The Convergence Newsletter
The Convergence Newsletter

From Newsplex at the University of South Carolina

Vol. XI No. 1 (January 2014)

The battle of converging college newsrooms

By Chris Winker

Journalism schools across the country are constantly tweaking their programs to provide students with the most realistic foundation possible. Even when I received my bachelor's degree in journalism in 2010 from The College at Brockport (N.Y.), the program was in the midst of an overhaul, attempting to broaden the curriculum similar to what every single J-school has been forced to tackle over the past few years.

By nature, this change in curriculum forces undergraduate students out of their academic norms. With the continuing debate about journalism education embodied in the push for a "teaching hospital" model, journalism classes increasingly require outside work and the need for students to learn skills they may have never considered.

In this issue, Norm Lewis offers an inside look at the University of Florida's recent switch to a converged newsroom. While forcing students out of their comfort zones hasn't been easy, it's been for the better of the individual student, he says – and may have help propped up the tissue industry.

Respond to Lewis' thoughts at The Convergence Newsletter blog and at the newsletter's Facebook or Google+ pages. View the full archive of newsletters at http://sc.edu/cmcis/news/convergence/index.html.

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Quick Glance Calendar (Details)

Feb. 28-March 1: AEJMC Midwinter Conference, Norman, Okla.

March 20-22: AEJMC Southeast Colloquium, Gainesville, Fla.

April 4-5: Journalism Interactive, College Park, Md.

April 24-26: The International Conference on Communication, Media, Technology and Design, Istanbul

Sept. 23-24: International Conference on Journalism and Mass Communications, Singapore

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Featured Article

Convergence Lessons Learned, Or Why I Made My Students Cry
By Norm Lewis
University of Florida

Of all the lessons learned teaching in a converged newsroom in fall 2013, the most surprising was to have a box of Kleenex handy.

Why the tears?

Our multimedia newsroom is a working, professional newsroom. People in a real newsroom publish or perish. And when students realized that in order to be published they had to talk to adults not their age (gasp!) and get their stories from off campus (oh the humanity!), the ocular waterfalls ensued.

This forced exit from the academic womb began innocently enough in, of all things, editing class.

A converged newsroom at the University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications opened in fall 2012. The vision was to bring the public and private radio and television stations into one shared space with about 100 seats.

For reasons rooted more in tradition than logic, the stations had operated discretely and were unconnected to the journalism department. The new $4 million newsroom offered a chance to break down more than a few walls.

The journalism department's admission into the newsroom came by assuming responsibility for the PBS stations' website, which had been a billboard for pledge drives and shovelware for radio stories. Our plan was to transform the website into a daily coverage vehicle for 18 counties in north central Florida, with some of the labor from journalism's required editing class.

Professor Ron Rodgers and I had done what we could to make the editing course realistic, but lab assignments are inherently artificial. A real newsroom is way better. Besides, the editing students had completed two reporting classes and were prepared to contribute to a professional newsroom.

Pilot testing began in fall 2012 with 10 students pulled from labs to work shifts in the newsroom. In their business-casual attire, they mined audio files to flesh out radio stories and checked facts. The pilot group was expanded to 20 in spring 2013.

The pilot went well enough that for fall 2013, we eliminated all editing labs and moved the class into the newsroom. However, the newsroom did not have enough editing work for 70 students a week, so we split the class in two.

Half of the students worked a five-hour newsroom shift while the rest stayed home and generated weekly news stories their peers edited. Students switched roles at the semester midpoint. Splitting the class allowed everyone a realistic editing experience and exposure to the joy of journalism.

The Web production half of the class went swimmingly. Work grew from just clarity and concision to producing radio scripts and wraps. Students were becoming more adept at multiple platforms.

The story-generation half produced many wins too. Students found feature stories on a police chief who bought a used Army vehicle from Iraq and on a riverfront development plan. Some delivered investigative stories on faulty water meters and moldy schools. One student produced the newsroom's first trifecta: His story appeared simultaneously on the Web, radio and television.

Most important, we heard many stories from readers and listeners who said they had found our website had become an indispensable source of local news. Yeah!

But what we did not expect was what story-generation taught students.

Each story had to be aired on our stations or published on our website or it would score a zero. Stories had to be distinctly local to our coverage area. None could involve campus.

