From Newsplex at the University of South Carolina
Vol. IV No. 3 (September 6, 2006)
Commenting on Convergence
By Melissa McGill, editor of The Convergence Newsletter
A primary goal of The Convergence Newsletter is to spark discussion, even disagreement, on the nature and purpose of convergence in academia and professionally. Judging by two recent blog responses to David Hazinski’s critical perspective on convergence published in last month's newsletter, sparks have been flying. Read them at http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/2006/08/convergence_and_transmedia_in.html and http://commonsensej.blogspot.com/2006/08/drop-idea-of-convergence.html.
This issue focuses on the role convergence can play in revitalizing community journalism. Sam Ford addresses the challenges faced by rural weeklies and how convergence can contribute to the solution while Dan Pacheco, Doug Fisher and Jordan Storm discuss specific examples of how community newspapers from the East Coast to the West are successfully putting these ideas into practice.
In addition to being a focal point for information on convergence, we would like to begin offering a place to announce faculty openings at no cost. If you would like to post a position announcement, send a brief description of the position, as well as a link to the complete information to firstname.lastname@example.org.
View past newsletters at http://www.jour.sc.edu/news/convergence/.
Melissa McGill is working toward a Master of Mass Communications at the University of South Carolina. Contact her at email@example.com.
How Weeklies Can Embrace Convergence
Bakomatic: Letting the Audience Speak for Itself
Taking the Plunge into 'Cit-J'
Convergence of Content Providers I Think Not
Online News Association
Convergence and Society: Ethics, Religion and New Media
AEJMC Midwinter Conference
How Weeklies Can Embrace Convergence
By Sam Ford, media analyst, MIT Convergence Culture Consortium
A weekly editor I know calls rural papers the cockroaches of the journalism industry, surviving conglomerations and myriad other changes in the industry precisely because of their small focus.
But rural community journalism has faced two devastating attacks in recent years. One is the Wal-Martization of America. While much has been said about how corporate chains have put local businesses out of operation, few have acknowledged the implications for weeklies. When stores like Wal-Mart lead to the eventual closing of local businesses, the newspaper loses many of its traditional advertisers, and the Wal-Mart has no need to advertise.
The other major change in journalism is a growing lack of emphasis on local communities by Americans themselves. When people can form virtual friendships through MySpace and the majority of the population is becoming increasingly mobile, there is less need for knowing or caring about one’s neighborhood in a geographic sense.
Some weeklies are thriving, especially in micropolitan areas or in those close enough to major metropolitan areas where there may be some spillover advertising from bigger cities. But, in smaller communities, there are plenty of papers whose doors have closed or which are under major budgeting pressures based on flagging subscription rates and a lack of local advertisers.
Considering that these are often the only newspapers of record for an area and often the only place voters can get any local government coverage, communities have a lot to lose when these weekly newspapers are endangered.
But I think that embracing various aspects of media convergence can be a benefit to these weeklies. First, let me emphasize, though, that my use of the word convergence is intended to connote a transmedia approach to journalism and not forcing weekly newspaper reporters to suddenly become jacks-of-all-trades, although budget constraints at most of these papers have caused that, anyway.
How can convergence help invigorate these local newspapers? There are four ways:
1.) Take Advantage of the Web – Many weeklies have a poor Web presence, but expanding Web sites can give newspapers another source of revenue from existing advertisers and can create a space for news coverage building on stories that appeared in the previous edition while previewing upcoming editions.
2.) Focus on Maintaining Local Connections – If weeklies can develop stronger Web presences, they are positioned to help maintain local ties. Newspapers should seek to reconnect with natives who have dispersed across the country but who still care what is happening in their hometown. Make the Web a gathering place for people from an area, and use that function to help draw in regional or even national advertisers at low rates.
3.) Remember the Function of the Paper of Record – Local historians and school volunteers may be willing to work with weeklies to help restore and digitize the newspaper’s archives. Providing a digital archive generates more interest in the newspaper and could greatly expand the paper’s Web site.
4.) Build Strategic Relationships – Weeklies may also have an advantage in seeking relationships with local dailies and/or broadcasters. More regionally based news entities are not competition for weeklies but could instead be sought out for mutually beneficial cross-platform relationships for larger news entities, which can provide better regional coverage, and the weeklies, which can benefit from increased regional exposure.
Many of these suggestions of how weekly newspapers can embrace the current convergence culture are focused on advertising and not content, but these weeklies are struggling to find enough profit to hire competent reporters and provide comprehensive coverage. And, when there’s a struggle for survival, there’s little time to think about the appropriate divide between the ad room and the newsroom. These papers need to find ways to stay profitable in order to provide the best coverage possible for local issues.
