By Colter Hettich, Features Editor
With much of the focus on the JMC Network Student Media News Lab itself, students and visitors might easily overlook the elbow grease that went into realizing a ten-year dream.
Kenneth Pybus, assistant professor of journalism and mass communication, and Cade White, instructor of photojournalism, spent countless hours preparing for all aspects of the newsroom and even more piecing it together this summer. The two men, along with the JMC department, share a deep concern for giving students the highest quality student media experience possible.
“One of the hallmarks of this department is that we are constantly looking forward,” Pybus said. “[The newsroom] shows that we’re thinking about our students careers and less interested in protecting the status quo.”
The idea of constructing a converged newsroom was introduced to ACU more than 10 years. Dr. Susan Lewis, assistant professor of journalism and mass communication, made a presentation to a Visiting Committee on the benefits of a converged media space. Pybus was on that committee and took the presentation seriously.
“I was intrigued because I was at a weekly newspaper where we were trying to figure out how to put our news online,” Pybus said. “[Dr. Lewis’ presentation] hit home; It was the very the challenge I had as editor of a newspaper.”
Pybus’ interest in journalism began with cartooning. Pybus cartooned for the Optimist his first year at ACU, but over time he grew to love the art of writing more. He reported for a year after graduating from ACU before attending Baylor Law School.
Amy Pybus, Kenneth’s wife, said her husband’s interest in journalistic writing spiked while he was at Baylor Law.
“Even through law school, he didn’t really enjoy it until he took his First Amendment class,” Amy said. “I think that’s what made him so interested in it.”
After law school, Pybus moved his family to Houston, where he accepted the position of managing editor of the Houston Business Journal. At the Journal, he learned both the production side of publication and the managerial side. Pybus’ diverse experience in the field has given him an understanding of the importance of being knowledgeable in multiple areas.
Pybus has already noticed the converged atmosphere’s effects on the newsroom.
“Students who don’t emphasize video like to pay attention and watch how it’s done,” Pybus said. “It’s the proximity; you can’t help but absorb something.”
Cade White spent his summer months on the second floor of the Morris Center installing software, hardware and configuring the new video editing station.
White graduated from ACU in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in photojournalism.
“I was a photo hobbyist as a child, but it was just a phase like anything else,” White said. “Somewhere between dirt bikes and guitars.”
Once he arrived at ACU, after receiving the fateful, high school graduation gift of a “decent” camera, White decided to take a photography class. By the time he completed the course, he knew what he wanted to pursue. Though he had direction, he would not develop a passion until taking two-week, photojournalism summer course taught by David Leeson.
In 2004, Leeson received a Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography. The award recognized him and his colleague Cheryl Diaz Meyers for coverage of the invasion of Iraq as embedded journalists. Also, Leeson’s documentary film “War Stories” (2003) won a national Edward R. Murrow award and a National Headliners award.
“Cade was actually helping me out for a while . he was sort of my Deepthroat kind of guy; he kept me informed on what was happening in video,” Leeson said. “I don’t know if anybody knew on the campus just how ahead of the pack he was in video; he just did a fantastic job with his videos.”
Leeson recalled White’s fascination with developing technology, but more importantly his dedication to the craft.
“[White] always and still is incredibly passionate and energetic. The guy still moves like he’s 16,” Leeson said. “He is a wonderful human being.”
“I didn’t see his name anywhere, but I thought, ‘I know who’s behind that,'” Leeson said when he received an invitation to the unveiling of the converged newsroom.
Though Leeson never taught a university course before or after that summer class, he left a deep impression on White. White remembers Leeson making sure his students understood not only the inherent danger and alienation of photojournalism, but the unmatched satisfaction as well.
“He was incredibly inspirational,” White said. “Ever since he has been my mentor. David continues to influence my life and everything that happens here in the newsroom.”
White’s use of his faculty position to encourage students to think creatively and push the envelope is nothing new. In 2002, as Prickly Pear advisor, he designed the first video journalism effort to record a companion DVD for the yearbook. Now, in 2008, White handpicked most of the newsroom’s software and, with the help of Nathaniel Jones and Technology Support Services, designed how the computers and network would be configured.
“I’m a bit of a perfectionist,” White admitted. “As everything started taking shape, I realized I cared very much about the technical aspects of the newsroom.”
Throughout his time at ACU, White said he has been fortunate to be on the front lines of JMC’s transition from old technology to the latest in news technology. The converged media space is something many never thought would be conceived, much less materialized on ACU’s campus.
“I could never have imagined it would be like this back in 1996,” White said. “This is incredible.”