The Convergence Newsletter
The Convergence Newsletter

From Newsplex at the University of South Carolina

Vol. XI No. 3 (April 2014)

Two areas J-schools can improve: digital signage, collaboration

By Chris Winker

News organizations are just beginning to scratch the surface of the possibilities of digital signage. But in this issue, Jennifer Meadows of Cal State Chico argues that it is time to pay attention and that with campuses increasingly installing such signs there may not be a better place to start experimenting with digital signage than in student media.

Meadows lays out the basics of digital signage and how it is being used and says this technology promotes combining media to create new ways of story telling and interactivity.

Also in this issue, The Convergence Newsletter talks with Matt Waite about collaboration and his view that it needs to be an urgent priority in journalism education. He also talks about the importance of data journalism and some of his work experimenting with the use of drones in journalism .

Respond to both Meadows and Waite's thoughts at The Convergence Newsletter blog and at the newsletter's Facebook or Google+ pages. View the full archive of newsletters at


Quick Glance Calendar (Details)

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

May 15-17: The Ninth International Conference for Literary Journalism Studies, Paris

Aug. 6-9: AEJMC annual conference, Montreal

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


Featured Articles

Digital Signage for News Organizations: Connecting the Mobile and the Social
By Jennifer Meadows
Cal State Chico

Many of us interact with digital signage daily and may not even realize it. It could be something as simple as a sign at a health club showing the day's schedule (Figure 1), a digital menu board at a fast-food restaurant (Figure 2), or a fully interactive Coke machine where users can play games and connect to Facebook – and, of course, buy a drink (Figure 3). The Digital Signage Federation defines digital signage as "A network of digital displays that is centrally managed and addressable for targeted information, entertainment, merchandising and advertising." [1]

Figure 1

Source: Connected Sign (Return)

Figure 2

Source: Business Insider. (Return)

Figure 3

Source: Meadows. (Return)

New digital signage technologies allow even greater levels of connectivity leveraging tools such as mobile commerce, social networking, near field communication and facial recognition to deliver targeted messages and return audience metrics such as sex, age and dwell time. For example, the Coke Happiness Machine allows users to pay for a drink with a song or a hug [2] while the Pepsi Like Machine trades drinks for "Likes" on Facebook [3]. New technology from Signbox Microsystems allows digital signs to use facial recognition technology to track who is looking at the sign and for how long [4]. That same technology could be used to target the message to the viewer.

The types of digital signage are usually described as point of wait, point of sale and point of transit [5]. Point of wait signage is where people are waiting, such as at a bus stop, bank, or doctor's office. Point of sale signage includes things such as menu boards. Point of transit digital signage includes wayfinding signs and transit schedules. Digital signage can present many different forms of content: video, RSS feeds, photos, games, interactive maps – and the list keeps growing. The content can be information, entertainment, advertising, and more. All these forms of digital signage can be used by news organizations to deliver content and connect with audiences. For example, the student newspaper Twitter feed could be featured in dining hall digital signage. Students in the student union could vote with their mobile phone to predict the outcome of an athletic event with real-time feedback.

Thus far, most use of digital signage by news organizations has been fairly simple: video from a newscast or print story highlights. Some stations are using outdoor digital signage to advertise news programming. University student media has a great opportunity to use digital signage. One of the fastest-growing segments of digital signage is higher education. Common campus deployments include student recreation-activity centers, student unions, dining areas and health center waiting areas. Student media can deliver content to students using new and existing digital signage deployments. New technologies will allow student media to connect to their mobile audience, bypassing the webpage and app.

The pros of adopting digital signage for student media are numerous:

  • News can be quickly and easily updated.
  • Multiple forms of media can be used along with interactive applications.
  • This form of communication quickly reaches the digital native mobile audience.
  • There is an educational advantage to student journalists and designers to learn to use technology and content in new ways.

Along with the pros, there are of course cons:

  • Initial deployment is expensive, although over time the technology pays itself off.
  • Student media organizations will have to get administrative buy in – to pay for and support new deployments as well as to use existing digital signage and networks.
  • Security risks, which requires careful attention to robust network security.
  • Getting displays and messages in the best locations can sometimes be difficult.

This is just a brief overview of the opportunities digital signage can afford student media organizations. This "new" technology is rising in popularity across university campuses, and there is a great opportunity for student media to use that signage to deliver innovative and targeted content to their audience. This convergent technology brings together print, video, audio, interactive, mobile, and social content and allows educators to present students an opportunity to create new innovative stories and features.

[1] Digital Signage Federation (n.d.) Digital Signage Glossary of Terms. Retrieved from (Return)

[2] Coca-Cola Company (2012). Sing For Me Vending Machine. Retrieved from (Return)

[3] Hall, C. (2013). Pepsi Soda Machine Trades Soda for Facebook "likes". Digital Signage Today. Retrieved from (Return)

[4] Signbox (n.d.) SignEYE. Retrieved from (Return)

[5] Kelsen, K. (2010). Unleashing the Power of Digital Signage. Burlington, MA: Focal Press. (Return)


Matt Waite on the need for collaboration
By Chris Winkler

It's the age of collaboration, or at least those in the journalism business keep telling us that. And there's more talk about it in educational circles. But reality is that collaboration on campus is still often a wish, not reality.

