From Newsplex at the University of South Carolina
Vol. 1 No. 7 (Feb. 3, 2004)
Exploring the Meaning of Media Convergence
The purpose of this newsletter is to provide an editorially neutral forum for discussion of the theoretical and professional meaning of media convergence.
We welcome articles on any topic directly related to media convergence, including academic research or information about convergence experiences in your newsroom. We also welcome information about conferences, publications and related links.
Please contact us for submission guidelines and a deadline schedule.
Software for Convergent Newsrooms
What’s Working and What’s Not: A Survey of Print and Broadcast News Convergence Programs
Conversations with Assignment Editors in a Television Newsroom
AEJMC Winter Workshop
AEJMC Southeast Colloquium
Annual Computer-Assisted Reporting Conference
Broadcast Education Association
Editor & Publisher and Mediaweek's 2004 Interactive Media Conference & Trade Show
AEJMC Call for Papers
Moving Online into the Newsroom
Working and What’s Not: A Survey of Print and Broadcast News Convergence
By Tony R. DeMars, Associate Professor of Mass Communication at Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas
Often discussions of converging media focus on the larger scope, such as Disney’s ownership of movie studios, local market TV stations, the ABC television network, ABC Radio Networks, and local market radio stations. These mergers of complementary production and distribution outlets tend to focus on entertainment distribution and maximizing competitiveness and profits. Global media conglomerates lost billions attempting to position themselves for new technologies, including the Internet, to be the next platform of profits and business operations within the converged media.
Compared to this national media conglomerate image of convergence, partnerships in smaller markets may be more important related to benefiting the audience as much as the owners and stockholders. Costs and profits issues combined with the shrinking audience and changing habits of news consumers have lead to an increasing number of print-broadcast news partnerships across the country. There are some success stories with these kinds of arrangements—one in particular that is often recognized is the arrangement in Indianapolis between the Star newspaper and TV station WTHR. The partnership started in 1996 and has developed to a level where Star reporters make on-air appearances, and WTHR staffers submit stories to the newspaper.
While working journalists may find this development threatening, journalism students—who were reared in a world of video images and online newspapers—seem not to. Journalism schools are responding by teaching what were once ‘news writing’ courses that may have focused only on newspaper writing to a course that might now be called ‘media writing’ and which would contain broadcast and online writing skills. A reporting course might likewise require students to work in all three media, not just print or broadcast. These issues and the cultural differences between the media as reported in Silcock and Keith’s "Translating the Tower of Babel" (summarized in a recent Convergence Newsletter) should be of particular interest to as-yet ‘non-converged’ university print or broadcast journalism professors.
Based on such developments, a 2003 research project conducted in Texas sought to measure levels of news convergence among daily newspapers and local market TV stations in small to large markets across the state to document opinions of success or challenges from news directors and editors. Three of the major expectations from the research were that (a) there would be resistance to news convergence by print people more than broadcast people, (b) there would be more negative attitudes about broadcast news contribution to convergence than print’s, and (c) more converged operations would be co-owned than being partnerships between two companies.
The data were collected through an online survey with television news directors and newspapers editors contacted by way of e-mail and asked to log in to a Web address and answer questions regarding news convergence. Forty-eight television news directors and 32 newspaper editors were identified and contacted, with a 31% response rate. Half those responding were from medium to large markets and half identified themselves as being from small markets.
Sixty-five percent reported currently sharing newsgathering and/or news content with another type media. Of those who were ‘converged,’ more (55%) reported that different companies owned the two facilities doing convergence. Not surprisingly the three major types of media news outlets where content was shared were local TV stations, local newspapers and Internet sites.
Next, respondents who did have converged news operations were asked to provide evaluations of success, using a seven-point scale where ‘1’ was ‘extremely negative’ and ‘7’ was ‘extremely positive,’ and where a 4 would be a neutral opinion. A ‘rate your success with convergence so far’ question scored 5.29. ‘How well do college degrees in print/newspaper journalism prepare students these days for dealing with convergence’ scored 4.29. In contrast, ‘how well college degrees in broadcast journalism prepare students these days for dealing with convergence’ scored 3.07. A score of 4.07 was tallied from the question ‘what is your opinion of how well you think your employees who are print/newspaper people feel about doing converged news work,’ compared to a score of 3.07 on ‘how well do you think employees who are broadcast people feel about doing converged news work?’
