Convergence Newsletter

From Newsplex at the University of South Carolina

Vol. IV No. 1 (July 6, 2006)

 

 Commenting on Convergence

 

By Augie Grant, executive editor of The Convergence Newsletter and associate professor, University of South Carolina

 

This issue of The Convergence Newsletter begins Volume 4 of our publication. There are many people to thank for the newsletter’s three years of existence. We'll do that at the end of this newsletter; but in the spirit of good journalism, let's focus on the "big picture."

 

For you as readers, it is probably more important to note the evolution of this newsletter from a narrow focus on activities at the University of South Carolina's Newsplex to a forum that is attempting to explore and report on developments in all areas of convergent journalism. We have been just as excited to report on convergent happenings at the University of Missouri and the results of the Knight Foundation grant to Indiana University as we have been to describe Doane College’s search to find an academic model of convergence for use in their program (discussed later in this newsletter).

 

Articles that appear below continue a debate that began two months ago. In the June 2006 issue of this newsletter, Janet Kolodzy, associate professor of journalism at Emerson College, responded to Ed Wasserman’s May 16, 2006 piece on convergent journalism in the Miami Herald. In the piece Wasserman detailed several advantages and disadvantages of converged multi-platform newsrooms, saying:

“The converged newsroom opens up huge, perplexing questions. So far they’re being answered by the techies, the brand managers, the publishers, the marketers. When do we hear from the professional journalists? Where is their independent assessment of how these powerful new technologies can be used, not to plant the flag in cyberspace, not to reclaim market share, but to provide great, meaningful journalism? (For the full text link to http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/opinion/14581081.htm)

 

This newsletter continues the dialogue by offering four professional journalists’ perspectives on Wasserman’s piece and convergent journalism practices.  Each of the these journalists was a recipient of a Sigma Delta Chi Award in 2005, given by the Society of Professional Journalists in recognition of excellent professional journalism.

 

From our perspective, the most dramatic change over the past three years has been the shift from defining convergence and describing experiments in convergence to presenting an understanding that convergence is an integral part of journalism and journalism education. We've shared lessons learned from large and small programs, and from industry and academic endeavors. In the process, the newsletter has also grown from a subscriber base of a few dozen individuals to almost 800 today.

 

Your articles and comments have become the heart of The Convergence Newsletter. We appreciate the trust you've put in us to mediate the flow of information, and we're eager to share your research, publications and experiences with other readers in future editions.

 

I thank you for taking the time to read the newsletter and share your thoughts and experiences with our editors. Send your suggestions and contributions to: convergence-editor@mailbox.sc.edu

 

View past newsletters at http://www.jour.sc.edu/news/convergence/.

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Feature Articles

 

Convergence: Larger Audiences

 

Fools for Tools?

 

Good Journalism

 

Convergence: We’ve Seen this Movie Before

 

Wanted: A Model of Convergence

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Conference Information

 

AEJMC Convention

 

SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference

 

Convergence and Society: Ethics, Religion and New Media

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---------------Feature Articles

 

Convergence: Larger Audiences

By Craig Anderson, reporter, East Valley Tribune, Scottsdale, Ariz.

 

In Edward Wasserman's opinion piece on the integration of new information technologies into the newspaper business, he asks if so-called convergence is the "next media disaster." I'll let you in on a little secret: Whenever a journalist poses the question, "Is Thing X the next disaster?" the answer nearly always ends up being "No, it's not."

 

Also interesting about Wasserman's question is that it implies there were previous media disasters. What were they? The AOL-Time Warner merger? That show Geraldo did on Al Capone's vault?

 

I agree that the expansion of newspapers onto the Internet could be taken too far, but is that really happening? Wasserman suggests newspapers are building "a business model around providing third-rate journalism to a vanishing audience" of die-hard news junkies who obsessively scan the Web for story updates.

 

The idea is that in the rush to get the story out first, newspapers are posting half-baked, inaccurate, online articles instead of fully baked, accurate, printed ones.

 

But in truth, only a fraction of what appears in newspapers is deemed urgent enough to post an early version on the Internet. I've never heard an editor say, "We need to upload that analysis piece on the governor's race to the Web site ASAP!"

 

The Internet is useful because it can deliver breaking news to the public faster than printed publications can. It also allows newspapers to supplement printed content with audio and video clips, animated graphics and links to source information. None of that is happening in lieu of the traditional reporting, editing and publishing processes.

