The Convergence Newsletter
From Newsplex at the University of South Carolina

Vol. V No. 10 (May 2008)

Commenting on Convergence

By Brad Petit, Editor of The Convergence Newsletter

Ifra Newsplex, co-sponsor of The Convergence Newsletter, is dedicated to helping news organizations thrive in the new cross-platform media reality. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in Newsplex’s involvement in the Star Car project – the cutting-edge, mobile newsgathering collaboration between Ifra and the Shelby, N.C., Star.

This month, The Seybold Report has graciously allowed us to reprint its recent story on the Star Car. It’s a great case study in how one small newspaper is using technology to deliver real-time content to readers online – and compete with TV in the process. It also embodies the kind of work being done at Newsplex.

Also in this issue, Dr. Chris Roberts of the University of South Carolina reviews the new text Online Journalism Ethics: Traditions and Transitions. The shift to digital has opened new ethical questions and recast some traditional newsroom practices in a new light. Roberts finds it to be a useful book for those seeking a path through the thicket.

And USC’s Dr. Augie Grant provides details about the deadline – fast approaching – for submitting proposals for October’s Convergence Conference here in Columbia. Grant is also seeking participants for a planned panel on convergence education.

Speaking of the Convergence Conference, this month we present some thoughts of those attendees who came through on our solicitation for articles entitled “Why I Hated the Convergence Conference.” We got some good, constructive feedback, and as promised back in February, we're sharing it with you.

Our theme-oriented focus returns next month with a look at how convergence is affecting communities –physical and otherwise. Later this summer, we’ll have a special edition on issues in convergence teaching, just in time for the new semester. In the fall, we’ll revisit trends in international convergence, a topic we broached last month.

As always, if you have ideas you’d like to develop into an article for any of these upcoming issues, please contact us. Or, if you’re interested in submitting an article that falls outside the above themes, we are always on the lookout for those, as well.

Contact Brad Petit, editor of The Convergence Newsletter, at

View past newsletters at
Visit The Convergence Newsletter blog at

Feature Articles

Newspapers Go Mobile to Compete with TV

Book Review – Online Journalism Ethics: Traditions and Transitions

Convergence Conference at USC – Call for Papers, Panelists

What’s Wrong With the Convergence Conference?


Conferences, Training and Calls for Papers
World Newspaper Congress and 15th World Editors Forum
June 1-4

Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Writers Conference
July 18-20

AEJMC Convention 2008
Aug. 6-9

SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference 2008
Sept. 4-7

The Colorado Colloquium on Media Ethics & Economics: Competing Imperatives and Duties
Sept. 15-17

28th American Journalism Historians Association (AJHA) Annual Conference
Oct. 1-4

Convergence and Society: The Participatory Web
Oct. 9-11

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

Newspapers Go Mobile to Compete with TV

By L. Carol Christopher (Reprinted with permission from The Seybold Report)

Backpack journalism has recently gained a new contender. The Star Car, a joint project of Ifra and the Shelby Star, helps the North Carolina newspaper cover breaking news fast enough to successfully compete with the immediacy that makes television’s live coverage so compelling. “At a difficult time in the newspaper industry, I don’t think the realization has quite sunk in that we can compete with TV on the Web on our terms. The Star Car is one way to do this,” said Randy Covington, director of the Ifra Newsplex at the University of South Carolina.

The Star Car is the first implementation in the United States and the most ambitious worldwide implementation so far of Ifra’s Mobile NewsGear 2007 project, said Kerry Northrup, Ifra’s director of publications and the founding director of the Newsplex.

Every year, Ifra conducts a NewsGear roundup, looking at state-of-the-art mobile technology for recommendations to the newspaper industry and keeping in mind affordability relative to the typical newsroom budget. The 2007 project was the newspaper equivalent of television’s remote truck, only at a much lower cost. Ifra equipped an SUV with all the gear necessary to create a mobile, online newsroom that keeps journalists who are at a remote scene in touch with each other, the Internet and the main newsroom. Among other things, that means that they can post news coverage live to the newspaper’s Web site.

