Fusion journalism conveys various fundamental messages: newness (as in modernity and innovation), harmonisation of different ingredients, and luxury, as an expression of excellence and the combination – or fusion – of multiple elements.
INNOVATION has been using the term “fusion journalism” for a while in its various consulting projects worldwide, so I can’t begrudge them using whatever definition they wish. But I’m disappointed. This seems so simplistic, little more than convergence by another name, like someone found “convergence” unpalatable and decided to change the menu rather than the recipe.
I understand the motivation. I, too, detest the way many media consultants have spoiled convergence. Its potential is to create something fundamentally new in how people consume news, something greater than the sum of its parts, different in experience rather than just in packaging or branding. But it has usually been implemented as little more than an internal management exercise that moves around chairs in the newsroom, sometimes changes job titles, often cuts costs, and has little real effect from the consumer’s standpoint.
After a decade of convergence, our industry has produced little that is substantially different from what came before, regardless of the device you get it on. That is our failing, not journalism’s. When I created the Newsplex to help make convergence a real strategy for news organizations, I taught it as an outside-in editorial process, understanding how real people use media and then changing our methods to better mesh with them. Instead it is used as an inside-out business process more about the news company than the news consumer. It’s sad. And INNOVATION should be applauded for bucking the trend in focusing on improving the journalism.
However, let’s not miss another opportunity to really create something new in journalism rather than just do what we’ve done with new names, rather than just putting the same pieces together in different ways.
The first thing is to understand that there really is nothing at all “disparate” – as INNOVATION’s definition suggests – in the different storytelling formats available to journalists. The fact is that news consumers mix and match them all the time. To them it is all one story in which they are interested even as they get some of it from TV and video, some of it online and interactive, some of it in paged presentation whether print or pad, some of it in photos and audio, some of it mobile on the move. It is only the traditionally trained and employed one-dimensional journalist who thinks of each of those tellings as a different story based on his or her format specialty and job description.
Which gets to my point – that the fusion we need in this business is not in the journalism but in the journalist. And in this day and age when it seems anyone and everyone can call himself a journalist in one vein or another, it is the fusion of traditional mission and standards with non-traditional approaches to producing integrated multiplatform story experiences for our audiences that will ultimately define the professionally practicing journalist.
These fusion journalists, as I am now training and calling them, are all about the story first, the medium second. Or rather, the media – plural – because their skill is in integrating multiple formats and platforms to produce the most effective story connected to the most significant audience. Their job is to inform. Their goal is journalism that gets noticed, because if it doesn’t, what’s the point?
If a story is best told using only tweets as some people suggest these days, just 140-character streams of thought, that’s what they’ll produce. Yet with a greater understanding of and focus on the audience experience, it is much more likely they will integrate any tweeted report with a range of other techniques and technologies that anticipate a wide range of consumers over the full life of the story’s consumption and interaction.
Don’t confuse fusion journalists with any of the touted backpack one-person-does-it-all reporters of convergence fame. Fusion journalists usually do employ multiple talents, for sure. But among their chief talents are being able to plan a story from a vantage above their personal preferences, and integrating themselves with other specialists to bring that story to fruition. This in itself is a marked difference from the traditional lone-wolf journalist produced by most schools and cemented by most media employers’ job descriptions. For want of a better description, there is an entrepreneurial mentality to it. It is not something that can be achieved by simply putting traditionally minded journalists into a new organizational structure. There is a thinking process involved for which management is not a substitute.
As for areas of specialization, beyond format skills, I have so far found four varieties of fusion journalists that comprise a full story team or a complete news organization: the J1 audience and interactivity specialist; the J2 content specialist; the J3 presentation, design and operations specialist; and the J4 media technology specialist. Fusion journalists can often be qualified in several of these fields over time, which then makes the team considerably more flexible.
Overall, I’d like to think there is something fundamentally different in the approach of these fusion journalists that produces something fundamentally different and better for the audience than we’ve gotten so far out of convergence, no matter what name it’s given.