The comparison of attitudes of print expectations and preparation versus broadcast is especially noteworthy related to the newsroom culture issues addressed above. Similar evaluations (but even lower on the scale than for people doing convergence) were found from responses of people who do not have converged operations. Asked their opinion of how well college degrees in print/newspaper journalism prepare students these days for dealing with convergence, the score was 3.09. The score was 2.91 when asked how well college degrees in broadcast journalism prepare students for dealing with convergence. This group was also asked, ‘if you did start convergence, what is your opinion of how the quality of news coverage would change?’ A score of 4.18 indicates a more positive than negative attitude, which is further supported by the most common response when asked ‘what is the dominant reason your company does not have a converged news operation?’ The response of ‘no other media to work with’ indicates many would try a converged news operation if the opportunity arose.
This article briefly summarizes findings from a pilot study to see if converged operations would be found to fit the descriptions commonly addressed in research and commentaries on news convergence. What is referenced here but not documented precisely is that perhaps the greatest challenge in merging print and broadcast is the difference in the two cultures. Potential problems can exist when a new TV reporter, asked to also write a newspaper article on a story, might think, ‘well, if I’d wanted to work for a paper....’ Likewise, a newspaper reporter asked to cover a story also for television might fear ‘not being a TV person.’ These initial findings provide some evidence that opinions among industry professionals mirror those recognized by researchers.
For a complete copy of this paper, e-mail Dr. Tony DeMars at firstname.lastname@example.org
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with Assignment Editors in a Television Newsroom on the Affect of Convergence
on their Role as Primary Gatekeeper
By Dr. Marie Flanagan, Assistant Professor at the University of South Florida and chair of the host committee for the AEJMC Southeast Colloquium March 3-6.
Convergence is the hot new paradigm shaping the plans of media companies all over the world. Arguably, the most notable media operation practicing news convergence is Media General’s News Center in Tampa. Since it began operations more than three years ago, the News Center has attracted both national and international attention. At the News Center, the assignment desk, or superdesk, “…is the nerve center for the converged operation. Editors from each platform, WFLA, TBO.com and the Tampa Tribune, sit next to one another, keeping tabs on what each is doing”(Gabettas, 2000, p.26). Within the confines of the News Center the television news assignment editors have access to and discuss coverage with all the dominant content gatekeepers.
The study on which this article is based offers a preliminary interpretation of the role played by television news assignment personnel in a converged operation. It must be stated, however, that a single newsroom cannot begin to give scholars an overall perspective of how convergence might affect all newsrooms and all markets worldwide. As Media General’s News Center is viewed by many as the global leader in convergence it was appropriate to conduct research with the five assignment editors in this facility.
Specifically looking at assignment editors, observations and long interview sessions included asking them: To what degree do assignment desk personnel at the News Center influence the content of the television newscast? To what degree does convergence affect how an assignment editor makes decisions regarding content? And, does the function and professional experience of the assignment editor affect either?
When asked to describe their responsibilities, these assignment editors’ responses varied greatly from “You do what management wants” to a more conciliatory approach “…working as a team.” The individuals explained that working in a newsroom requires cooperation among the various assignment editors, producers and “directors.”
This response seemed interesting in that the director would be included in the gatekeeping decision arena. A follow-up question determined that in order to include a convergence element in a newscast the production of that element had to include the director because it is the director who makes feasibility decisions about moving from a live shot of a reporter out in the field to a reporter sitting in front of computers, or in the Internet office. These same individuals explained that the “experience level of the producer or the assignment editor” often determines whether to cover and/or converge a story.
AE1: “In order for the desk to have a say, they really have to push hard for a story.”
AE2: “Two to three stories may contain a convergence element—then we assign reporters and other people (people outside of news) build promos around what the producer wants.”
AE3: “When we first started working with convergence the managers and producers almost always made the decision when and where to converge a story and I often wondered whether it would be anything other than a promotional tool. It’s the producer and not the assignment editors who have a lot of pressure put on them to include convergence elements into the show.”