The Star Car According to an Ifra report on the project: “The vehicle is essentially a rolling WiFi hotspot and mobile phone repeater station to which reporters can connect with their wireless laptops and smart phones. Highgain directional antennas then link the car’s network to the Internet through 802.11 wireless nodes or mobile phone towers up to several miles away.” The car is equipped not only with multiple antennae but also with a wireless hotspotter, an Ethernet bridge, ergonomic worktables, power generation using the car’s electrical system and a dashboard-mounted camera that can even be remotely operated by the newsroom. A multifunction printer in the rear cargo area can be used for print-resolution image or document scanning, or for the output of Web-ready PDFs.

“The goal was to find more than interest,” said Covington. “We wanted a newspaper that would embrace the project. At the same time, I had been in the Shelby newsroom and been impressed with what I had seen. A lot of newspapers talk about multimedia, but they were doing it on a daily basis with a staff of 18,” said Covington. “I approached Skip Foster, then the editor, now the publisher, and he immediately understood the potential.”

The Shelby Star, a Freedom Communications Inc. newspaper, has a daily circulation of nearly 7,000, which more than doubles on Sundays. It also has the good fortune of being near the University of South Carolina, where Ifra’s Newsplex has made its home since 2002. The Newsplex has as its mission “helping news organizations adapt to a future in which people acquire news and information in different formats and across platforms. It is a laboratory where new techniques and technologies are evaluated and a training ground journalists from around the world.”

“Many newspapers still are at the basic level of posting multimedia content to their Web sites, much of it provided by third parties like the AP, and taking note of the growing traffic it attracts,” said Covington. “I think it is just a matter of time before newspapers go into the gathering of multimedia content in a much larger way.” (Covington added that he is working on a proposal to put multimedia weather content – the lynchpin of local television news – on a newspaper Web site.)

The staff of the Ifra Newsplex at the University of South Carolina, just a couple of hours away, has been Shelby’s primary Ifra liaison. Ifra created the first Mobile NewsGear demonstration vehicle in partnership with de Volkskrant in Amsterdam and Volvo. It was unveiled at Ifra Expo 2006 in Amsterdam. De Volkskrant ended its test drive of the project near the end of 2006 and Ifra began to seek a new partner with the vision and commitment to thoroughly exercise and help it expand the concepts on which the Mobile NewsGear was developed. Shelby stepped up to the plate, said Northrup, “and we could not be more pleased with how wholeheartedly they have taken to it.”

Ifra shipped the equipment to the paper, which, in a quid pro quo arrangement had to secure corporate sponsorship of the Chevrolet SUV. “I crossed my fingers and much to my delight, the plan sailed through the Freedom budgeting process and the Star Car became a reality,” said Covington. “I don’t think we could have found a better partner for this project than the Shelby Star.”

The newspaper staff handled all the installation with Ifra’s technical support, and the paper’s IT folks stepped in where some U.S. modification/replacement was necessary, since the initial equipment was specified for European use, explained Northrup.

The paper utilizes the car for a number of events every day, from softer news to breaking news to promotional events. Pretty much anyone in the newsroom can use it, said Jon Jimison, the Star’s editor. The paper keeps things orderly through a calendar for promotional and planned news events for the car. It’s potentially in use from as early as 6 a.m. until close to midnight, depending on the day and the news. This spring, the paper plans to use the car for storm chasing.

“We always knew breaking news would be the driver for this project,” said Jimison. “We always expected to be able to use it basically for any kind of story. It helps us get the information out there faster, regardless of the subject matter. When we’re on the scene of breaking news, we truly cease to be a print newspaper for the duration of the event. Everything becomes focused on getting as much information out to our online readers as quickly as possible. Whatever it takes, whatever we can get, it all becomes about the breaking news.”

Recently, the car allowed the paper to provide live coverage of the story of a missing local couple whose bodies were found in a remote rural area of the county. In another recent story, a “train vs. car” report, the paper was able to use the “dashcam” feature of the car to capture the scene, recording both audio and video reports and mapping the location of the collision. Jimison said the story played better online than in print.

“The immediacy of the collision was captured quite well. It was an engaging experience to watch the story unfold online, from a news point of view. We were able to get information quickly to our readers, including photos and video,” he said. The car has also been useful for covering sports events in this little bit of heaven for high school football. “We’ll blog live from football games using the car.” The Star Car is actually a mobile newsroom. “We can even scan documents and send them back for a story,” he said. “The cell-based technology allows us to get information out in an area traditionally tough for cell signals.”

