From Newsplex at the University of South Carolina
Vol. III No. 7 (January 12, 2006)
Commenting on Convergence
By Jordan Storm, editor of The Convergence Newsletter
I must say, I always get excited in the beginning of a new year. To me, January brings the possibility of change and 2006 promises to be full of change. Just think, Knight Ridder is for sale and Steve Outing, senior editor at the Poynter Institute, has reported http://www.reporter.co.za/, a South African Web site, is soliciting and paying for citizen-generated content. I wonder, what will 2006 mean for convergence? Will convergence continue to be defined and debated, or, with the introduction of new communication technologies, will it continue to evolve and grow into something else? Perhaps, as Douglas Starr of Texas A&M hints below, convergence will continue to be old-hat, simply the process of renaming old concepts and job titles that have been in the profession for years.
Although The Convergence Newsletter does not usually publish in January, my executive editor and I felt it was important to share Starrís piece with you, the newsletterís audience. Too often the newsletter acts as a cheerleader for convergence. The real purpose of The Convergence Newsletter is to create an open forum where scholars and professionals can explore and debate how issues of convergent media and new communication technologies are shaping journalism. In order to have a debate, of course, two opposing sides need to participate.
That is why we are sharing this supplemental issue with you. We invite you to send in your thoughts after reading Starrís piece in order to continue the conversation. I look forward to hearing from you.
Jordan Storm is working toward a Master of Arts degree at the University of South Carolina. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Dispatch from the Convergence Trenches
Citizen Media: Engaging an Empowered Audience
Ver 1.0: Institute for Analytic Journalism
BEA2006: Convergence Shockwave
Newsplex Summer Seminar Series
World Editors Forum
ICA: Networking Communication Research Conference
Convergence and Society: Ethics, Religion and New Media
A Dispatch from the Convergence Trenches
By Douglas Perret Starr, Professor of Agricultural Journalism, Texas A&M University
Oh, boy! No matter how closely and carefully I look at His Royal Convergence Highness, I still get the impression that his clothing leaves something to be desired. Heís not exactly as naked as his fairy tale forebear, but he sure isnít dressed to the nines as most people seem to have it.
In the first place, the only things about convergence that are new are some terms and the fact that duties once the prerogative of the News Editor and the Photographer and techniques used in newspapers and magazines now are relegated to the News Reporter.
The Web News Reporter covers the story, shoots the photographs and the video, writes the story and the headline, helps select the photograph and writes the captions, and puts the whole thing on the Web page.
Then, of course, the News Reporter writes the broadcast version of the story and prepares the Teleprompter version. What a salary todayís News Reporter must draw.
The Way Things Were
Years ago, we learned that giving a camera to a News Reporter meant that we would have a good story or a good photograph, but not both. That idea seems to have disappeared. Maybe thatís why many stories are not so good.
I was a rimmer, or copy editor, at the Fort Worth Star–Telegram in the late 1970s, editing copy and writing headlines as directed by the News Editor (todayís Gatekeeper) when the newspaper shifted to the computer from Underwood standard typewriters and No. 1 copy pencils.
The newspaper laid off two dozen or more union Linotype operators on the grounds that the four rimmers/copy editors were setting type, so what were Linotype operators needed for, anyway?
To compensate for our extra duty, our hourly wage was elevated from $7 to $7.25. We were cheaper than union Linotype operators and we had no union backing.
In the 1960s, when I was an Associated Press newsman in Jackson, Miss., writing news on all-caps teletype machines, we wrote as many as seven versions of the same story every day: one for the morning newspaper (AMS), one for the afternoon newspaper (PMS), and five versions, all different, for the five afternoon hourly radio newscasts.
We composed directly on the keyboard, which meant that, because we were punching tape, and the tape had to feed through the transmitter before we could read it, we were typing blind. Even so, we could compose copy at 80–85 words a minute.
In covering legislative senate and house sessions, we composed on the keyboard as many as eight or 10 stories, one after the other, using only notes, because of the press of the deadline. AP was always on deadline. And we punched that tape at 80–85 words a minute.
In those days, every AP field newsman in the bureaus too small to warrant a teletype operator operated in that fashion.