Wanting clarification as to how much input the assignment editors actually did have in deciding whether a story should be presented as a converged element the question, “how often have you had a story appear as a convergence element that you directly pitched to management and producers?” All participants agreed, “Not very often.” The most optimist viewpoint among all the participants was that convergence was “the future of the industry” and in order to have a successful career “they had to adapt.”
In the area of competition among platforms there was universal agreement, A2 stated it best, “If there is a dispute, we have guidelines. The biggest platform problems we have is when the ‘Trib’ gets a story first and they don’t want us to put it on the air at 5 or 6 o’clock show. If it’s a really big story we usually go ahead and air it. However, managers are the ones who work that out. Sometimes it’s a pretty big problem, the desk doesn’t get involved.”
When asked, “As an assignment editor, does the convergence element play into the assignment of stories?
AE1: “Yes, we never miss any kind of breaking news.”
This seemed to demand the follow-up question, “What do you mean?”
AE2: “On the desk we don’t consider anything but getting the story.”
AE2: “Well, if we stop to discuss convergence or anything else we could miss the story so, we don’t worry about it until after we’re in place.”
AE2, AE3, AE4 all agreed that they “…rarely miss a story.”
However, AE4 added, “The Internet is taking over. Generally, if there is a really big breaking story the Internet guys are right here next to us or across the hall so they do their thing and we do ours and usually they get the information up first.”
All of the assignment editors agreed, and were asked who notifies the newspaper when a story breaks? The respondents all stated, “Well, he’s usually sitting right here on the assignment desk so we don’t worry about it.” AE1, added, “The paper doesn’t have the same deadline pressures we have, they do one paper, we do six shows a day…”
There is agreement among all participants that convergence has forced everyone on all platforms to do more work and that they do not and will not receive any additional compensation.
A1: “The only thing we really do that’s different is that we share datebooks.”
A4: “We each have different editorial staffs and different philosophies.”
A3: “Videographers are asked to carry small digital cameras so they can get pictures for the newspapers. They don’t always remember to do it, or they don’t and management doesn’t like it. But when they do get pictures for the newspaper they don’t earn extra money.”
All agreed convergence meant more work but not necessarily for the assignment editor.
When discussing gatekeeping and the assignment editor, one of the primary findings included the distinction between “news gathering” or content and “news processing” or producing (the function of putting together the product for presentation). There are three primary kinds of gatekeepers in this television newsroom. First, there is the news director, charged with running the overall operation; the assignment editors, charged with managing content; and producers, whose primary function is to get the product on the air. It is important to note that newsrooms run by news directors who have moved-up through the ranks via the assignment desk typically have strong assignment editors—practitioners refer to the product generated in those newsrooms as desk-driven newscasts.
These newscasts generally provide more information but are low on production values (graphics, color or music, and typically an older and more experienced staff). Other newsrooms have news directors and managers who move into management from the producer ranks—these operations are called producer-driven and generally feature more color, music, graphics, and more physically attractive staff. Observations collected here would indicate that this is a producer driven newscasts as evidenced by the inclusion of the newscasts technical “director” in the decision-making process. Additionally, this news operation, as observed by the assignment editors, uses convergence as a means to “promote the other platforms.” When the assignment editors were asked how often and how much they contributed to the convergence elements, they said “not much,” and producers make those decisions.”
In television news, the assignment editor has historically been viewed as the primary individual charged with finding and shaping information. The assignment editor or desk has often been called the “heart of the newsroom” and news directors have lamented, “…if you’ve got a “bad desk, you’re got a bad newsroom” (Standish, 1988). Since the 1960s, the professional role reserved for the assignment editor was that of expert, or specialist. “The assignment editor’s job was to find all the news in our area. All of it, if it happened and my reporter could get to it, film it and bring it back, we’d have it” (Segal, 1984, p.22). In the past, assignment editors “…could answer a middle of-of-the-night phone call, solve a problem or make a cession and go right back to sleep” (Segal, 1984, p.23). “If it happened the assignment editor knew it” (Magnum, 1985, p.27).
However, in 1989, Frank Magid and Associates explained to a television news managers’ convention that the assignment editors’ role as a logistics supervisor had changed dramatically. “Quietly, things are changing on the desk and for people who work on it.” Magid representatives added, “Technology has affected news gathering. News gathering responsibility has gone to bureaus, remote newsrooms and satellite reporting teams” (1989, RTNDA Convention). These observations lay a foundation for what became a decade of moving the function of the assignment editor from gatekeeper to administrator.
