Convergence Newsletter

From Newsplex at the University of South Carolina

Vol. IV No. 9 (April 3, 2007)


Commenting on Convergence


By Melissa McGill, editor of The Convergence Newsletter


In this issue, Craig Duff discusses his experiences in Cairo as a Knight International Journalism Fellow and what it means to “converge like an Egyptian.”  This article is a continuation of a series of articles focusing on convergence internationally.  This series includes articles from Juan Carlos Camus on Chile and Vincent Maher on South Africa, both in the August 2006 issue and the World Editors Forum Trends in Newsrooms preview in the March 2007 issue.


Randy Covington, director of Ifra Newsplex South Carolina, dispels some common misconceptions about convergence in his article “Myths and Realities of Convergence.” Also, as Augie promised in the February 2007 issue, Tim Bajkiewicz addresses how new media has always changed journalism education with a touch of humor (and a few tidbits of trivia).


And remember, friends don’t let friends be uninformed about convergence, so forward this newsletter to someone today!


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


Converge Like an Egyptian


Myths and Realities of Convergence


What’s Old is New Again



Conference Information


Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism


Media 101: Creating the Future by Understanding the Past


Expanding the Definition of Convergence and Integration


Creating Communication: Content, Control and Critique


Info Services Expo 2007




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


Online Fundamentals for Newsroom Leaders



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


Converge Like an Egyptian

By Craig Duff, Knight International Journalism Fellow at the American University in Cairo


As I stood in a fancy Cairo hotel conference room before more than a dozen editors of Arab newspapers, spanning the region from the wealthier Gulf States to poorer northern Africa countries, I knew I had my work cut out for me.  The topic was convergence, and I guessed many would think this is only a problem – and a luxury – for news organizations in the West. I was right. 


They also knew well that what converges in America won’t find identical intersections in the Arab world.  Print and broadcast entities here don’t play well together, and tend to maintain the old fashioned separations (with one exception here in Egypt: a new satellite channel is teaming with the nation’s only independent/non-partisan newspaper to produce a political news program). And the forces leading to a loss in readership in the states and Europe won’t necessarily do the same damage to the various papers – many of them state-run enterprises – on newsstands in the Middle East and Africa.


Still, because of high illiteracy, readership is low here, and most papers, without state support, would not be able to survive a flight of readers to other media.


So I was asked to do a “master class” with the lofty title of “towards online convergence,” and, by golly, I was going to share my experience on both the broadcast and print sides of the convergence equation. When I was an executive producer at CNN our newsmagazine show offered some of the first streaming video on the network’s Web site (a postage stamp-sized interview with shock rocker Marilyn Manson).  And before coming to Egypt to serve as a Knight International Journalism Fellow at the American University in Cairo, I had worked with The New York Times in both documentary television and the development of video on the paper’s Web site.


Before my talk I had lived a half-dozen months in Cairo, and had started to glean the issues confronting Egypt, which are typical, in varying degrees, of other countries in the Arab world.  Most newspapers don’t feel a threat from Internet news sources.  Only the elite have computers here.  Fewer still have broadband.  Even newsrooms don’t have ready access to the Internet for most of the staff.  Reporters at Egypt’s state-run wire service still file hand-written stories. 


Nonetheless, you see young people looking at YouTube videos in Cairo’s Internet cafes.  And even some of the poorest apartment buildings in the city will have a satellite dish, shared among tenants.


It’s well known that satellite channels like Al Jazeera did a great deal to shake up the broadcast news environment.  Giving many in the Middle East their first taste of a non-government news source made them begin to distrust the old state run organs.  But their pervasive presence seems to have done little to free up the traditional press inside countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Syria.


So as I took my place at the lectern to speak for an hour and a half, I began with an apology.  “The next thirty minutes will have little to do with your current reality,” I said.


And I sought to dazzle them with the bells and whistles of western convergent journalism, ways that newspapers in the west were confronting the loss of subscribers for their dead tree editions by giving their electronic twins moving parts. 


I screened a few of my own videos from The New York Times, and, as it happened to be the very week that the Times published its first video obituary, I showed that piece – with its great lead: “I’m Art Buchwald, and I just died.”


