Convergence Newsletter

From Newsplex at the University of South Carolina

Vol. IV No. 6 (December 5, 2006)


Commenting on Convergence


By Melissa McGill, editor of The Convergence Newsletter


Gil Thelen, a world leader in convergence or as he prefers to call it, multi-platform journalism (We’ve considered changing our name but The Multiplatform Journalism Newsletter isn’t quite as catchy…) reflects on his past experiences with The Tampa Tribune and Knight-Ridder and discusses some difficulties newspapers presently face. 


This issue is representative of the Newsletter’s goal to publish a diversity of topics surrounding convergence. Take a look at the big picture with Thelen, get some practical advice from Klipstine, read about a unique application with Jeffers and find out how to learn more at Newsplex Summer Seminars.


View past newsletters at


Melissa McGill is working toward a Master of Mass Communications at the University of South Carolina. Contact her at



Feature Articles


Rogues, Rascals, Nostrums and Hard Truths


For Effective Communication Focus on the Receiver Not the Sender!


Are Blogs The New Papyrus For Gnosticism? An Exploratory And Descriptive Study Of Gnosticism In The Blogosphere


2007 Newsplex Summer Seminars for Faculty Announced



Conference Information


Media 101: Creating the Future by Understanding the Past


Creating Communication: Content, Control and Critique


Info Services Expo 2007


Expanding the Definition of Convergence and Integration


Convergence and Society: Media Ownership, Control, and Consolidation Call for Papers




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


Rogues, Rascals, Nostrums and Hard Truths

by Gil Thelen, former publisher of the Tampa Tribune


(Editor’s note: The following article is a portion of Thelen’s remarks at USC’s 2006 Buchheit Family Lecture on October 26, 2006. His full remarks can be found at


My name is associated with a third C word beyond change and culture. That word is convergence, meaning the organizational junction of print, video, digital and sometimes audio journalism. I find the word convergence isn’t very descriptive or very useful. I prefer to talk about multimedia journalism, now increasingly referred to as multiplatform journalism.


For those of you not familiar with the story, what we did in Tampa was construct and operate the first news structure in the U.S. with a newspaper newsroom, a TV station and an online portal under the same roof. The three — The Tampa Tribune, WFLA-TV and Tampa Bay Online — have a common owner, Media General of Richmond. Newsplex here in Columbia, a joint venture of the University and IFRA, operates on the same multimedia premise as the News Center in Tampa.


The premise is that more and more media customers — yes, customers — want news, information and entertainment when, where and how they desire, not when, where and how it is convenient for a media outlet to deliver it. The multimedia news organization is able to customize content delivery to serve multiple tastes, whether the mechanism is ink on paper, broadcast, web, blog, vodcast, podcast or whatever technical device is coming next. The key element in the equation is content, its quality and convenience. The delivery mechanism is secondary to combining news and information gathering resources to produce verified, credible, useful and authoritative content that is distinguishable from that of competitors.


I believe we succeeded in demonstrating not only the viability of multimedia publishing but its necessity in the fast changing information marketplace. Tribune journalism is quicker, more energetic and more visual due to the close association with online and broadcast. WFLA-TV content is deeper, wider and more authoritative because of the partnership with print. Tampa Bay Online has broadened its lead as the preferred regional portal. Total audience for Media General content in the Tampa Bay marketplace has increased, as has advertising revenue attributable to convergence. WFLA-TV is Florida’s most watched TV news station.


What’s the logic of multimedia or multiplatform publishing? I’ll go back 15 years to a chilling and foreboding comment made by the chemist brother of my managing editor, Paula Ellis. Paula asked him why he didn’t subscribe to a newspaper. He said: “The information I need finds me.” Again: “The information I need finds me.” Fast forward to 2006 and the comment — reported by another Tampa Bay newspaper — of Stephanie Garry, a young woman who edits the Independent Florida Alligator at the University of Florida: “… because we have been raised on the Internet, we see all of this as — that the media caters to our wants and needs whenever we want.”