 

As for Wassermen's concern that the push toward online journalism is bad for newsroom morale, all I can say is that reporters want to get their stories out faster. They want a larger audience. They want to get a thank-you message from a guy in China.

 

(Editor’s Note: Craig Anderson, along with Mark Flatten and Emily Gersema of the East Valley Tribune,  were the recipients of a 2005 Sigma Delta Chi Award for newspaper/wire services reporting for their piece, “The Speculators.”)

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Fools for Tools?

By Daniel J. DeNoon, senior writer, WebMD Medical News, Atlanta, Ga.

 

The opinions voiced in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of WebMD.

 

The tools that make great journalism possible can always be used to destroy it.

 

As click-accumulating bloggers hyperventilate in cyberspace, journalists are lured into giving up their balanced stance for a snarky pose. As 24-hour television news devolves into bloviation, we're tempted to deliver truthy opinions rather than facts. And as multimedia images circulate faster than bird flu could ever do, we wonder whether anyone really cares about the picture painted by our thousand words.

 

It's helpful to remember that far older tools -- the unnamed source, for example -- can be misused to subvert journalism rather than to advance it.

 

The production-line speedup of news didn't start with the Internet. Multiple daily deadlines have long been a fact of life. Being asked to report a story both in print and audio -- and to take pictures, too -- predates the World-Wide Web. And sacrificing story for scoop will always be a devil's bargain for a journalist.

 

None of this means that great journalism can't survive in the converging newsroom (I say converging, because powerful new tools continue to emerge). But journalists must avoid being enslaved by their own tools.

 

As Edward Wasserman cogently observes, continually updating a story throughout the day does come at the cost of story development. The problem here is that only urgently breaking news needs to be treated this way -- yet click-hungry managers too often fly the breaking-news banner.

 

No matter how many new tools become available in the newsroom, the journalist has a single basic tool that must not be eclipsed: narrative. It's tempting to attack a story with a blizzard of images and sound and video clips and animation and links. But this is all sound and fury. Journalism is all about telling stories -- important stories. Creating powerful narrative takes craftsmanship and an abiding commitment to truth. Newsrooms that forget this can't succeed for long, no matter how converged they may seem.

 

(Editor’s note: Daniel DeNoon, along with Sean Swint, and Brunilda Nazario of WebMD,  were the recipients of a 2005 Sigma Delta Chi Award for online reporting for their piece, “Scientists in Desperate Race with Bird Flu.”)

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Good Journalism

By Forrest Stewart,  producer, Rocky Mountain News, Denver, Colo.

 

Journalists working in traditional media have become responsible for multiple children, and their kids are developing at different rates and behaving in unique ways. The newspaper is typically fed a fully prepared meal once a day, while the Web wants to snack on smaller bits every few minutes, a habit it certainly didn't learn from its parents.

 

But that's how news on the Web is served, so it's up to responsible adults to make sure portions are nutritious. Successful newsroom convergence facilitates the delivery of good journalism to multiple media, without sacrificing quality in any format.

 

It's interesting to note that Web standards evangelists do a lot of preaching about keeping content and presentation separate. The idea is mainly that the information on a Web site (news or otherwise) could ultimately be bent towards a variety of platforms and shouldn't be structured in a way that favors, say, the monitor over the mobile phone. If a site consists mainly of text-based information, there is no reason to believe a user wouldn't be hearing it via a screen reader rather than looking at it. Users ultimately decide how to consume information.

 

Journalists in converged newsrooms should ideally be working toward platform independence and should be supported in that endeavor by managers who don't ask them to do more work or learn different skill sets, but simply to tweak their work habits. People who choose to consume news online typically won't read past the first four or five graphs of a developing story, and they often sign up for breaking news alerts that offer little more than a headline sent via text message to a cell phone. Knowing that, online journalism works best when reporters do in-depth stories and send major developments to the Web once they've been confirmed. If a reporter happens to use an audio recorder, it's not much of a stretch to excerpt an interview for audio clip use on the Web. That's an efficient use of resources that allows users to determine how to experience a story.

 

At the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, reporters are assigned stories and usually work under the auspices of creating content for the next day's paper. But procedure has been tweaked so that assistant editors receive and edit reports as news develops, then move updates to the Web. This creates what is essentially an in-house wire service that asks journalists to be conversant in one technology: e-mail.