I displayed news video on my iPod.  We looked at flash animations and audio slide shows.  We saw how print stories were made into television documentaries.  How TV news networks had long ago learned to channel their reports into online text stories.


They may have been impressed by what is possible in wealthier, better-wired countries.  But they were still skeptical.  What can you show me about my situation, their faces seemed to imply.


And then I held up a mobile phone and made a prediction.  “This is where things will likely happen here. This is going to be your competition and also your new reporting/convergence tool.” This was a threat they understood.


There are likely more mobile telephones than televisions in Egypt.  There are more mobile phone users, by far, than there are literate newspaper readers. And video – both the shooting and sharing of it – is already part of the mobile phone experience here.


The waiter at my Cairo neighborhood hangout once showed me video he’d downloaded to his phone of celebrations for the local football team – El Ahly.  He also downloaded footage of a player from another team who dropped dead on the field.


Across the Arab world, people downloaded the infamous mobile phone camera footage of the execution of Saddam Hussein, complete with audio of the taunting Shia guards.  I met a reporter just last week who works for a Middle East news organization, and he still had that video stored on his phone.  Ditto insurgent videos and those grisly beheading clips I’ve never had the desire or the stomach to watch.


But phones that download can also upload, and mobile video has sometimes played an “outside-in” reporting role in Egypt.  What’s been captured on these tiny cameras has found its way into mainstream news.


Last year, a blogger posted a clip of a man being tortured at a Cairo police station.  The video, allegedly taken by one of the policemen, who must have found sadistic humor in it and emailed it to others, shows a horrified young mini-bus driver, brought in on charges of resisting arrest, stripped bare and abused with a nightstick, screaming and begging for mercy.


Seizing the momentum from the blogs, the story was widely reported in print and on television. The sodomized bus driver was eventually sentenced to three months in jail.  But the video led to some of the abusive officers being brought up on charges. They are currently on trial (though they claim in their not guilty pleas that the video was faked).


In another case of auxiliary convergence, blogs and mobile phone cameras documented incidents of wild behavior during celebrations following Ramadan last October.  On the streets of downtown Cairo, a mob of young men, reportedly angered about being denied entry to an event, went on a rampage, groping and assaulting women and ripping their clothes.  Eyewitnesses said the police did nothing to stop them.  And the mainstream press didn’t pick up the story.  But bloggers began to offer eyewitness accounts, describing in horrible detail the ordeals of women being groped and attacked.  The stories gained momentum in the Egypto-blogosphere.  Photos offered compelling visual evidence of sexual harassment and a video, allegedly shot during a previous incident months earlier, surfaced on YouTube.  During an evening talk show on an independent satellite channel, the guest brought up the subject.  The host, intrigued and appalled, followed up with her own reports and it hit the mainstream.  Once the story was out, even the government news sources couldn’t ignore it.


For self-censoring news organizations, wary of crossing the so-called “red lines” of taboo subjects, the blogs crossed thresholds they would have been too cautious to step over.  Once the line was crossed, however, they felt it easier to join the discussion.


There are hundreds of blogs in Egypt, and a handful of influential ones (English speaking readers would be best to begin with Issandr El Amrani’s, which also links to several others).  Most are simple Web journals that allow young people to express themselves out of earshot of their parents and other family members (and perhaps, Big Brother).  Other blogs are clearly political and are tied to protest movements and opposition parties.


And even though the blogs don’t yet wield the political punch of their counterparts in America, the government is clearly concerned about their growing influence. 


In February, a court in Alexandria sentenced Abdul Karim Nabil Amer, a blogger known as “Kareem,” to four years in prison for insulting Islam and President Hosni Mubarak. 

In Syria, reporters have been jailed for things they wrote in online chat rooms.


But technology can also break down barriers that traditional political speech cannot.  With no licenses available to them, independent radio broadcasters are turning to Internet audio streams, and one is morphing from the Web into a terrestrial broadcast in Jordan. A newspaper in Egypt that has been denied a license to publish may take its operation online.


It may not make sense from a business perspective for a Middle East newspaper to launch a sophisticated Web presence. But as technology allows outside sources to have equal influence, print and broadcast reporters would do well to embrace it.