For example, one of the most important functions for an assignment editor has been running the editorial meeting – the most critical news department ritual. “The morning meeting is the place to access, discuss and assign news coverage (Castrilli, 1996). The afternoon meeting serves the same function but tends to focus on the late night newscasts. Here, there is evidence in a shift of how assignment editors perform their jobs. At WFLA the assignment editor does not always participate in these meeting. Generally the assignment editor interacts with reporters and producers once content decisions have been made. In relation to editorial meetings involving the other platforms, either a producer or a manager often participates.
Castrilli (1996) has argued that the key to effective editorial meetings and effective news coverage is a strong planning editor who can target stories for the next day’s newscasts, strong futures editors who are responsible for long term news planning. Here, again, there has been a radical departure from the traditional role of the assignment editor. All of the assignment editors agree that “management” makes these types of major decisions. “Once content decisions have been made, it is my job to make those decisions happen and I make them happen exclusively for my platform.” Clearly, this is a departure from the all-knowing, involved-with-content, traditional role of the assignment editor.
When conflict between platforms occurs, again it is the manager who makes the ultimate decisions. Given the fact that assignment editors at WFLA no longer control the editorial meetings and that the long-term content planning is no longer part of the assignment editors control there is some question as to whether an assignment editor can still be considered one of the “primary” gatekeepers in a television newsroom.
All of the assignment editors agreed that their primary responsibility came with “breaking news.” Breaking stories are critical to a news operation because they can force new viewers into the newscast, thereby increasing the ratings and the profits. While all of the assignment editors agreed that their primary responsibility is to cover breaking news, all also agreed that in breaking news situations it is the “Internet partner” that will “ALWAYS” have the information first. This too is a radical departure from the traditional role of the assignment editor who has provided a newsroom with the ability to call itself the leading news provider of a television market. Here, at WFLA, the assignment editor is charged with getting crews to the “breaking” news story, but it is the Internet manager who is charged with getting it to the public first. Clearly, convergence is critical in breaking news situations but not necessarily as it pertains to the assignment editor. This is a far-reaching change in how the television news industry does business. This is also a particularly important point because recent studies have found that Internet use continues to grow and affect traditional media.
Based on the data collected it would seem that the assignment editor — traditionally the primary gatekeeper in a television newsroom, has little to do with convergence and is no longer the individual responsible for ensuring that breaking news reaches the public quickly. Additionally, content decisions are often decided on by the producer and usually in relation to production and not content. Although the responses were diverse, and using their own words, there is agreement among assignment editors that convergence has “…little to do with content and more to do with production.”
In 1984 the legendary CBS news assignment editor Zeke Segal wrote “The assignment editor is an endangered species. Time and technology are crowding the assignment editor (p.22). Segal’s words are prophetic. The last twenty years has seen the size of newsrooms increase along with the number of specialist who makes decisions about news content. Notwithstanding, the traditional role of the assignment editor has changed from that of primary news gatherer or clearing and planning center to nothing more than that of information administrator — one charged with moving existing information around the newsroom to other gatekeepers. The study concluded that television news convergence has and will continue to erode and redefine the role of the assignment editor from primary gatekeeper to nothing more than gate monitor.
Building on the findings another considerably longer research project involving assignment editors at 40 different television stations across the country is currently under way.
Castrilli, T. (1996, June 6) “The Assignment Desk”, A Quarterly publication of RTNDA, Vol. 3, N.2
Gabettas, C. (2001, Sept.) “Bringing the Audience Back,” Communicator, 28-31
Gieber, W. (1956) “Across the desk: A study of 16 telegraph editors.” Journalism Quarterly, 33, 423-432. In P. Shoemaker, (1991) Gatekeeping, Newbury Partk, CA: Sage Publishing
Glaser, B.G. and Strauss, A. L. (1967). The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research. Chicago, IL: Aldine Press.