New Tool, New Terms, Techniques
Now comes his Royal Convergence Highness. Wow! A new tool, so it must require new techniques, even new terms. Canít use the old terminology with new equipment and new ideas, even if they appear to mirror the old.
So, the duties of the News Editor shifted to the Web page editor, with small changes. The Web has no pages to fill, no newshole, no space left over after the advertising is set down on each page, because the Web is its own newshole, eliminating page design.
So the Web page designer sets up the page, and the design duties fall to the News Reporter. Where the News Editor inserted subheads (two to four words inserted and centered in the column to break up the gray type and indicate what is coming up) and called for paragraphs of no more than four or five lines of type, the News Reporter inserts the subheads and restricts Web paragraphs to four or five lines on screen, but with a blank line between paragraphs.
That does two things, the same two things that were done in newspapers: The short paragraphs made for plenty of white space and easy reading in the 2-inch-wide newspaper column, and the subheads told readers what was coming next.
Gee, the Emperorís clothes seem to be fading away.
And, whereas in the old days, the copy editors edited the copy and wrote the headlines, on the Web, the News Reporter writes the headlines. I really donít know who copyedits the News Reporter, but from stories I have read, it seems that News Reporters edit their own copy, a gross mistake.
And those old sidebars, secondary news stories that accompanied many long, important pieces, became Hyperlinks on the Web. Same idea, new name.
More clothes are disappearing.
Surfing the Web
Another new term, surfing, means flipping through the Web file in search of interesting stories. Imagine. Just like turning the pages in a newspaper to see what other goodies are in store.
I think I am becoming sacrilegious. I donít mean to be, but I just donít see the new attire on His Royal Highness. It all seems to me that the new equipment is just that, new equipment. When Gutenberg developed movable type, nobody called for new ways to write.
The writers used the same language that they had used for years; they just published it more easily and faster.
Well, thatís what the computer does, enables News Reporters to produce their stories faster.
But, as in Gutenbergís time, nobody could read the product of the new technique until it was published; neither can people read what is on the Web unless they are online.
Drat! I knew it was going too well.
But the Web has a singular advantage: it has so much space that News Reporters can develop their stories as long as they wish, including all of the details that bear upon the story. Oh, boy, thatís great. Now readers will know all those dreary details.
Really? Few readers read all the way through any one story in the newspaper, a relatively easy task. To expect readers to slog through 10,000 words on the small, blinking computer screen Ö well, it ainít gonna happen.
The only people who read all the way through such long pieces are scholars seeking information for their own writing in hopes of gaining publication in an academic journal and securing tenure and promotion.
Other Terms, Other Comments
Now that His Highness is nearly naked, Iíd like to comment on three terms: Gatekeeper, Agenda-setting and Framing. Those jobs may be a bit out of the convergence area, but they are there.
The Gatekeeper is the newspaperís News Editor, the desk that decides both which stories to publish and which stories not to publish. That means that the Gatekeeper sets the Agenda — somebody has to do it — and decides on which news story readers read. Powerful position, that.
Consider this: The average newspaper publishes 40,000 words of news a day. The Associated Press transmits 2 million words of usable copy a day. In addition, each newspaper has news from its own staffers.
Without a Gatekeeper, no, let me change that, without a News Editor, a job held by a professional with years of experience and vast knowledge, very little usable news would appear in the newspaper except by accident. Readers have to trust somebody.
And Framing, which has terribly undesirable connotations, is a bugaboo tacked onto news stories, as though the News Reporter has time to decide in what frame the story will be cast. Writing copy at 80–85 words a minute gives precious little time for the story itself, let alone determining some devious approach to set a tone.
News Reporters are just too professional for that. Besides, Accuracy and Objectivity are their watchwords.
Inverted Pyramid Easy To Read
I fear that if His Convergence Highness were not the Emperor, he would stand a good chance of being arrested for indecent exposure after this next suggestion: changing the writing style for the Web.
I have read Ann Wylie and Jakob Nielsen and their suggestions for Web writing, and The Convergence Newsletter writersí suggestions about using narrative writing and telling the story first, and they are good suggestions. But I have concerns.
If an airplane crashes and kills 250 people, I donít want to begin by reading that it departed OíHare on schedule heading east for Washington, D.C. To me, the news is that the airplane crashed and a bunch of people were killed, not a narrative with a ďonce-upon-a-timeĒ approach.