The words of the Baby Boomer Charlotte chemist and the Gen Y Gainesville editor capture the new media reality: more and more customers — especially young ones — expect information content to be custom catered just for them — and to be free; technology has exploded, bringing multiple delivery devices. The meaning is clear to me: newspapers must evolve to be the umbrella brand that houses the traditional print sheet but also custom products such as city magazines and local health publications, niche publishing such as youth lite newspapers, video and text narrowcasting to handheld devices, increasingly rich and useful web sites with distinct identities jampacked with the information customers desire to navigate their increasingly complicated lives.


Gary Pruitt, chairman and CEO of McClatchy newspapers — the new Carolinas colossus with papers in Raleigh, Charlotte, Rock Hill, Columbia, Myrtle Beach, Beaufort and Hilton Head, gets it right when he says: “I do think that newspapers have a strong future, and it lies in the fact that they will be or are the last mass medium in each local market… (publishing) small niche products or direct-mail programs may seem nitty-gritty or competing at the low end, but it's that kind of business activity that will sustain the high-end journalism in the core."


That high end journalism in the core must get a whole lot better… Too much of it remains predictable, bureaucratic in perspective, overly long and irrelevant to the daily lives of citizens and customers. If editors and their newsrooms must dial up their energy, innovation and connection with customers and community, so too must their publishers and corporate bosses provide the necessary resources.


The roll call of newspapers cutting their newsroom staffing has become numbing: New York, Boston, Dallas, Baltimore, Orlando, Los Angeles, to name the largest ones. The editor in Dallas, Bob Mong, has my favorite new age sound bite to explain his 20% staff reduction: “I am trying to rescale the paper in a digital world.”


Content, remember, is king and our customers collectively aren’t stupid. Ultimately, I believe, they will choose the media brands that look out for their interests, get the facts right, care about their communities and deliver the goods in the most convenient and accessible ways. Jim Knight, one of founding brothers of Knight newspapers, put it more quaintly, more eloquently, perhaps naively, three decades ago: “If we are fair, if we are accurate…if we judge the news carefully in proportion to its importance, its interest and service, the readers will be with us. Some days they will despise us. Some days they will love us. But be fair and they will read us.”


The cost-cutting that is reaching muscle and bone in many news organizations is due in large part to unreasonable profit growth demands by the investor community. My former AP colleague Conrad Fink, now at the University of Georgia, calculates that newspapers average about double the 11% profit of Fortune 500 companies but are hammered by what he calls “completely unreasonable” investor demands. “Wall Street knows only one mantra,” he says, “more, please, more.” I agree with his assessment.


Phil Meyer, the Knight professor at the other Carolina, is right to say “the key to (future prosperity) … is a stronger journalistic product...and this is what the industry is missing right now. Instead, they're doing the opposite, trying to save their way to prosperity by cutting back on the product.”


It was those insatiable investors who drove my esteemed former employer — Knight Ridder — out of existence. What an incredible shame! The Knight-Ridder I experienced for 20 years cared deeply about journalism excellence and public service. John S. Knight put profits in the right perspective: "We believe in profitability but do not sacrifice either principle or quality on the altar of the counting house." This viewpoint animated the company for several decades after Jack Knight’s death.


When Knight-Ridder bought the State-Record Co., the marching orders were clear: improve the quality of the papers as well as improve their bottom-line performance. I’ll never forget Jim Batten’s visit to Columbia shortly after I joined The State. Jim was a Knight reporter and editor who had risen to CEO of the company. He cared deeply about how great journalism could strengthen the communities his newspapers served. Jim asked me what it would take to elevate the State newsroom to a new level of excellence. I said our most immediate need was an investigative team costing at least $200,000 a year. He approved my recommendation on the spot. Other investments in our newsroom followed.


Jim’s untimely death from brain cancer in 1995 would mark the beginning of the end for Knight-Ridder. Until then, the company insisted on having a journalist as one of its two top officers. The pairing of a business-side leader with an editor to run the company produced a balanced and open organization that was a magnet for top talent, the key ingredient for enterprise success. Jim’s successor, Tony Ridder, did not appoint an editor as his No.2. Tony’s background was business, not news. The balanced leadership team was gone forever from Knight-Ridder.