The newsroom intranet offered tips to find stories and described the audience. A spreadsheet offered phone numbers for 300 sources who could generate story ideas. No textbooks were required so that students lacking a vehicle could afford to rent Zipcars by the hour to drive to nearby towns to conduct interviews, take pictures and capture smartphone audio or video.

For many, the stories were easily delivered. Others struggled. Some begged for assignments rather than have to find a story.

At the root of these struggles was the adult audience. Some students dismissed middle-age readers as irrelevant. Some said they had no desire in producing journalism for people not their own age.

Thus, showing students they were not the audience was an unexpected benefit of our converged, "teaching hospital" newsroom.

Helping students see the real audience did not come through lecture or even by exposure to the real-time Web analytics posted prominently on a newsroom monitor. It came only as we required them to avoid people like themselves and get outside the campus bubble. And it came only with the publish-or-perish proviso.

For this approach to work, professors must be brave. No escape hatches for the scaredy-cats. No pretending that a routine fall festival engages the audience. No rationalizing that Miss Guided deserves partial credit because she sobbed that she "really learned a valuable lesson" by burying her nose for days in her laptop, futilely trying to find a news release from some federal agency or organization or think tank or what-ever for which she could manufacture a local angle where none existed.

Be firm. Insist students serve and interact with the audience that resides outside the ivory tower. They'll be better journalists if you do – even if a few tear ducts have to open first.

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Conferences, Training, and Calls for Papers (Return to top)

AEJMC Midwinter Conference
University of Oklahoma, Norman, Okla.
Feb. 28-March 1
Deadline to submit papers: Dec. 1
http://www.aejmc.org/home/2013/10/midwinter-conference/

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AEJMC Southeast Colloquium
University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla.
March 20-22
Deadline to submit papers: Dec. 9
http://www.jou.ufl.edu/colloquium14/

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Journalism Interactive
University of Maryland, College Park, Md.
April 4-5
http://journalisminteractive.com/2014

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The International Conference on Communication, Media, Technology and Design
Istanbul
April 24-26
Deadline to submit papers: Feb. 28
www.cmdconf.net

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3rd Annual International Conference on Journalism and Mass Communication
Singapore
Sept. 22-23
Deadline to submit papers: March 21
www.jmcomm.org

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Job Listings

Central Connecticut State: associate professor
To begin the application process, go to www.ccsu.edu/jobs and electronically submit a letter of interest, C.V., three current references and work samples. For full consideration, applications must be received before March 1.

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Virginia Tech: assistant professor in multimedia journalism
For more information and how to apply, visit www.jobs.vt.edu and search for posting #TR0130118. Review of applications will begin on Jan. 31.

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Publisher and Editorial Staff

The Convergence Newsletter is free and published by The College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina.

Executive Editor: Doug Fisher dfisher@sc.edu

Editor: Chris Winkler convedit@mailbox.sc.edu

Visit The Convergence Newsletter blog at http://convergencenl.blogspot.com, where you can comment on recent articles and keep up with the latest in convergence news.

There is also an RSS feed option for those who want alternative access.

View past and current issues of The Convergence Newsletter at http://www.jour.sc.edu/news/convergence/.

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Licensing and Redistribution

The Convergence Newsletter is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

This newsletter may be redistributed in any form — print or electronic — without edits or deletion of any content.

Creative Commons License

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Submission Guidelines

The Convergence Newsletter provides an editorially neutral forum for discussion of the theoretical and professional meaning of media convergence in all forms including technological, organizational, operational, psychological, and sociological. We welcome articles of all sorts and encourage those addressing the subject in new ways and with new perspectives. We also accept news briefs, book reviews, calls for papers and conference announcements. Our audience is both academic and professional; the publication style is AP for copy and APA for citations.

Feature articles should be 750 to 1,200 words. Other articles and reviews should be 250 to 750 words; announcements and conference submissions should be no more than 200 words. Please send all articles to The Convergence Newsletter editor at convedit@mailbox.sc.edu along with your name, affiliation and contact information.The newsletter is published monthly except January and July. Please submit all articles by the 15th of the month to be considered for the next month's issue.

If you would like to post a position announcement, include a brief description of the position and a link to the complete information. Please send all announcements or questions to the editor at the above email.

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Subscribe/Information

To subscribe or edit your information, please send a message to convedit@mailbox.sc.edu or write to The Convergence Newsletter c/o School of Journalism and Mass Communications, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208.

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