Segal, Z. (1984, June) What Make the Assignment Editor Tick? RTNDA Communicator
Stamdish. L., (1988) Restructuring the Assignment Desk, RTNDA-Communicator
“UCLA Internet Report (Nov. 29, 2001): Surveying the Digital Future,” UCLA Center for Communication Policy; Available on-line:www.ccp.ucla.edu
For a complete copy of this paper, e-mail Dr. Marie Flanagan at email@example.com
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for Convergent Newsrooms, Part 2
By Dr. Augie Grant, Newsplex Academic Liaison for the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies, University of South Carolina
In the December edition of this newsletter, we discussed the challenge of finding software for a converged newsroom. While it is generally acknowledged that there is no single program that integrates the flow of text, video, audio and images across print, broadcast, and online news production, our hope was to identify specific pieces of software that perform better in a converged environment than others.
Only one response was received, suggesting that selection of specific software was not a compelling issue in converged, academic newsrooms. A deeper examination of the issue indicates some possible reasons for the lack of attention to software.
First and foremost, virtually everyone I’ve spoken to on the subject has indicated that the software itself is a tertiary consideration, with the information itself being first and the (human) processes used to distribute that information across multiple media are secondary.
The next most important issue in these conversations is the software packages that are already in use. In most environments, the decision-maker opts to continue to use and to adapt whatever software packages already exist in the newsrooms (those which he or she already knows how to use). The challenge of learning new software on top of learning new processes for handling news content can be a major impediment to convergence. By keeping whatever software that was already available, one minor barrier to convergence is overcome.
Those who indicated that they wanted to move to new software when moving to a converged newsroom have reported a variety of frustrations with the process. One reported that a vendor offered to provide a complete solution for the print, broadcast, and online needs of the academic newsroom, at a cost of only half a million dollars! This barrier is certainly one that is not easily overcome, given the budget constraints that are nearly universal in academia.
Another commented that the cost of recommended software that facilitated flow of information across media was reasonable, but that the process of implementing the software required such an expensive, new configuration of servers and network facilities that the system was not affordable.
One of the goals of this newsletter is finding and sharing solutions that address the needs of convergent newsrooms. To that end, if you have a story to tell, please let us know. We’ll give you the option of writing up your story or telling it to us—in either case, the entire academic community will benefit from your experiences. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
A final note: One of the goals of our annual convergence conference, coming up in October 2004, is to provide a “Showcase of Convergent Media Processes and Practices” that will allow you to make and observe conference presentations on software and processes as well as theoretical considerations. The Call for Presentations will be published in the next edition of The Convergence Newsletter.
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By Julie Nichols, Newsplex Projects Director
Happy New Year! Two big events took place this week.
Super Bowl – a group of 50 students enrolled in a University of South Carolina Honors College advertising class congregated in the Newsplex Feb. 1 to watch the Super Bowl on the big screen, snack and rate the advertising. Unlike other polls, this study looked beyond whether respondents liked the commercials or not, and analyzed the commercials based on three criteria: persuasiveness, brand identity and likeability.
As it turns out Staples – a newcomer to the Super Bowl – was the big advertising winner. The Staples commercial features Randy, a power-hungry office supplies manager who forces employees to give him cookies, donuts and muffins in exchange for paper, computer disks and ink cartridges. Finally, a frustrated employee, played by Joe Viterelli, goes to Staples and threatens to shut down Randy’s operation. The Staples commercial got a score of 4.4 out of a possible 5 points. Coming in second was Budweiser’s donkey spot, with a score of 4.3. Pepsi’s Hendrix spot came in third with a score of 4.2.
Professor Bonnie Drewniany, who teaches advertising at the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies, said it is important to look at all three variables. “Most advertising polls are really a popularity contest. The commercial that gets the most laughs usually wins,” Drewniany said. “It’s great to have people like your ad, but if you’re spending $2.3 million for airtime plus a small fortune on production, you better get some results. After all, advertisers are in the persuasion business, not the entertainment business.”
The Super Bowl advertising party is part of an Honors College course, “Super Bowl Commercials: 1984 to 2004.” Each week students analyze commercials on topics ranging from how well they reflect diversity to how they use humor, animals and celebrities. “We look for creative outlets such as this one for our students. And it helps to have creative faculty who can give them such unique experiences,” said Dr. Peter Sederberg, dean of the South Carolina Honors College, who joined the students at the party.
At the end of this month, Drewniany’s students hope to return to Newsplex and analyze the commercials that air during the Academy Awards.