Which brings me back to that mobile phone.


My challenge to the editors I spoke to was this:  Not only is this little telephone a new source of news for your readers (and you’ll have to learn to compete with it), it can also be a tool for newsgathering.  What if it was your reporter who was able to catch on video the groping hordes of boys in downtown Cairo? 


As we well know, it’s better to own a story than to follow someone else’s lead.


Craig Duff is a Knight International Journalism Fellow at the Center for Electronic Journalism at the American University in Cairo. Visit his blog to learn more about his background and experiences in Cairo.



Myths and Realities of Convergence
By Randy Covington
, director of the Ifra Newsplex at the University of South Carolina

(Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University’s Nieman Reports in the Winter 2006 issue – other articles from this issue can be found here:

The ways in which people acquire news and information have changed far more than most newsrooms. It is a simple truth that explains why news organizations are struggling to match their journalistic values, traditions and strengths with the changing and sometimes fickle tastes of news consumers.

Statistics on news consumption tell the story. Newspaper circulation in the United States is falling at a rate of roughly five percent per year, and viewership of television news is also in decline, while new media outlets and fresh formats for telling the news are growing explosively. Internet penetration in the United States approaches 80 percent, and high-speed broadband accessibility is becoming commonplace.

Who could have imagined that a home video on a Web site that did not exist two years ago could attract more viewers than the most watched programs on network television? Yet the most popular videos posted on do just that. I wonder how many editors, the ones tasked with attracting younger readers and viewers, have ever spent time on the YouTube site? How many have even heard of it? My hunch is not many, for there truly exists a widening disconnect between traditional news organizations and those who consume news and information.

Training in New Techniques

We observe this struggle for relevance—perhaps even survival—from the vantage point of the Ifra Newsplex at the University of South Carolina. Journalists arrive here from countries throughout the world to study and train on next generation techniques for handling the news. It really does not matter what language is being spoken or whether we are working with broadcasters or print journalists. The conversations and concerns are remarkably similar.

The Newsplex philosophy, boiled down to a sentence, is that news organizations will be best served if they focus on stories—not delivery platforms. The focus on production once made sense, but in today's interwoven media environment, in which consumers track stories throughout the day from a lot of sources, news organizations need to meet these consumers in places and formats that are meaningful and relevant to them.

It sounds so simple. Just focus on stories, which is after all the reason most of us went into journalism. But this reality is far from simple for most news organizations, which are confused about how to respond to the changing patterns of news consumption, especially at a time when budgets are constrained. There are so many questions—and so many priorities that seem to conflict:

These are, indeed, difficult questions, but answers are starting to become clear. Much has changed in our understanding since Newsplex opened here four years ago. (A parallel facility, Newsplex Europe, opened in September 2005 at Ifra headquarters in Darmstadt, Germany.) Drawing upon our experience with some of the leading media houses in the world, what follows are 10 common concerns, perceptions and myths about convergence, as well as some perspective we've gained in addressing them:

