Jonah McKeownJuly 28, 2020
Jonah McKeown was born in London, England and grew up in Columbia, MO and Mexico, MO. He is the oldest of seven siblings. He attended Truman State University from 2012-2016, graduating with a Bachelor’s in Communication and a Minor in Film Studies. He went on to earn a Master’s in Journalism at the University of Missouri, graduating in 2018. Currently he lives with his wife, Sarah, in Denver, CO and works as a staff writer and assistant content editor for Catholic News Agency, an international news organization headquartered there.
What year did you graduate and what was your concentration?
What extra-/co-curricular activities did you do?
I worked for the Truman Media Network (TMN) working at TMN-Television, writing, news photography, and eventually serving as one of the site’s digital editors. I also served as president of Lambda Pi Eta, the Communication honor society, my senior year. During the spring semester of 2015, I studied abroad at the University of Helsinki in Finland, at a Swedish-speaking journalism school. Lastly, I also was involved with the Catholic Newman Center and the Club Tennis team.
Did you go to grad school? If so, where? Was it immediately after you left Truman or did you wait? Why?
I chose to continue my studies right out of Truman at the University of Missouri, where I earned a Master’s degree in Journalism. I started out concentrating my studies on Documentary Filmmaking, and shifted to Convergence Journalism (a mixture of print, digital, radio, and other media). While at Mizzou, I worked for KBIA, the local NPR affiliate, and also worked as a videographer for the journalism Study Abroad office.
What was your first job after graduation?
Since September 2018, I have worked for Catholic News Agency (CNA), which is one of the world’s largest English-language Catholic news sites. Basically, we write about the Catholic Church (what the Pope is doing, Vatican goings-on, etc.) but also cover a wide range of topics that are of interest to Catholics, other Christians, or really any person of religious faith.
My job description at CNA is Staff Writer and Assistant Content Editor, and most of my job consists of writing news articles for our site, generally 6-7 articles per week. I also co-produce both of CNA’s podcasts, CNA Newsroom and CNA Editor’s Desk. Thanks to my background working in public radio in grad school, I was able to help CNA to launch its very first podcast in November 2018, a few months after I started working there.
CNA Newsroom is a weekly highly produced storytelling program modeled on NPR’s This American Life, in which we interview interesting people in the Catholic world and try to create compelling stories based off of the news of the week. CNA Editor’s Desk is a long-form conversational podcast whereby our editors offer analysis and editorial on the week’s news from a Catholic perspective.
In my capacity as a producer, I touch every aspect of podcast production: planning, making phone calls, interviewing, editing, post-production, and marketing. Our combined listenership (the total number of listens) on our podcasts is expected to surpass half a million later this year.
In working for CNA, I’ve already had the chance to travel on assignment (so far my favorite places have been El Paso, TX and Panama City, Panama) and have interviewed some fascinating people. It’s really a dream job and I love the work I’m doing!
What work do you do/What are you doing now?
I’m still at CNA, which is based in Denver, CO, and hope to stay for a while. By the way, I landed the job at CNA because I interned for them in grad school— yes, internships really can lead to jobs!
How has your Liberal Arts/COMM education helped you?
My education at Truman was immensely helpful for fostering my desire to keep learning. I’ve always loved learning new facts and gaining knowledge, but I think what helped me the most at Truman was truly encountering and considering different viewpoints, worldviews, and theories. You hear it all the time about liberal arts education: it’s not about memorizing facts; it helps to teach you how to think for yourself. The varied disciplines and viewpoints I encountered at Truman helped to form me into the person I am today.
In the COMM department specifically, I loved the fact that we were able to truly “do” journalism and were given latitude to create our TV programming, write articles, and create digital content that we were proud of.
Which class did you dislike at the time you took it, but now you’re grateful you took it?
I would have to say my Communication Capstone class, which (full disclosure) I probably didn’t try in as hard as I could have, because it was pretty much the last COMM class to take before graduation. That being said, I wish I had given it more attention and effort, because we covered some interesting philosophical/ethical concepts in communication that I have come to find more interesting over the years.
What was your greatest accomplishment at Truman?