 

When protocol is executed correctly, print quality doesn't suffer at all, and well-reported news hits the Web quickly. The proof of that statement is evident daily, when breaking news is reported online first, developed throughout the day, then elegantly packaged for the next day's paper. The proof is in Final Salute, a 2005 special report that won two Pulitzers (for feature writing and photography), plus POYi and SPJ awards for online content. The work is of the highest quality, in print and on the Web, platform independent and easily accessible to users in either form.

 

The nature of the Web is 24/7. It doesn't need to take naps, and won't be put to bed at the same time every night. The nature of the Web is limitless information, on demand. It is asked a question, and answers. Journalism can function effectively and prosper in the converged newsroom so long as reporters continue to tell great stories and don't play media favorites. Consumers will eventually decide where and how they're going get the news, and the converged newsroom ultimately offers them the most options for good journalism.

 

(Editor’s Note: Forrest Stewart, along with Sonya Doctorian, Todd Heisler and Jim Sheeler of the Rocky Mountain News, were the recipients of a 2005 Sigma Delta Chi Award for online reporting for their piece, “Final Salute.”)

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Convergence: We’ve Seen this Movie Before

By Jeff Hirsh, reporter WKRC-TV, Cincinnati, Ohio

“Convergence” is a nice 21st century term for a very 20th century practice. In local TV news, we called it the “one-man band,” and it remains with us today. In fact, it’s expanding … and, at least for TV, that’s not good.

 

The “one-man band” is a reporter who shoots his or her own video, or a photographer who also writes and reports. Just set up the tripod, walk around in front, and shoot a standup of yourself. It makes it hard to do those “action” standups which are so popular … but, hey, you get what you pay for … or rather, you don’t get what you don’t pay for.

 

It only stands to reason that if you have to do two, high-pressure, high-responsibility jobs while covering a news story that something will suffer … and probably both things… your reporting, or your video. Fortunately, my first job was at a station which Prof. Wasserman probably knows well – WDBJ-TV, in Roanoke, Va., in Washington & Lee’s back yard. WDBJ had reporters who reported and photographers who shot film (yes, it was film then, at least to start). As a new hire fresh out of college, I was able to concentrate on gathering information, writing and producing packages, and cutting my teeth on investigative reporting. If I had had to shoot film (or later, videotape) there would have been no way I could have progressed as I did as a reporter.

 

Fast forward to 2006. My current station, WKRC-TV in Cincinnati, also has reporters who report and photographers who shoot. I have literally spent months on single investigative projects. There also would have been no way to get those projects finished … some of which led to changes in state law. .. if I had had to shoot and edit a 15-minute story as well as research and report it.

 

But, that is not to say “convergence” properly utilized, is bad. Not only can it be good, but it’s the future.  Actually, it’s the present. Our Web site attracts people who may not watch our news every day, but, exposed to our product online, decide to tune in. The site has access to some of our station’s best, award-winning programs from previous years. We have had “Web campaigns” providing additional information about stories we have done, along with links where viewers can learn more.  The Web also can provide space for longer pieces than would normally air at 6 p.m. or 11 p.m., or entire interviews instead of a 15-second “sound bite.” Plus, the Web can generate new stories. I am currently investigating a situation brought to my attention by someone who found one of my old reports on line.

 

The key to this kind of convergence is doing it right. If it is just a new form of the “one-man band” then it’s simply piling on more work for journalists who are already stretched thin. But, if there are separate Web editors (which we happen to have), then a station is expanding its reach in an era when viewers don’t automatically sit down at 6 p.m. in front of the TV like they used to.

In fact, the day may not be too far off when a broadcast journalist’s main responsibility is producing stories for the Web … with over-the-air as the secondary outlet. As long as it is not a “one-man band” pulled from his or her Web story to do another version for the 11 p.m. show, it could work out fine.

 

(Editor’s Note: Jeff Hirsh, along with Jeff Barnhill, Eric Gerhardt and Dan Hurley of WKRC-TV, were the recipients of a 2005 Sigma Delta Chi Award for television reporting for their piece, “Charter School Investigations.”)

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Wanted: A Model of Convergence

By David Swartzlander, assistant professor of journalism and adviser to The Doane Owl and Tiger yearbook, Doane College, Lincoln, Neb.

 

Some call it convergence.

 

Others refer to it as multi-platform communication.

 

For all I know, there may be other names for the idea of melding different formats to try to communicate information in a better way to a mass audience.

 

American Press, Poynter and other institutes  say the key for providing news to people in the future is through the use of different formats.