The paper is also using the car for non-breaking news and for promotional purposes. “We used it in most area Christmas parades and it’s slated to head to a career day at a local university. They requested we bring the Star Car,” said Jimison. “We’re getting a lot of requests and doing the best we can to accommodate them. We didn’t fully realize the great promotional benefits the car would bring us. It’s a moving billboard and everyone wants it at their event. We sent it to the county fair for an entire week where thousands of people could see it each night.”

The Star Car is flagged with two logos: the Star’s and Ifra’s. It officially went into service in November, although it had a soft launch last summer to let the staff get accustomed to the technology. “As for potential, I think the Star Car still is not very well known in the industry. We have not received calls from newspapers seeking to replicate it, but I believe we will once its capabilities become wider known,” said Covington.

This article is reprinted with permission of The Seybold Report, a bi-monthly journal of technology, trends, and best practices affecting the publishing industry. For a free trial subscription, contact the publisher at, and mention offer code 3MHOMGK, or go to the “free trial” form on the Web site.

Links referenced in this article:
The Seybold Report:
The Shelby Star:
Ifra Newsplex:

Book Review – Online Journalism Ethics: Traditions and Transitions

By Dr. Chris Roberts, University of South Carolina

Cecila Friend points out early in Online Journalism Ethics: Traditions and Transitions how the telegraph changed the practices – and therefore the ethics – of journalism in the 1800s. What Samuel Morse keyed as his first telegraphed message in May 1844, taken from Numbers 23:23, seems even more prescient today when applied to the Internet. “What hath God wrought,” indeed.

Friend and co-author Jane B. Singer provide a useful roundup to summarize the growing number of issues related to the evolving ethical theories and practices of online journalism. The strength of the book lies in its subtitle – “transitions” – as the writers describe journalism’s struggles to adopt its traditional rules in a communication channel that revels in having no rules.

The book’s eight chapters show both the writers’ bent toward the philosophical foundations of ethics and the years they have spent as both journalists and professors. In 246 pages, they discuss:

  • The history of journalism ethics through the prism of changing technology.
  • How journalists finally arrived at the Internet, with an extended discussion of efforts to define “journalists” in this era of those who don’t work for mainstream, pre-Web news organizations.
  • The inexorable link to the old-school principles of accuracy and credibility. What’s new is the heightened demand for transparency, to give online news consumers a clue about the potential biases of the journalists and access to the source material used in the reporting.
  • The intersection of ethics and law, with special attention to how local laws may or may not apply online.
  • The special case of bloggers, neither fish nor fowl in the traditional journalism world but (occasionally) providing a valuable service as a check on traditional journalists.
  • The challenges and opportunities of citizen-driven journalism and user-driven content.
  • The Web’s special issues in keeping news content separate from advertising content and considerations. Among the questions is whether and how to link to the content of others, and whether those links imply endorsement of the ideas provided by those links.
  • The issues of “cross-platform” journalism and how it can enhance (or impinge) upon public service journalism.
Like the good reporters they are, Friend and Singer include plenty of interviews with practitioners who face these issues in the field and with academics who conceptualize those issues. A careful student of the industry would recognize nearly all the anecdotes told, but newcomers will find the book covers all the bases.

And like the good teachers they are, Friend and Singer conclude each chapter with case studies that can keep classrooms buzzing for hours.

Our friends at suggest that Online Journalism Ethics would work “Better Together” with another media ethics book. And our friends at may be right for teachers who want a useful online-focused text to augment a traditional journalism ethics textbook.

Newcomers and journalism students will find Online Journalism Ethics a strong start in summarizing the key issues and pointing out the traditional trailheads that can prove useful for online trailblazers.

Dr. Chris Roberts is an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of South Carolina. He can be reached at

Convergence Conference at USC – Call for Papers, Panelists

By Dr. Augie Grant, University of South Carolina

The University of South Carolina will host its annual Convergence Conference Oct. 9-11 in Columbia. The Call for Papers deadline for this year’s conference is June 15.

With the deadline for submissions approaching, all of us involved in teaching and research related to convergent journalism want to invite you to submit your work to the conference. This refereed conference gives you the opportunity to submit a wide range of presentations, from research and case studies to teaching ideas and software demonstrations.

The theme of the conference this year is “The Participatory Web,” and submissions related to interactivity, social networking, and consumer generated content are of special interest, but we will also have a number of sessions devoted to the wide range of research on convergence as well as considerations in teaching media convergence.