  1. Convergence is just a nice way of saying the organization wants to cut costs. The truth is convergence costs money because usually it requires additional staff and more technology. Efficiencies are associated with convergence, but organizations that approach convergence as a way of saving money invariably are disappointed. Convergence needs to be undertaken as a growth strategy, not a cost-cutting measure.
  2. News organizations are full of creative people with great ideas who will figure this out. Sorry, a successful convergence strategy requires a strong vision and commitment from the top. Providing news and information seven days a week, 24 hours each day, across delivery platforms requires a different kind of newsroom structure. Yet it is not in our nature to give up power willingly, no matter how beneficial the change might be. That's why someone at the highest level of the organization must declare that convergence is important, set priorities, and then provide the resources to make necessary steps happen. However, top-level commitment alone is not enough; grass-roots engagement must be part of this strategy. Creative people with good ideas will play important roles, but their success will be stunted if they are working in silos or duplicating each other's efforts. That is why fundamental, structural change is so important.
  3. Convergence requires technology, which is difficult and expensive. Not so. In Newsplex, we usually work with cheap and sometimes even free software programs. We select them because they are easy to learn. Excellent programs like Dreamweaver, Flash or Final Cut Pro can be purchased, but the learning curve can be pretty steep for journalists who would prefer to be at their beloved Royal typewriter. If resources exist to acquire the higher-cost software—and train staff to use it—then do so, but if resources are tight, lots of good alternatives exist.
  4. You can't teach an old dog new tricks. Au contraire! Even reporters who covet their typewriter are capable of generating content to be used in new formats and for different media. Some of our best students are traditional print journalists with little or no multimedia experience. From what we've discovered, most newsrooms already have on staff journalists who would enjoy the opportunity to do cross-media work.
  5. Every reporter should be a backpack journalist. The premise certainly is alluring, but in our hearts we all know that not everyone is going to be successful working across formats in different media. Those organizations like the BBC that have tried to go this route have been displeased with the results. The reporter who has the governor's private phone number and can get a return call in the middle of the night remains just as valuable, regardless of whether he or she is podcasting or doing slide shows. However, if no one on your staff is working across a range of media, an opportunity is being missed. Plus news organizations are stronger when everyone on staff has at least an appreciation for the strengths of different media and formats, even if they don't work in them.
  6. Print reporters do not have sufficient skills to do TV work. It is true that most print reporters are less than successful when someone thrusts a microphone in front of them and tells them to report for television. But that doesn't mean print journalists are doomed in a broadcast environment. In Newsplex, we have developed a format that helps print reporters be successful by emphasizing their strengths (knowledge of the story) and de-emphasizing their weaknesses (typically, their on camera performance).
  7. Audio and video are easy. This statement is half true. Audio is relatively easy. It usually takes just a few minutes to transform an inexperienced print journalist into a podcaster. Certainly it takes much longer to do more complicated mixes, but most print journalists pick up the techniques fairly quickly. However, video is much more difficult to learn. Some newspapers are hiring a core group of television or video professionals to produce this content. As broadband access becomes more pervasive, multimedia content, including video, becomes more important. What is exciting to see is that some newspapers are reaching out beyond the traditional one minute and 30 second TV clip to create new story formats that work well on the Internet. I often tell our university students that some of the best TV jobs in the future will be on newspapers.
  8. Posting community-generated content will draw an audience. In 2006, user-generated content has been one of those "flavor of the month" trends. Newspaper editors believe they are connecting with their readers by creating Web sites where they can post pictures and comments. The idea of inviting citizens into the editorial process is a good one, but then dumping their content into a Web site ghetto does not work. The most successful examples of news organizations using community content include professional editing and usually involve the integration of that material with work done by professionals. OhMyNews in Seoul, with more than 40,000 citizen journalists and generally regarded as the world's most successful community journalism initiative, has a professional staff of 70.
  9. We make most of our money in old media, so a significant commitment to new media just doesn't yet make sense. It is a given in the world of advertising that money follows eyeballs. As those eyeballs increasingly shift to new media and formats so, too, will revenues. For most U.S. news organizations, the percentage of revenue coming from new media is still relatively small, but trends are clear. In Norway, the news organization VG reports it now makes more money from new media than its traditional newspaper.
  10. Our newsroom staff is already stretched too thin, how can we possibly be asked to do more? No question gets asked more by those in newsrooms dealing with convergence issues than this one. Certainly, there is a lot of truth in it, especially in an era of limited resources. But is the work that stretches everyone so thin relevant to your readers and viewers? This is an obvious second question that typically receives far too little attention in newsroom debates. A good convergence strategy requires setting priorities; for managers who want it all, remember that if everything is a priority, then nothing is.

Obviously, much more can and will be said about the evolution of news delivery and consumption. Perhaps the single most important thing journalists troubled by these changing times can do is to look out the window or even in a mirror to see how they themselves use media to acquire news and information.


Randy Covington is director of the Ifra Newsplex at the University of South Carolina (USC) and an assistant professor in the USC School of Journalism & Mass Communications. He worked for 27 years in television news, serving in management positions at television stations in Houston, Louisville, Boston, Philadelphia and Columbia, South Carolina.