For more on Sam Ford’s take on the “plight of weekly newspapers,” see his July post on the Convergence Culture Consortium blog at MIT: http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/2006/07/the_plight_of_weekly_newspaper.html
Sam Ford is a graduate from the news/editorial journalism program at Western Kentucky University and a current Master’s student in the Comparative Media Studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He works as a media analyst for MIT’s Convergence Culture Consortium, which examines how media convergence affects cultural producers and consumers throughout the media industry. He has written for weekly newspapers in Kentucky for more than a decade.
Bakomatic: Letting the Audience Speak for Itself
By Dan Pacheco, Senior Manager of Digital Products, The Bakersfield Californian
A belly dancing instructor looking for new students. A single Latina mother looking for ways to teach Mexican culture to her bilingual kids. A garage band trying to promote its next gig. What, if anything, do such different people have in common, and how can traditional media possibly engage them in meaningful ways that attract advertising in the future?
Choosing to ignore this problem means dying a slow death as others come in from the sides with technology and approaches that uniquely fill the needs of an increasingly diverse and frenetic population. But until recently, no traditional media company has figured out how to do that effectively. At The Bakersfield Californian, an independently-owned newspaper in a central Californian city of 330,000, we think we’ve stumbled across a solution that holds lots of promise. We get out of the way as much as possible and give users the power to publish their own news and directly connect with each other.
Our secret weapon is our homegrown social media software called “Bakomatic” (pronounced bake-oh-matic). Initially created as a way to reach young people in Bakersfield through Bakotopia.com, Bakomatic now powers seven sites in Bakersfield – including Citizen Media pioneer Northwestvoice.com. In July, Bakomatic received a Knight Batten Award, which honors innovations in journalism, and earlier this year it received an “Edgie” from the Newspaper Association of America.
In our case, necessity was definitely the mother of invention. In the past, reaching new audiences gave a newspaper like the Californian two choices: make a new section and hope that members of that audience eventually find it, or ignore it because of space or staffing constraints. The latter was no longer an option, so starting two years ago we decided to create multiple, separately-branded products that were targeted to specific demographic and psychographic groups. Some of those products would have print components, and others wouldn’t, but all would have a robust and interactive Web site that lets the users submit their own content and express their persona.
I was charged with providing the Web technology for these products, a daunting task to say the least. Aggregating audiences in a way that also acknowledges and leverages a trend toward disaggregation sounds like a fantastic non sequitur. But as often happens, the younger generation showed us the light. When we researched the 18-35 audience behavior, it became increasingly clear that they were more interested in social interaction tools like instant messaging and updating profiles on sites like MySpace than they were in reading content in print. In January 2005 we launched Bakotopia.com, which started as a Craigslist-style listings service and evolved into a local social network where local bands can share their music and promote their gigs. The site now generates more than 400,000 pageviews a month, which is pretty good for a niche product in a town of 330,000.
Less than 2 years after launching Bakotopia, Bakomatic is proving to be an audience-growth machine. By October it will power 10 sites in Bakersfield, which together have increased traffic to company-owned Web sites by 30 percent. Because every site is on the same database, we can create new sites with very little incremental cost -- and soon we will be able to let advertisers reach people in ways that directly tie to their demographics and interests. Six of those sites, which you can learn more about at our new licensing Web site Participata.com, are targeted to specific demographic audiences such as youth or Hispanics. The seventh is our own newspaper site, Bakersfield.com, which in just a few short months has evolved from being not just a center for news, but also its own local blogosphere for discussion and debate. On all of these sites, users can publish their own blogs, articles and music, update user profiles that show their photos and interests, invite friends to their networks, and more.
All of this is about as far away from a traditional media approach as you can get, but that’s also what makes it work. We still have a large and active newsroom, but they spend more and more time posting blog entries and commenting on users’ blogs. What started as a platform for non-core products is now at the very center of how our newspaper’s reporters interact with the local community. Now that’s what I call social media!
Dan Pacheco has been involved in online media for over a decade and was on the team that launched Washingtonpost.com. Before joining the Californian, he was a principal product manager at America Online, where he worked on community products such as Chat, home pages, Groups and AOL Pictures. He frequently publishes updates about Bakomatic and thoughts about the changing media landscape on his blog at http://www.futureforecast.com
Taking the plunge into 'cit-j'
By Doug Fisher, instructor, University of South Carolina
Citizen journalism. Participatory journalism. Hyperlocal journalism. Community storytelling.
