Backpack Journalism
Edgar Huang
Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
Historical attitude toward BJ
• In a 2002 article
1634.php) in Online Journalism Review,
Matha Stone called backpack journalists
a “mush of mediocrity.”
• She wrote: “However, the do-it-all
journalists should be the exception, not
the rule.”
Preparing the Next Generation of Journalists for Converged Media
Huang, E., Davison, K., Davis, T., Bettendorf,
E., Shreve, S. and Nair, A. (2006, Autumn).
Journalism and Communication Monographs.
Vol. 8, No. 3, pp. 221-262.
Bridging Newsrooms and Classrooms
What is media convergence?
In this 2003 study, Huang et al identified four levels of
media convergence
 Corporate merger or alliance
 Form/technological convergence
 Content convergence
 Role convergence
Bridging Newsrooms and Classrooms
Convergence calls for role change
A new breed of journalists — converged journalists
— is expected.
Teaming is good, but converged journalists will be in
an advantageous position.
 For the news company, they are efficient and
effective employees.
 For journalists themselves, they are more
marketable and gain more sense of
Bridging Newsrooms and Classrooms
Two questions in the nutshell:
Should J-schools train specialists or fit-for-all
How should college journalism education balance the
teaching of critical thinking and the teaching of
technical skills?
Bridging Newsrooms and Classrooms
Should J-schools train specialists or
The majority of the respondents (84%) agreed or
strongly agreed that journalism students should learn
how to write for multiple media platforms.
The majority of the respondents (85%) agreed that
journalism students with a visual emphasis should
learn how to produce and edit photos, videos and
online interactive images.
Most respondents (78%) agreed or strongly agreed that
all journalism majors should learn multiple sets of skills,
such as writing, editing, TV production, digital
photography and Web design.
Bridging Newsrooms and Classrooms
Should J-schools train specialists or
generalists? (cont.)
When asked whether journalism students should still
have a specialization, such as writing,
photojournalism, broadcasting and new media, over
half (63%) of the respondents agreed or strongly
agreed. Over a quarter of the respondents (28%)
were negative and 9% were not sure.
Bridging Newsrooms and Classrooms
Should J-schools train specialists or
generalists? (cont.)
When asked whether journalism sequences should be
reorganized considering the trend of media-platforms
merging in the industry,
56% of the professors agreed or strongly agreed,
22% were not sure,
22% disagreed or strongly disagreed.
Bridging Newsrooms and Classrooms
Should J-schools train specialists or
generalists? (cont.)
“Flexible” is a key term repeatedly seen in the
respondents’ textual answers as a suggestion for
training future journalists. A professor wrote:
“We can’t teach for the ‘now.’ We have to prepare
students for when they graduate … which in most
instances is now five years out. And, we feel a
commitment to expose them to all types of writing in all
platforms so they can be flexible about their career
choice at the front end of their academics. Then, they
can apply the skills to a specialty area where they are
totally proficient.”
Bridging Newsrooms and Classrooms
What skills do news professionals need
to learn most at their current positions?
Editors’ list
Good writing
News professionals’ list
Good writing
Multimedia production
Critical thinking
New technology
Multimedia production
New technology
Visual production
Visual production
Time management
Second language
On-camera exposure
Critical thinking
Time management
Second language
On-camera exposure
Bridging Newsrooms and Classrooms
Conclusions (continued)
Respondents with different academic and
professional backgrounds share the same
conviction. That is, reporting news in multiple media
platforms will be tomorrow’s way news is
presented; dealing with media convergence in
college journalism education is an urgent necessity.
The wait-and-see strategy will place a J-school in a
disadvantaged position over the long run.
Bridging Newsrooms and Classrooms
Conclusions (continued)
Generalists are needed in the industry though such
needs may not be necessarily converted into
requirements in job ads for a while.
The needs for “superhack masters of multimedia” are
out there, but whether the training of such superhack
masters will become a norm largely depends on
whether J-schools are willing to and able to develop
those “avant-garde” courses.
Students also need to learn to cooperate and
collaborate across newsrooms.
Bridging Newsrooms and Classrooms
Conclusions (continued)
Attitude and aptitude, together with time
management ability, will be the key to producing
quality work in newsrooms.
The concerns that students being trained in
multiple media platforms will be jacks of trades but
masters of none are not grounded.
Backpackers Rule
• In 2005, Mark Hamilton, a former
journalist and a then journalism
instructor in Vancouver, BC, highly
praised backpackers. He was so excited
about the BJ idea that he wrote: “In fact,
if I were 19 again and starting out as a
journalist, I’d do whatever it took to be a
backpack journalist.”
BJ Has Became Mainstream
• In 2006, the
Institute for
began to award
BJ Has Became Mainstream
• Gannett
ran a backpack
program in early
BJ Has Became Mainstream
BJ Has Became Mainstream
• At the Journal News in White Plains, New York
Deputy Managing Editor for Presentation Larry
Nylund, says, “The list of qualifications we look for in
a photojournalism applicant just got a lot longer.”
Why? “The photo department in now known as the
multimedia department,” Nylund says. “We are
looking for talented people who can step in with the
skills needed to tell visual stories in many different
ways.” The photographers in Nylund’s department
contribute to the newspaper, magazines, weekly
tabloids, a television station and a Website.
Photographers carry still and video cameras, laptops,
cell phones. The company now has video and audio
My New Study
• This year, I completed a study “Media
convergence and young audience: Finding a
converging point,” in which I concluded, “True
convergence, based on the findings from this
study, however, needs to be realized on the
Internet. As the current generations of people
in the ages of 40 and above, it is very likely
that the ‘paper’ part of newspaper will
gradually become a nostalgic concept, and
TV and radio will be assimilated into online
news presentations. …
My New Study
• … In the years to come, a true convergence
will mean that the news industry provides the
younger generation an experience of
consuming multimedia news that is
customizable and relevant to them all online
through computers or other more convenient
and less expensive hand-held devices with
an opportunity for audience to be easily
engaged in participatory journalism.”
The Point Is
• Backpack journalism education should
become the standard for future