I am not suggesting that editors are paragons of all virtue. They do however tend to bring an outlook that encourages healthy internal debate, favors a long-term perspective and rigorously champions journalists’ first amendment responsibilities. The best editors understand leadership. And confident, steadfast leadership at the highest level was conspicuously missing when the financial wolves attacked Knight-Ridder.


Knight-Ridder also lacked the two-class stock system that has so far buffered the New York Times, Washington Post and Media General from the most vicious forms of investor assault. But I am unconvinced that the two-class stock system affords any real protection against the financial attacks that will inevitably come. I have witnessed top executives in two-class stock companies outdo executives in unprotected companies genuflect to stock analysts and abandon strategic thinking at the first sign of profit trouble. Stay-the-course strategic rigor and courageous leadership are essential for any company that hopes to transform itself into the multimedia powerhouse I talked about earlier.


What does that leadership look like? It’s David Zeeck in Tacoma telling fellow ASNE editors to quit whining about new demands and, as always has happened, find a way to fit new responsibilities, such as writing a blog, into their inevitable 65 hour week. It is Tom Fiedler, executive editor of the Miami Herald, issuing this command to his newsroom: "We are beyond being satisfied with incremental change and giving polite head nods toward other media platforms. We are going to execute fundamental restructuring to support that pledge. Every job in the newsroom — EVERY JOB — is going to be redefined to include a web responsibility and, if appropriate, radio.” It is Los Angeles Times rank-and-file editor Bob Baker writing: “If newspapers are going to die, as most smart people seem to think, let's go down swinging. Let's go down like the Texans at the Alamo. Let’s publish the best, most interesting, most audacious stories we can, on our own terms. Let’s not be businessmen. Let’s be artists. Let’s put our art - the stories that we love to write, edit and publish - on the market and see who buys it.” I don’t agree fully with Baker’s sentiment, but I love his fire, which we desperately need more of.


Is returning to private ownership an answer to those insatiable and unreasonable investor demands of today? The Philadelphia newspapers will be ones everyone watches on this one as a group of local business figures navigates private ownership. Instinctively, I’d like to shout go team go! My experience flashes up caution signs about certain kinds of private ownership, however. Those very same Philly newspapers were dreadful rags under the private owner who sold them to Knight-Ridder, Walter Annenburg. The bondholders and bankers who provide private owners the means to finance improvements in their papers can be as brutal task masters as Wall Street stock investors. Recently, those new Philly owners ordered deep staff cuts, citing demands from their bankers in the face of advertising declines. And for every Anniston or St. Petersburg, there’s Santa Barbara, the current soap opera of a private owner running a good newspaper into professional and community disrepute. Michael Kinsley recently warned in Time magazine about the civic and professional dangers of people who got rich in other businesses buying newspapers as play things: “As a rule, rich people don’t buy expensive toys for other people to play with.” By that he means mere staff and community to play with.


No, there are not any easy roads away from the current crisis facing all traditional news organizations. Part of the answer is fully embracing the need for multimedia, multiplatform innovation in content delivery. Another is quickly diversifying our portfolio of products to gain niche audiences and revenues. Yet another is transforming our content to address fully our customers need for relevant, authoritative, unique local news, information and entertainment. Newspaper Next, an important innovation project at the American Press Institute, puts it this way: “The land rush to meet local information needs has barely begun. If newspapers see the opportunities and commit the necessary resources, they can become the preferred providers of a wide range of community, consumer, civic, recreation, entertainment and other information. This will enable them to serve their communities in new ways, attracting new audiences and serving new business customers — a natural fit with their time-honored civic mission of helping communities lead better lives through information.” Finally, the answer is all about talent and leadership, men and women willing to fight to attain the strategic vision of vigorous, enterprising news and information organizations that are essential for democratic government.


Like Jim Batten, I continue to believe in newspapers and their vital role in a democratic society. As he so eloquently and inspirationally put it, “newspapers, well edited, well published, are wonderfully situated to be instruments of helping America find its way, solve its problems and seize its opportunities.



For Effective Communication Focus on the Receiver Not the Sender!