Finding true love! In December 2019, I married fellow Truman grad Sarah Burns. She and I had several classes together in the COMM department. She also graduated in 2016 and works remotely for Unbound, a global charitable organization based in Kansas City.
I would say one of my proudest accomplishments at Truman was being able to attend the 2016 Iowa Caucuses and report with my fellow TMN journalists. It was one of the first times I, as a student journalist, had the opportunity to rub shoulders with “real journalists” and cover a national news event. It was also a great opportunity to collaborate with my peers as we tackled what felt like the entire state of Iowa. We attended rallies, caucuses, and other events, and wrote countless stories, took many unforgettable pictures, and really got into the thick of it. It was amazing to play event a small part in covering such a consequential event.
Academically, I was honored to earn the distinction of Outstanding Undergraduate in Communication: Journalism my senior year.
Why is Truman a good place for a student to study?
I really loved my time at Truman. The professors really encouraged us to think for ourselves, take opportunities as they arise, and go above and beyond the bare minimum.
Beyond that, I think the smaller-college, affordable environment of Truman helped to keep me grounded and solid, and not get too distracted from the main reason I was there, which was to study and learn. The academic environment really encouraged me to really work hard for the things I wanted to achieve after college.
Kirksville is a small town, so often times you kind of have to make your own fun. But again, I liked the small-college experience and would definitely choose Truman again.
What would you say a COMM student should absolutely do while at Truman?
It’s cliché, but get involved as much as you can, and don’t be afraid to try something that normally would be outside your comfort zone, because this is the time of your life when you can do that. Whether it’s a class, an extracurricular activity, a club, or something else, if something piques your interest, even a little bit, go for it! You won’t be worse off for having given it a try.
Above all, I am glad that I studied abroad while at college. It was surprisingly affordable to do it through Truman’s ISEP program, and although I knew nothing about Finland before I went, it ended up being an awesome experience that I still talk about today. It also really boosted my confidence to take the plunge into a new culture and a new country and come out the other side having learned a lot and made memories to last a lifetime.
What advice would you give someone who wants to go into the same line of work as you?
My line of work is interesting because the majority of my colleagues actually did not study journalism; most studied disciplines like history, English, theology, and a whole host of others. Although the tenets of journalism that I learned at Truman and in grad school have certainly been helpful, what has served me best has been the fact that I learned about a lot of different things in college, and also learned how better to conduct research and educate myself about whatever topic I am asked to write about for my job. So I would say taking a wide range of classes and doing a wide range of activities during your higher education will definitely serve you well if you want to be a well-rounded and effective journalist.
What do you miss most about campus/Kirksville?
I loved walking on campus and spending time with friends in and out of class. I think what I miss most about Kirksville are the simple things like walking downtown to see a movie with friends, or grabbing coffee, or taking a trip out into the country to the famous Train Bridge. My time at Truman is definitely a time on which I look back fondly.
What tag line would you create for the COMM department at Truman?
“Communication: Worth the Walk to Barnett”
“Communication: Making Connections since 5000 B.C.”
If you could come back to Truman and teach a class for a semester, what would be its title and what would it be about?
That’s a tough one. Since my work now focuses so much on podcasting, I think it would be really fun to teach a Podcasting 101 course. Podcasts are an awesome journalistic medium, with so much potential for creativity and storytelling, and are definitely not going away any time soon.
On the more theoretical side, I think it’d be really interesting to teach a Religion Reporting class; helping student to learn how to cover religion and write about people with religious belief of all kinds. “Religion” is an underappreciated journalistic beat, I think, but understanding why religious people— again, of all different beliefs— think and behave in the way they do is so important for understanding the world in which we live.
What did we not ask that you think is important for people to know?
I think it’s important for people to know that you really can go on to do great things after Truman. I don’t want this to sound haughty, but my grad school career and my job have led me to rub shoulders with some of the most powerful and well-educated people you can imagine, and I like to think I was able to hang with them! Harvard grads, New York journalists, men and women in the upper echelons of politics and Church governance— I can have confidence in speaking to, working with, and interviewing these kinds of people because I know I have a solid educational foundation, and that I earned my education through the hard work I put in at Truman.
Curious about Jonah’s work? You can sample the podcast he produces here.
If you would like to learn more of Jonah’s story, you can follow him on Twitter.