’s how rich the story is, and how deep they are allowed to go.”

Media convergence allows our students to go deeper. It would be a shame if the fear that kept them from doing so was ours.

Wally Metts is the director of the online graduate studies in communication program at Spring Arbor University.

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