By Dr. Thomas Klipstine, University of South Carolina


While most usability studies tend to center on the technological capabilities of the Internet and World Wide Web, a major aspect of usability research is the focus on the user’s goals rather than those of the producers. As communicators, practitioners or educators, we should embrace this concept because usability research suggests that we can enhance the effectiveness of our messages if we adopt usability principles in our writing and focus on using a scannable, concise, and object writing style in our messages.


The literature on usability research notes that the vast amount of material appearing on Web sites is written no differently that produced for paper and the result is less effective communication and that there are differences in the writing for the electronic medium. The two most cited differences in writing for the Internet are:

  1. The Internet is an interactive medium and presents material in a nonlinear fashion where information is accessible in the order the reader wants to receive the information; and
  2. People scan or skim material on a screen and do not read text word for word so text should be written in short paragraphs with subheads and bulleted lists.


Specifically, past usability research suggests that in writing for the electric medium there are three guidelines that should be followed in preparing material for electronic distribution:



A recent content analysis of electronic material I conducted found that we are not using these principles in our writing and unfortunately the result according to usabilty research is less effective communication.


For example, my analysis of 50 corporate news releases found that the amount of text for an electronic release compared to a paper-based release has not been reduced but has increased.  The average length of the news release was 651 words compared to a paper-based news release with an average length of approximately 500 words. However, the study did find that average paragraph in a news release was 62 words, well within the suggested format of 100 words per chunk of information. But in terms of graphics the study found that photos were only used in four percent of the documents and only five of the releases studied, 10 percent, contained either a chart or a graph.


While highlighted material makes it easier for the reader to skim the material, the study found that only 16 percent of the electronic releases used headings in the text, 14 percent listed information in a bullet format, four percent used boldface type, and six percent contained hypertext. A major advantage for an electronic document is that because it is a computer based technology, it is an interactive medium. However, the study found that in terms of hypertext 94 percent of the material studied contained no hypertext, or active links embedded in the text of the material.


In summary, the study suggests, that we as senders are still focused on the encoding of the material and are not considering how the material is being used by the receiver. Using corporate news releases as an example, we as communicators are still following the traditional communication process and have yet to realize the importance of considering the user’s experience in the development of our communications which would result in improved communication effectiveness.


For additional information on this topic, I suggest visiting Jacob Nielsen’s Web site ( Nielsen is considered as a leader in the field of usability studies and is cited in almost every study of usabilty.


Thomas Klipstine presented this research at USC’s Convergence and Society: Ethics, Religion and New Media held October 19- 21, 2006. For a copy of the complete paper, contact Thomas for a copy of the complete paper :



Are Blogs The New Papyrus For Gnosticism? An Exploratory And Descriptive Study Of Gnosticism In The Blogosphere

Dennis W. Jeffers, Ph.D. Central Michigan University


Over the past three-to-five years interest in two phenomena has gained momentum: Gnosticism and blogging.  For those who have been following the development of research and comment on convergence and new media, the increased interest in blogging comes as no surprise. Most estimates place the number of blogs near the 60 million mark.


What may be surprising to some is the increased interest in Gnosticism. However, fans of the Matrix film trilogy and The Da Vinci Code will be familiar with many of the basic tenants of Gnosticism. Most recently, the National Geographic Society showcased the archeological and biblical findings related to the Gospel of Judas, one of the Gnostic gospels. Briefly, Gnosis is loosely defined as “knowledge” or “insight” and Gnostics believe that knowing one’s self at a deep level provides humans with knowledge of the Divine. Further, Gnostics believe that humans have been cut off from the Divine Mind--but that each person carries a spark of the Divine within. Humans can be reconnected with the Divine by igniting that spark with the help of a teacher—such as Jesus—who is not necessarily uniquely human and divine.


What do blogs and Gnosticism have in common? Essentially, both bloggers (compared to the “mainstream media”) and past & present Gnostics (compared to past & present forms of “mainstream religion”) are associated with diversity, individualism and a sense of anti-establishmentarianism. So, the purpose of this study is to begin an exploration of whether blogs serve many of the same communication functions for contemporary Gnostics that papyrus did for early Gnostics.