Newsplex Mobile Primary Project – Tuesday, Feb. 3, is the South Carolina Democratic Primary, and the Newsplex will be covering it using the latest advancements in mobile phones and wireless Internet technologies. Cingular Wireless has donated second-generation mobile imaging phones and will provide an advanced mobile network for seven teams of University of South Carolina student journalists covering the primary action in the field.
Digital pictures, video-audio shorts and text summaries will be sent via the cell phones to the Newsplex, where a team of j-school faculty and graduate student newsflow editors will upload the images to an automatically formatted moblog (short for mobile Web log). Individually, each entry in the Newsplex’ S.C. Mobile Primary moblog will document a single action, statement or scene of the primary process—a voters’ comment, a supporter’s placard, a candidate’s claim, etc. Collectively, however, the hundreds of entries accumulating through the day will assemble a mosaic revealing the larger trends of this complicated community news event. The moblog will be found at http://scprimary.textamerica.com
Visitors – Executives from the Media General organization visited in December. The University of South Carolina College of Mass Communication and Information studies and the Newsplex welcomed Dan Bradley, Vice President, Broadcast Division; Gina Katzmark, news director of WBTW-TV; Harry Logan, editor of The Morning News (Florence, S.C.); Mike Miller, publisher of The Morning News; Bruce Potter, Director of News Synergy; Mike Pumo, general manager of WBTW-TW (Florence-Myrtle Beach); Tom Silvestri, president of Community Newspapers; and Graham Woodlief, president of the Publishing Division.
More recently, Jennifer McGill, Executive Director of AEJMC, and Lillian Coleman, Production Manager for Journalism of Mass Communication Quarterly, stopped by for a quick tour. The association’s offices are located in Columbia, S.C., too!
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AEJMC Winter Workshop
Convergence in JMC Education
Feb. 20-21, 2004
Crowne Plaza Times Square in New York City
March 3-6, 2004
University of South Florida
Media convergence will be the theme of the 2004 Southeast Colloquium, hosted by the University of South Florida School of Mass Communications. Gil Thelen, executive editor and senior vice president of The Tampa Tribune, a national leader in multimedia journalism, will give the keynote speech. In addition, Media General will host an opening reception, giving attendees an opportunity to tour the NewsCenter, the first and largest converged news operation in the world. Dr. Marie Flanagan, chair of the host committee, has also arranged for discounted hotel rates and has compiled a Web site for the colloquium (http://hometown.aol.com/flanagan960/colloquium/index.html).
Computer-Assisted Reporting Conference
March 12-14, 2004
Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza
Panel topics will include Census, crime, education, local and state government, freedom of information, transportation and more. Hands-on classes will be offered featuring spreadsheets, database managers, mapping, statistics and the latest in cutting-edge technology.
49th Annual Convention & Exhibition
2nd Annual Festival of Media Arts
April 16-18, 2004
The BEA2004 Convention theme is “Bold Vision, Fresh Thinking: Untangling Media's Gordian Knot.”
& Publisher and Mediaweek's 2004 Interactive Media Conference & Trade
May 10-12, 2004
Hyatt Regency Atlanta on Peachtree Street.
Also part of the program, the 2004 EPpy Awards Luncheon will be May 12 at the Hyatt.
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AEJMC invites submission of original, non-published research papers that will be considered for presentation at the AEJMC Convention Aug. 4-7, 2004, in Toronto, Canada. Postmark deadline for submissions is April 1. For details, visit http://aejmc.org/calls/04papercall.html.
Moving Online into the Newsroom
Source: Online Journalism Review
Many newspaper have recently decided that having two newsrooms – one for print and one for online – doesn’t make much sense. One by one, papers are moving their online staff into the main newsroom.
A prime example is the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, where convergence is serious business. Reporters are required to write their daily stories for the Web first and for print second. Online editors work elbow to elbow with print editors – not off in some basement office. And annual performance reviews – and raises – are based partly on how well reporters work with online.
The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle (daily circulation: 180,000) is one of just a handful of news organizations that are pushing convergence from mere cooperation to full integration.
Read the full story at: http://www.ojr.org/ojr/workplace/1069284495.php
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Newsplex at the University of South Carolina Web site: http://newsplex.sc.edu
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