McKenna’s work has been outstanding and he’s earned many accolades (check out www.ewenmedia.com), but I’m particularly impressed with how he’s managed to market himself and grow his journalistic career so expertly in a job market and career field that’s shedding jobs, not creating them.
So, when I saw via Twitter that he was featured on www.10000words.net, I contacted him for a one-on-one. Here’s a few scribbles from our phone conversation:
Q: Hey man, what are you up to?
A: I’m a freelancer for the Star Tribune.
Q: Is that a paid gig?
A: Yes. It’s cool. They only send me on cool stuff. Vikings games, Gophers Stadium, stuff like that … big things that they want to spend the money on freelancers. I do two to three stories per week. Right now it’s a lot of Vikings stuff. The thing that’s fun about freelancing is a lot of it is taylored to the kind of work that you want to do. Rather than doing the traditional news way, … you can really just do whatever you want.
Q: How’s that different from the “traditional news way”?
A: Like at the Vikings game, I shot stills, recorded audio on the sidelines and built a multimedia slideshow and shoot videos of the press conference after. I think it’s kind of gotten to the point that they kind of trust that what I’m gonna bring back works.
Q: Did you ever work for free for them?
A: I did work free, spring of 2008 I did freelance through a course for the Strib. Then I stayed on in the summer and those internships were paid.
Q: Do you tell aspiring journalists to take unpaid jobs?
A: I wouldn’t have any of these paid gigs if I didn’t take free ones before them.
Q: How did you manage to get so much experience in multimedia and video?
A: I’ve always kind of know what I wanted to do next or I was always planning. When I started college I basically started the work I wanted to do. Freshman year I worked at the Minnesota Daily as a staff reporter. Then I worked for Radio K (KUOM 770) on campus hosting Newsday, a 15-minute news show, and I did some news reporting. We had Al Franken on once, which was big. After that I just did TV. I went to Twin Cities Public Television. That was at the same time I started at the Star Tribune. That probably wasn’t a smart thing to do. It’s the one season I’m trying to get off my transcript.
Q: How do you get where you’re at?
A: I had a great head start at Eastview. (Eastview High School in Apple Valley has a great television journalism program) I knew what I wanted to do and I just kept doing it. I just basically emmersed myself in that. Over time you just look back and say, wow, I guess I’ve come a long ways.
Q: You’re a bit of an entrepreneur. Tell me about Ewenmedia.com?
A: I wanted to aggregate my freelance work. It’s local multimedia journalism that’s designed to, from a jouranlistic standpoint, be a news site. It’s not big enough to anywhere near what a local news site is, but I wanted to extend it beyond a portfolio site. There’s no reason to check a portfolio site more than once or every couple of months.
Q: You’ve really built your professional reputation online. Is that something you advocate for journalists?
Five to ten years from now most journalism will be independent from a news organization, the way that the audience is going to be independent from that news organization, they’ll get their news on Facebook, twitter, links from friends and …it’s going to be individual journalists, freelancers with that audience. Jason DeRusha is really good at that. If I were working at a TV station, I’d be doing the same thing. That’s job security.
Q: Do you recommend building your personal brand online as an up-and-coming journalists and veterans alike?
A: Yes, If people know who you are before you apply for a job, that’s huge.
We talked for a while and that’s just some of what McKenna had to say, but I hope you found it enlightening. He’s leading by example and workin’ his butt off, but I have no doubt he’s going to have a job 5 years from now and somewhere big. You gotta admire that.