To launch this exploration, four clusters of research questions were formulated to measure the scope of discussion of Gnosticism and religion in the blogosphere, as well as obtain measures of the number of “Gnostic” bloggers and their posting activity. Using measurement tools available on the blog search engine, a purposive sample of Gnostic blogs was collected from April 6th to April 20th, 2006. This time frame was selected in order to “tease out” references to Gnosticism during a span that included the Easter observances and the roll-out of the National Geographic Society’s Gospel of Judas.


The results of this investigation reveal that there were an average of 77 posts per day dealing with the subject of Gnosticism. This contrasts with an average of nearly 5,000 posts per day for the subject of religion. Further, during this time period the list of “self-tagged” Gnostic bloggers remained stable with 20 different persons. Also, the relative ranking of these bloggers by “authority” (sites “linked to” the most by other blogs are sites with the most authority) also remained stable during this time period. Perhaps most importantly, textual analysis of posts on the Gnostic blogs with the most authority revealed that these blogs are iconoclastic both in tone and content.


Two major conclusions can be drawn from the results of this exploratory study. First, it is clear that there is a presence of Gnosticism in the blogosphere, but it is not a major component at this time. Secondly, however, those Gnostic components of the blogosphere that do exist tend to “synchronize” with the concepts of diversity, individuality and anti-establishmentarianism. To that extent, there does seem to be a match between the medium and the message.


In this case, if there is a good match between the medium and the message, why are there are so few self-tagged Gnostic bloggers? The answer may be due to a combination of two factors. First, it is possible that there just aren’t that many Gnostic bloggers. Second, and more likely, our current tools for measuring “categories” of bloggers is too primitive at this point to identify all who may fit a specific set of criteria. For instance, requires that a blogger use the “rel-tag microformat” in order to be associated with a specific label or topic. While a high percentage of bloggers do use this format, not all do.


Obviously, these methodological problems cause difficulties for researchers who are attempting to get their arms around blogs in this “new media converged world.” For instance, six months after the data collection for the study outlined above, a replication of the measurement process showed that the number of Gnostic bloggers had more than doubled. Currently, it is impossible to tell if that increase is a “true” one, or merely a result of a refinement in the measuring procedures.


Nevertheless, enough evidence has been collected in this study to suggest that a continuation of the investigation of how blogs fit into the larger context of use of media by special populations (such as Gnostics) is worthwhile.


Dennis Jeffers presented this research at USC’s Convergence and Society: Ethics, Religion and New Media held October 19- 21, 2006. Contact Dennis for a copy of the complete paper:



2007 Newsplex Summer Seminars for Faculty Announced

By Augie Grant, executive editor of The Convergence Newsletter


Faculty from all areas of journalism and mass communication are invited to share the Newsplex experience during the 2007 Newsplex Summer Seminars. The University of south Carolina College of Mass Communications and Information Studies is offering three summer seminars in 2007 ranging from a broad overview of convergence trends to more specific training in video, Web publishing, and content management. The seminars include:


May 14-18                                Teaching and Research in Convergent Media


May 28-June 1                      Web Publishing in Convergent Media


June 4-8                                  Convergence Software Bootcamp


Tuition for each five-day seminar is $750, and includes all seminars, books, and materials related to training, as well as lunches and local transportation from the host hotel to Newsplex. For online registration, detailed descriptions or more information on any of these seminars, visit or contact Augie Grant: or 803.777.4464.





BEA Call for papers

Media 101: Creating the Future by Understanding the Past

April 18-21, 2007, Las Vegas



Texas Tech University Call for Papers

Expanding the Definition of Convergence and Integration

April 19 & 20, 2007

Lubbock, Texas



57th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association

Creating Communication: Content, Control and Critique

San Francisco, CA, May 24-28, 2007 



60th World Newspaper Congress/ 14th World Editors Forum

Info Services Expo 2007

June 3-6, 2007, Cape Town, South Africa



Convergence and Society: Media Ownership, Control, and Consolidation Call for Papers

University of South Carolina October 11-13, 2007

Submission deadline (postmark) is June 15, 2007.



---------------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.



Melissa McGill



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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 Please include your name, affiliation and contact information with your submission.


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