 

They also say journalists must think in terms of news rather than formats; that content will continue to rule, but news gatherers must change their mindsets. That journalists must think less in terms of print or broadcast, and more in terms of, “How are we best going to provide citizens the news?”

 

The small, liberal arts college where I teach finds itself at a crossroads. It believes it cannot continue to afford a television station, as the equipment simply is too expensive. The college has identified a need to change how it offers mass communication instruction to students - it wants to develop a convergence model.

 

The dean asked me to find a small, private, liberal arts school that uses the convergence model, in order to hopefully study and adopt many of their practices. We hope to learn how the school’s major operates. What type of curriculum is used? Have the various newsrooms at the school converged into one? How do the broadcast and print students work together to develop news stories? In short, how would we best prepare students to report news in the future?

 

The college is so interested in academic convergent journalism models that it is willing to send me to visit a school that fits the description, particularly small, liberal arts, private colleges that have embraced convergence.

 

If your school meets the description and would be willing to be studied, please contact me: David Swartzlander, Communication Studies Chairman, Doane College, 1014 Boswell Ave., Crete, NE 68333, by e-mail at david.swartzlander@doane.edu or by phone at 402-826-8269.

 

(Editor's note: If you meet David's criteria, The Convergence Newsletter would also like to profile your program. After calling David, drop us a line: convergence-news@mailbox.sc.edu.)

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---------------Conferences

 

AEJMC Convention

August 2-5, 2006

San Francisco, CA USA

http://www.aejmc.org/convention/

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SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference

August 24-26, 2006

Chicago, IL USA

http://spj.org/convention.asp

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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

Columbia, SC USA

http://newsplex.sc.edu/newsplex_cfpapers06.html

 

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. Judging is underway for this conference, and the agenda will be announced in the August edition of The Convergence Newsletter.

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---------------News

 

Thanks!

 

By Augie Grant, executive editor of The Convergence Newsletter and associate professor, University of South Carolina

 

The Convergence Newsletter is the collaboration of dozens of individuals. The most important ones are the graduate students who have served as editors of the newsletter over the past three years, including James Christian, Tyler Jones, Holly Fisher, and Jordan Storm.

 

I'm also grateful to all of our contributors over the past three years—their articles have helped us all understand more about convergence.

 

 Finally, The Convergence Newsletter would not be possible without the support of the faculty and administration of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina, including Dean Charles Bierbauer, Director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications Shirley Carter, and Associate Director for Graduate Studies Erik Collins—they are the ones who have provided the resources that make this newsletter possible.

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---------------New Books on Convergence Announcement

 

Rey Rosales’ The Elements of Online Journalism was just released by iUniverse, Inc.

 

The book guides the reader as to how to create innovative multimedia reports and presentations. It explains the nature of today’s media consumer and talks about ways to gain new users as well as sustain a high rate of return visits. The book also talks about other important factors of online journalism such as audience, design, promotion, ethics, job prospects, and future directions for online news.

 

Publishing a book about convergence? The Convergence Newsletter regularly publishes information about new and upcoming books on convergent journalism. Send your submissions to convergence-editor@mailbox.sc.edu. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ 

 

---------------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

Augie Grant, Ph.D.

augie@sc.edu  

 

Editor

Jordan Storm

convergence-news@mailbox.sc.edu

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---------------Copyright and Redistribution

 

 The Convergence Newsletter is Copyright © 2006 by the University of South Carolina, College of Mass Communications and Information Studies. All rights reserved.

 

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

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---------------Formatting

 

The Convergence Newsletter is optimized for 80 character display; you may need to reset the line length on the preferences menu of your e-mail program.

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---------------Submission Guidelines/Deadline Schedule

 

The Convergence Newsletter provides an editorially neutral forum for discussion of the theoretical and professional meaning of media convergence. We welcome articles of all sorts addressing the subject of convergence in journalism and media. We also accept news briefs, calls for papers and conference announcements. Our audience is both academics and professionals and the publication style is APA 7th edition. Feature articles should be 750 to 1,500 words; other articles should be 250 to 750 words; announcements and conference submissions should be 200 words. All articles should be submitted to The Convergence Newsletter editor at convergence-editor@mailbox.sc.edu. Please include your name, affiliation and contact information with your submission.

  

The Convergence Newsletter is published the first week of each  month except January. Articles should be submitted at least 10 days prior to the publication date. Any questions should be sent to convergence-editor@mailbox.sc.edu.

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---------------Subscribe/Unsubscribe Information

 

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