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'Fusion' journalism
[December 04, 2012]

'Fusion' journalism

Dec 04, 2012 (Daily News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- A silver-haired CEO dressed in business casual attire sits at the head of the long conference table, flanked by young men and women with laptop computers parked in front of them. The discussion for more than an hour includes the team receiving governmental permission to gather video segments in China, the trip planned to South Africa next year and coordinating a high-tech information exchange between Bowling Green and Orange County, Calif.

Several members of the team have just returned to Bowling Green from London in the United Kingdom. Jet lag shows on their faces.

This isn't a young startup company perched in a high-rise office building, where the daily financial bottom-line struggle could lead to riches in the future for the young professionals. These are junior and senior journalism students working at Mass Media and Technology Hall at Western Kentucky University, enrolled in a 400-level course called Western iMedia. They can handle a video camera and a computer with aplomb, and hopping a flight to halfway around the world is just another day at the office. They are the best of the best and they work for Kerry J. Northrup, the CEO at the head of the table.

Northrup, who holds the Cal Turner Professorship in Multimedia Journalism at the WKU School of Journalism and Broadcasting, said Western iMedia is a new approach to preparing journalism students for the real world. Gone are the days of the assembly-line approach of churning out fresh-faced graduates to work just at newspapers, television stations or public relations firms. Journalism instruction at WKU now embraces the mission of how to prepare young people to work in many more settings. Emerging companies with state-of-the-art expertise and top-shelf technology accept journalism graduates in new roles. WKU wants its graduates to develop an edge when they come to the marketplace and Western iMedia is part of that preparation.

"I recruited the best I could find out of all the (study) sequences. This is an entrepreneurial enclave. This class functions just like a startup," Northrup said.

Northrup, who has been at WKU since 2009, is the former director of publications for the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers and headed up a technology push by Gannett before that. He likes to be ahead of the curve and once served as a consultant to a newspaper industry making the conversion to Mac II computers in newsrooms across America.

In past years, Western iMedia students have traveled to India, Tanzania, Turkey and France. They have tackled such stories as autism, the post-AIDS world and how American students travel overseas in an arena dominated by unpredictable terrorist acts. They use print, video, audio, graphics and then technologically layer them in a concert of information intended to entice their audiences. They take a modern approach to an art as old as the first campfire: Storytelling. It is called "fusion" journalism, Northrup said. An onlooker may see a multi-colored poster hanging on a wall or sitting on an easel at the Greenwood Mall. By pointing a cellphone at an element in the poster, a video immediately springs to life on the phone's display area. Other clicks open other aspects of the story to read. The poster is tied to information presented on Web pages, available in print publications or other outlets.

"We take the story and find the audience," Northrup said. "We see which parts of the story work the best in what media." The students are currently covering the development of the Confucius Institute expansion across the globe. CIs are directly funded by the Chinese government. The program provides teachers and resources for teaching Chinese language and culture in local schools and colleges. There are more than 300 CIs worldwide and nearly a quarter of them are in the United States. Kentucky hosts the largest concentration of CI-funded native Chinese instructors in the U.S.

Northrup envisions a series of panels containing information. The panels are also interactive at several levels with cellphones. The technology is changing the type of journalist in the real world. WKU is partnering with Column Five Media of Orange County, Calif., and Layer, an Amsterdam company considered an augmented-reality technology pioneer.

When Bowling Green-based rock band Cage the Elephant returned to the area this summer for the Starry Nights Festival in Oakland, the Western iMedia team went into the teeming crowds to tell the story. Those interviews were turned into videos, print and charts, a trial-run presentation to prepare for Western iMedia's latest project. A video produced by Western iMedia about the Starry Nights festival may be found at "This is a really innovative way to tell a story," said Gavin Ezell, a junior from Bowling Green. Ezell is studying public relations with a minor in marketing. The Bowling Green High School graduate said he's working on design and marketing.

"It's a really cool concept for me," said Lauren Lorance, a junior from Jeffersonville, Ind., who is in the news-editorial sequence. "I've never been put into a staff quite like this one. I'm gathering material for info graphic panels and setting up interviews," she said.

"This is the future of journalism," said T.J. Parker, a senior from Glen Ellyn, Ill. "Plus, it looks good on a resume." Parker is a sociology major with a minor in broadcast news. He is shooting video for the CI project in Los Angeles shortly after the team meeting.

Whitney Harper of Russellville is a senior pursuing a double major in television film production and art history. Her scheduled trip to Washington, D.C., to do interviews and shoot video is right around the corner at the time of the team meeting.

"This is useful to see how my skills can combine with other people to create a project," Harper said.

"This shows the level of professionalism I can reach with a group that has different backgrounds," said McKenzi Loid of Bowling Green, a senior majoring in public relations with a minor in sales.

To attend the team meeting, she had just returned from London where interviews about the CI project were done. It was her first trip out of the U.S. Loid said it is her job to create the buzz about the CI project using social media such as Facebook and Twitter. She's spearheading a fundraising campaign on for the project, which also as a byproduct creates project awareness and helps the team explore what markets comprise its audience for the comprehensive coverage. She said the Starry Nights poster helps promote the idea of interactive journalism. Five large posters and 30 smaller ones were distributed.

Toward the end of the team meeting, Northrup calls up a screen on his laptop. It's the weather report for the next three days -- in Los Angeles. If rain is in the forecast, the team traveling there needs to carry more lighting equipment and prepare to shoot more video indoors since the rain will wash out the outdoor possibilities. He also checks the predicted forecast for D.C.

"The forecast for Wednesday in Los Angeles calls for showers," Northrup said. "Whitney, you've got nice weather." The students are asked to use the acronym SAME -- story, audience, media, engagement or experience -- to carry out their mission. Northrup said.

"You try to do journalism that gets noticed, or what's the point " ___ (c)2012 the Daily News (Bowling Green, Ky.) Visit the Daily News (Bowling Green, Ky.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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