What’s Old is New Again

By Timothy E. Bajkiewicz, University of South Florida


Journalism education never seems to get a break. When the task of formally training newspaper workers began at the turn of the 20th century, it must have seemed straightforward enough. Newspapers contain print, and Gutenberg figured that out centuries ago, right? So, teach the pantheon of writing skills: spelling, grammar, and structure. Wait—reporters need to talk to people, so throw in some interviewing and reporting skills. All print and no art makes for a boring (and financially broke) paper—best think about photography and advertising. What about actually printing the newspaper? Pages should be designed—get that in the curriculum, too. Then there’s actually getting dye onto trees. “Wow,” the first journalism educators must have thought, “This is getting complicated.”


Of course, considering recent conversations about news and media convergence, they ain’t seen nothing yet—or had they? In a chapter on convergence education in an upcoming volume edited by Augie Grant and Jeff Wilkinson, I briefly discuss how adaptation and change were constant themes in journalism education’s history. The common refrain with some convergence advocates sounds like their hawking laundry detergent: “New! Better than ever! You won’t recognize it!” I will agree what we’re seeing with many aspects of convergence is different—but new? As Yogi Berra quipped, “This is like déja vu all over again.”


In industry and the academy, every aspect of journalism has changed in the past century, with convergence really just being the latest iteration. Rather than being 20-20, hindsight tends toward a mellow myopia that understates effort and blurs successes. For example, consider when newspapers switched to cold type and offset presses in the 1970s. No doubt, uncounted faculty committees met around the country to consider and implement teaching and lab changes. My USF colleague Rick Wilber, a former newspaper reporter and longtime faculty member, told me the arguments among faculty got a bit, well, hot, and that many said cold type would signify a cheap publication and wouldn’t last. (Anyone still teaching physical typesetting these days?) Around that time and into the 1980s, expensive and complicated radio and TV studios established a foothold in J-schools, and with them the need for teaching both technical skills and a different set of content skills for electronic media. After that came computer labs, otherwise known as rooms full of desktop-sized black holes for faculty time and departmental money. Even writing has changed in style and substance, although thankfully at a much slower pace.


In fact, the technical-content debate that now rages within convergence education (and simmers in other parts of J-schools) dates to the very beginning of journalism education and Robert E. Lee. In 1869 at what was Washington College, he proposed the first journalism scholarships to help young men from the South. Without realizing it, the former general launched one of the classic debates between the journalism academy and related industries, because Lee wanted these students to become good editors, not trained printers. This debate continued in 1903 with Joseph Pulitzer’s more purist approach, eventually implemented at Columbia (the $2 million endowment helped), compared to Harvard President Charles Eliot’s vocational approach, now seen at Missouri.


A serious issue with convergence is one of abundance, with numerous storytelling and message technologies at our disposal, and more on the horizon every day. Not a bad issue to have, except when your job is to ride the rollercoaster that is “the curve” today (thank goodness for antacids). All of this creates various difficult situations for journalism educators, but, I would argue, not unique ones. Journalism education made it before typewriters, before computers, and even before the ballpoint pen—which wasn’t invented until 1943, although its journalist inventor, Laszlo Biro, got the idea from newspaper’s quick drying ink. Then and now, journalism and the academy share common missions of education and inspiration. Change has always been one of our primary currencies, and although journalism educators feel that particular bank a bit full these days, it will pay long-term dividends. Remember that a century from now journalism teachers will look back when convergence first appeared and they will communicate with gizmos on their heads or whatever passes for blogging and wonder with awe, “How’d they do that?”


Tim Bajkiewicz, Ph.D. is an assistant professor at the University of South Florida and has nine years of professional experience in radio and television writing and production.





Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism

Deadline June 13, 2007

Find out about the Award:




Media 101: Creating the Future by Understanding the Past

April 18-21, 2007, Las Vegas



Texas Tech University

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




Washington, DC, August 9 – 12, 2007



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.



Online Fundamentals for Newsroom Leaders


October 30, 2007 – November 1, 2007

Deadline: August 27, 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



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


The Convergence Newsletter is Copyright © 2007 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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---------------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 Please include your name, affiliation and contact information with your submission.


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