The narrative can be put into the story later.
Of course, if these pundits — other than me, of course — are referring to analyses and columns rather than to news stories, then, fine. Write opinion copy any way you want to.
But, please, for hard news stories, write them straight. Remember? Start with the Who and tell readers what the Who did and Why the Who did it. Terse, concise, to the point. The Inverted Pyramid.
Remember the rule: Donít write a 500-word story in 1,000 words; write a 1,000-word story in 500 words.
Iíd appreciate it. Maybe your readers will, too.
By the way, notice how easy this copy is on your eyes. No paragraph longer than five lines. A blank space between paragraphs. And subheads. Gee, ainít that sumpiní.
Editorís Note: If you became hot and bothered by Starrís commentary, or yelled aloud, ďHurrah, someone finally said it,Ē I want you to share your thoughts with me by e-mailing the newsletter at email@example.com. This conversation often is discussed in hushed whispers; letís scream it in print.
American Press Institute and J-Lab
Citizen Media: Engaging an Empowered Audience
April 4-5, 2006
Reston, Virginia USA
Institute for Analytic Journalism
Ver 1.0 – A Workshop on Public Database Verification for Journalists and Social Scientists
April 9-12, 2006
Santa Fe, New Mexico USA
Participants in the three-day workshop will explore developing statistical and other methodological tools suitable for social scientists, biomedical and behavioral researchers, journalists and other interested investigators to determine the veracity of public records databases.
Broadcast Education Association
Convergence Shockwave: Change, Challenge and Opportunity
April 27-29, 2006
Las Vegas, Nevada USA
The BEA2006 Conference aims to create a forum for discussion and research on the issues that face media convergence today. The deadline for pre-registration is March 10, 2006.
The University of South Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communications
Newsplex Summer Seminar Series
May 8 – June 30, 2006
Columbia, South Carolina USA
Four separate seminars will be held at Newsplex in May and June 2006, ranging in topic from a broad overview of convergence trends to more specific training in Web publishing and specific software operation. The seminars are:
May 08-12: Convergence Software Bootcamp #1
May 22-26, 2006: Teaching and Research in Convergent Journalism
June 12-16, 2006: Web publishing in Convergent Journalism
June 26-30, 2006: Convergence Software Bootcamp #2
World Association of Newspapers
World Editors Forum
June 4-7, 2006
International Communication Association
Networking Communication Research Conference
June 19-23, 2006
Conference pre-registration starts January 15, 2006.
University of South Carolina College of Mass Communication and Information Science and Newsplex
Convergence and Society: Ethics, Religion, and New Media Conference
October 19-21, 2006
Since September 11, ethics and religion have emerged as important topics in the study of new media. At this conference, the moral implications of emerging media are addressed at the levels of society, culture, and the media professions. It is a forum for scholars, media professionals and theologians to discuss converging media from the standpoint of competing values. Papers and panels may include institutional, content, audience, cultural, political and technological perspectives on media from the perspective of social responsibility. Abstracts, completed papers and panel proposals for this conference should deal with one or more of the following four themes:
= Ethics: Examination of current approaches to moral reasoning about convergence
= Values: Analysis of values related to converging technologies (i.e., information equity, privacy, diversity, etc.).
= Religiosity: How denominations are contributing to public and policy discussion of convergence and values.
= Media Convergence, including convergent journalism, technological convergence and audience behavior.
The purpose of this conference is to provide a scholarly exploration of these issues individually and of the connections among them. Submission may address theory, history, media practice, social influences, cultural issues, legal implications and effects upon consumers.
Faculty and graduate students are invited to submit in one or more of three categories: completed papers, proposals or abstracts of papers in progress and proposals for panels.
Submissions may address practical, theoretical, phenomenological, critical and/or empirical approaches to any of the subjects listed above. All submissions will be reviewed by a jury that will consider: 1) relevance to the conference theme, 2) the quality of the contribution, and 3) overall contribution to the field. Submission deadline (postmark) is June 15, 2006.
Publishing a book about convergence? The Convergence Newsletter regularly publishes information about new and upcoming books on convergent journalism. Send your submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
---------------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.
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