Whatever you call it, the idea that news is a conversation and that it's time to integrate readers into the news process is creeping, and sometimes rushing, into newsrooms.
Independent sites like WestportNow in Connecticut, H2otown outside Boston and Baristanet in New Jersey often began as part-time ventures covering places largely ignored by local media. The Bakersfield Californian pioneered with Northwest Voice from which it also produced a printed neighborhood edition. Now, most sizable papers have, or are considering, ways to get the public involved on the Web. Florida's Fort Myers News-Press has assigned two "mobile journalists" – mojos – to report and recruit others to do hyperlocal journalism.
A year ago, the University of South Carolina journalism school and the Hartsville Messenger, with Knight Foundation funding through J-lab, began creating HartsvilleToday.com. The premise: Massive changes the Internet is wreaking in large newsrooms eventually will creep into even the smallest. What can small papers learn from HVTD, as we call it, to be prepared? Can small newspapers, especially nondailies, connect better with their communities? And can such a site help the nondaily stay more timely in an already 24/7 world?
We're still learning, but the answer is a qualified yes to those last two. We are doing a longer report for J-lab, but I want to share some of what we have learned.
=> Sweat the details: You put tremendous time into setting up your newspaper; do the same with your online community site. Start with the name: What image do you want to project?
=> What do you want the site to do: Provide a way for people to file more traditional stories, as we do at HVTD? Allow more personal commentary, like blogs? Promote social networking or more feedback for your staff? Each requires a slightly different approach.
=> Will you link to other sites? We think it shows users we trust them, and if they can get to the other sites from us they'll start with us.
=> How will people report inappropriate content, and to whom in your newsroom? Messenger Managing Editor Jim Faile says that five-person newsroom is still grappling with these issues. How will you monitor things in case a contributor comes up with a good story or photo, as has happened in Hartsville? (Most software produces RSS or "news feeds" that can be monitored through an online reader like Bloglines.com.)
=> Think like a user, not a publisher: How would you find information and stories you wanted? It's not likely to be the traditional 1-A, Metro, Sports, Lifestyle mix. At HartsvilleToday, a homepage window shows you five or six of the latest posts and another shows you a rotating selection of posted photos. We also have "channels" such as Faith, Arts, Neighborhoods and Sports (high school/college and recreational) for some structure. But we are adjusting that as we see what users do with posts.
=> Make sure you have an events calendar where people can post notices.
=> Everything should be in natural language, not legalese or technical boilerplate. We've avoided calling the site "journalism," preferring "community storytelling," after we found several potential contributors scared about the "j" word.
=> Don't expect to flip a switch and it will run itself: Publisher Graham Osteen estimates you'll spend $5,000 to $10,000 to get the site set up. There is free, open-source software, but someone still has to install and tweak it. Hartsville has access to Osteen Publishing's in-house experts; if you have to hire someone, systems administrator Ed Schaal says make sure you have their full attention for at least a month. After that, it may take a couple of hours a week to tweak things.
=> If you build it, they won't necessarily come: We talked with community groups, churches, Scout groups, you name it. We had banners and cards printed; we walked up and down Hartsville's main street passing out fliers. We made dozens of phone calls. We bought digital cameras to lend, and we did training through USC's Newsplex. We hired two stringers not only to find stories but also recruit participants. It is an ongoing effort. As Osteen wrote in an editorial: "One of the keys, as one person put it, is what's 'necessary for any participatory project is a sense of ownership.' … A sense of ownership will develop, I believe, through a concerted effort on all fronts."
=> Pictures drive traffic: But you knew that from newspapering, didn't you? Make sure your site has easy and widely promoted abilities to post pictures.
Our monthly visits have gone from almost 3,300 in January to almost 7,000 in June. Page views are up from 22,000 to close to 45,000. Even backing out "indexing spiders," that's not bad for a town of about 10,000 people. And such sites can produce some good stories (for instance, AP's first word of a major fire came from HartsvilleToday).
But it's also an ongoing struggle to turn people from viewers to posters. The Messenger staff has filed things like Friday night football on cycle, but that has been uneven, and the paper is still unsure how to sell the site and how to work it into newsroom routine. Recruitment efforts also have shown the paper may have more work to do in the town's minority community.
But people keep saying they are visiting. They talk about the stories. And after one Kiwanis meeting a man came up and said he had a small complaint. He'd made HartsvilleToday his homepage, and it was loading a little slowly.
We knew we'd made it.