Matt Waite, professor of practice at the University of Nebraska's College of Journalism and Mass Communications, is a fervent evangelist for collaboration in journalism education. Before joining the Nebraska faculty, Waite had been an investigative reporter and was senior news technologist for the then St. Petersburg Times, where he led development of PolitiFact. At Nebraska, Waite has been a pioneer in exploring the use of drones in journalism.

The Convergence Newsletter talked to him about some of the issues. Parts of the interview have been edited for clarity and space.

CW: We know the importance of collaboration, but there are roadblocks. Can you talk about some problems on college campuses ? ...

MW: The problem is incentives. Everyone has incentives. Those incentives lead in a direction, and what might seem like similar directions are actually quite different. So on a lot of campuses, journalists are interested in working with computer science. And that makes a ton of sense, until you realize that incentives in computer science are often around answering new questions with computers, not taking the answers they've already come up with and applying them to existing problems. Journalism is all about solving existing problems. ... So for campus collaborations to work, we have to align the incentives. We have to have everyone working on something that helps his or her discipline. ...

CW: I guess it's a problem rooted in each respective nature. But what kinds of benefits are possible? ...

MW: I think there's a ton to be gained for both journalists and computer scientists. I've spoken to tons of computer scientists who lament that their students are superb problem solvers who can do danged near anything with a computer, but they lack a creative spark and an ability to work with other people to come up with ideas. Journalism schools, and newsrooms, are idea factories. There are ideas pouring out of them minute to minute. Now, a lot of them are bad, but we do not lack for ideas. What we lack are ways to realize those ideas quickly. There's a ton to be gained for students of both disciplines working together, to see the world differently through each other's eyes.

CW: Are there any examples you have from your own experience about these efforts? Is there any advice for academics on how to string them together?

MW: I won't name names, but I've heard from several colleagues around the country about collaborations that burst out of the gate and ended awkwardly. Mostly it went awry because of misaligned ideas of what the class was about and teaching styles. And I can see how it can happen. I know too many journalists who see programmers and developers as a service counter, not unlike a deli. I want a little of this, a little of that, hold this and make it for me. And I know a lot of computer scientists and developers who just don't understand what the point of journalism really is.

So I would say if you're going to go down this road of collaboration, you need to put some time in before you get started. Spend time in each other's classrooms; get a feel for each other's teaching style and demeanor in the classroom. There are a handful of professors here that I'm working toward collaborations with, but we just haven't had a chance yet. But I know them, know their style, and they mesh with mine. Throwing two people who don't know each other together just to check a box that says "we collaborated" is not going to have the best chance to work.

CW: Finally, I can't let you get away without talking about drone journalism. Give us a brief synopsis of where that sits right now and how/if that affects the immediate future. ...

MW: The situation is a mess right now. We're working toward certificates of authorization with the FAA, but it's going slower than I wanted to and that's largely my fault. But nationally, it's a mess. There's tons of use going on the FAA would say is against regulations, but there's a lawsuit going on over if there even are regulations. The argument is that the FAA is relying on a patchwork of regulatory guidance, voluntary guidelines and overly broad interpretations of rules meant for manned aircraft to act as if there were regulations for drones.

While this is going on, the agency has delayed long promised regulations of drones until later this year, which means we won't see them implemented until late next year at the earliest. So, if you're an academic, you have to work at a public university in order to be eligible to apply for the permits that are available. If you work for a private institution, you're out of luck. ... I get an email once a week from a professor wanting to teach a drone class or buy a drone and check it out to students, and I just cringe every time. There are so many questions about legality, safety, and liability, not to mention ethics, that I just can't see these being checked out like cameras anytime soon.

Now, that said, five years from now, I do see that happening and I see our students graduating into jobs where they regularly fly a drone for journalistic purposes. Ten years from now, we'll wonder what all the fuss was about and a drone covering a news event will be boring.

Earlier in the interview, Waite also talked a bit about the inherent struggle many journalists and journalism students have with data and numbers:

MW: Data is everywhere. If you think about it, more and more of our daily lives are being stored in a database. Government data is becoming more open and available. ... So reporters are surrounded in data every day. ... I'd argue that you can't be a good reporter today without understanding data.

I'm trying to incorporate it with my students in ways small and large. For instance, when I teach Journalists Math to beginning reporting, I do it through the lens of data. ... I get real data and show how an average is part of a story. Calculating it is just part of it. And the questions of why and what does this mean are part of it. ...

CW: I read an article by you at Nieman about how you grew up thinking you weren't good at math. Talk a little bit about getting over that belief, and how it should apply to all young journalists who may be thinking the same and are thus shying away from big data. ...

MW: There was a not small part of me that went to journalism school because the math requirement was almost nonexistent. And there was this almost club-like element where we were all bad at math. It was the inside joke. ... But the more I got into data, and the more I realized the power of numbers and math and statistics, the more I realized this was a huge blind spot for journalists. And, now working with students, I see the pattern has not changed. Journalism students are still some of the most math phobic people on campus, and it's still bad news for journalism. So I talk to them like one of them, because I too am a sinner.


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

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


The Ninth International Conference for Literary Journalism Studies
May 15-17


AEJMC Annual Conference
Aug. 6-9


3rd Annual International Conference on Journalism and Mass Communication
Sept. 22-23


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

Editor: Chris Winkler

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