If you want a more detailed outline of the issues in setting up a site like HVTD, e-mail me.
Doug Fisher, a former AP news editor, teaches journalism at the University of South Carolina and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 803-777-3315. Past issues of his blog, Common Sense Journalism, can be found at http://www.jour.sc.edu/news/csj/index.html.
Fort Myers News-Press:
Convergence of Content Providers, I Think Not
By Jordan Storm, doctoral student, S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University, and former editor, The Convergence Newsletter
One year ago, recognizing the concept of citizen journalism was a ripe opportunity for study, I set out to study Bluffton Today, a free Total Market Coverage (TMC) daily newspaper in Bluffton, S.C.
Called “a vehicle for an innovative experiment in newspaper and Web publishing” by its parent company, Morris Communications, Bluffton Today, or BT, was launched in April 2005 as a community newspaper that welcomes citizen engagement and content onto its Web site through registered users’ blog pages, photo galleries, and forum discussion boards for the purposes of feeding the print paper.
In the April 2005 issue of this newsletter, J-Lab's Jan Schaffer called this type of journalism, identified by various monikers including citizen journalism, interactive journalism and participatory journalism, evidence of a “convergence of content creators – professional and amateur.” At the time, I would have stated that BT as a citizen journalism initiative exemplified her concept of a “convergence of content creators.”
However, through an analysis of in-depth face-to-face interviews with BT’s newsroom staff, two weeks of observation in BT’s newsroom and a content analysis of BT, its competitor, The Island Packet and the Washington Post, I changed my mind, concluding BT’s newsroom is not evidence of a “convergence of content creators” but rather a “convergence of conversations.”
BT’s audience or readers are able to post content to the paper’s Web site blufftontoday.com on their own blog pages, post commentary or responses to other users’ blog pages and post photographs on the site’s photo gallery. While this content influences BT’s print paper, what it does not do is replace content written by professional journalists. Rather than reversing the traditional model of gatekeeping, editors and journalists are doing more gatekeeping than ever, as they have an additional source with which to contend.
BT’s reporters and editors engage with Web-generated audience or reader content daily in several ways. By monitoring citizen participation and content on BT’s Web site, newsroom staff members gain a better understanding of what the community conversation is, or, as BT’s newsroom says, to learn what the public’s passions are.
Staff members are also able to generate story ideas, sources and occasionally select examples of reader content for inclusion within their own work. Newsroom staff members also choose small amounts of Web-generated reader content to go into the print paper, usually in a section called “Best of the Web.”
Most importantly, BT newsroom staff members are able to communicate with the public through the paper’s Web site, much as they would on the phone, through e-mail or just by hitting the pavement and talking to people face-to-face. Used as a tool, BT’s Web site offers the newsroom an additional channel of communication with the public.
Through its Web site, BT is able to facilitate what it calls, "a community in conversation with itself." For example, readers blog posts on BT’s site back and forth, creating conversation threads. Sometimes newsroom members jump in and participate in these threads, other times they do not. Readers also regularly post questions to other readers and/or BT’s newsroom. Questions prod responses and continue the conversation. For an example, check out alljoygal’s August 21, 2006 blog post, titled Bluffton Parkway Question at http://www.blufftontoday.com/node/7884.
Newsroom staffers also solicit content or story ideas from their readers. Check out one newsroom staffer’s August 23, 2006 blog post requesting information at http://www.blufftontoday.com/node/7928.
These examples highlight BT’s use of its Web site as a tool, as an outlet through which the newspaper can connect with the public and the public with the newsroom, where conversations can converge, collide, and collaborate.
The impact of the paper’s Web site transcends the physical amount of non-professional Web-generated non-professional reader content that makes its way into the print paper (which is little); its importance rests in the cooperation and conversation the Web site facilitates between the newsroom and the public.
This conversation enables BT’s newsroom to better report on the issues, topics and passions that are important to residents of Bluffton, S.C. Rather than reversing the gatekeeping model, Web-generated non-professional reader content is used as a mediated additive to the print product by BT’s newsroom staff.
This utilization of the paper’s Web site is not an example of citizen journalism in practice, but rather just better journalism, or what one BT staffer referred to as “old-timey community journalism.”
As such, I argue audience contributions at BT are not examples of citizen journalism but rather simply examples of reader-submitted content that are used by BT in its print paper. BT is not an example of converging content providers in practice, but rather just a convergence of conversations that makes for a better journalism product.
Online News Association
October 5-7, 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
Columbia, SC USA
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.
AEJMC Midwinter Conference
December 1-3, 2006
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