Faculty and graduate students are invited to submit in one or more of three categories:
  1. Completed papers
  2. Proposals or abstracts of papers in progress
  3. Proposals for panels
Submissions may address practical, theoretical, phenomenological, critical, or empirical approaches to any of the subjects listed above. All submissions will be reviewed by a jury that will consider: 1) relevance to the conference theme, 2) the quality of the contribution, and 3) overall contribution to the field.

The conference is sponsored by the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina, and Newsplex, an advanced micro-newsroom training and research facility dedicated to news presentation techniques emerging from the convergence of print, broadcast, and online media. Newsplex is a joint project of the College and Ifra. The conference will take place in historic Columbia, S.C., midway between the Atlantic beaches and the foothills of the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains.

For the complete Call for Papers and submission guidelines, please visit the conference Web site.

As in years past, October’s conference will feature panels devoted to numerous convergence-related issues. We are seeking participants for a panel on convergence teaching, “Media Convergence Education: Opportunities and Challenges.”

Media convergence has altered the communications landscape and changed our media use habits. In higher education, however, there still exists an information technology gap – ownership and use – between minority-serving institutions and elite colleges and universities. This panel will examine best practices both in teaching and media facilities, in career opportunities, and in the challenges facing minority-serving institutions. Panelists will be educators, practitioners, and students. Interested panelists should contact:

Dr. Bill Jong-Ebot
Florida Memorial University
Phone: (305) 626-3162

Dr. Augie Grant is an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of South Carolina. He can be reached at

Links referenced in this article:
Convergence Conference 2008:
College of Mass Communications and Information Studies:

What’s Wrong With the Convergence Conference?

By Brad Petit, Editor, The Convergence Newsletter

Between sessions at last October’s Convergence Conference, Dr. Augie Grant, the conference chairman, and I were chatting casually. The conversation turned to what kind of articles I, at the time the new editor of The Convergence Newsletter, planned on soliciting. More jokingly than not, I said I’d like to see a piece with a title along the lines of “Why I Hated the Convergence Conference.” We all had a laugh.

But then Grant got up in front of the audience and repeated my “joke,” this time with less humorous intent. Well, I thought to myself, best be careful what you wish for.

Two attendees came through, each offering constructive criticisms and suggestions for improvement.

Dr. Robert Bergland of Missouri Western State University said one of the most striking problems was, really, quite obvious: With so many presentations on convergence, very few actually “converged” at all.

“For the most part, the conference was sooo 1990s, so linear, so PowerPoint,” Bergland wrote. Multimedia, interactivity, video, and Flash were all conspicuously absent.

“The presentation of materials was largely very, very traditional,” he wrote.

Bergland was quick to point out, however, that the material itself was “top notch … current, cutting-edge stuff.” And, in the interest of full disclosure, Bergland called himself out as one of the non-converging offenders. He also challenged conference organizers to better incorporate new technologies into the format – like streaming video, presenters’ blogs, and workshops on using these technologies.

A writer calling him or herself “Anonymous Thinskin” was our other adviser. Anonymous wanted to see more thinking about what the conference had taught us and where the dead ends were.

“Perhaps a team of the conference insiders could put their heads together and put forth some conclusions for the rest of us,” Anonymous wrote.

Anonymous suggested making presentations more interactive through audience involvement. “Why not a more circular format, (allowing) attendees to jump in and engage in dialogue?

“It might … result in more interesting discussions of real issues.”

In the future, Anonymous wants to see more diversity among the topics and themes addressed – less about newspapers, YouTube, and blogs; more about how technology is affecting political campaigns or how mobile media are changing the social networking picture in non-Western cultures.

“These are significant phenomena occurring right now,” Anonymous wrote.

Bergland and Anonymous spoke their minds. Now it’s your turn.

Were you at the conference? What’s your reaction to the above remarks? What are your suggestions?

If you weren’t at the conference, are you surprised by these criticisms? What kind of things would you like to see in a convergence conference – what might tempt you to come see us in Columbia this fall?

You can e-mail us or Grant with your reactions. Better yet, we encourage you to visit The Convergence Newsletter blog and use the comments feature to share your thoughts – this will open up a dialog that everyone can participate in.

Tell us what you think – we’ll use your feedback to improve the Convergence Conference this year and in years to come. And that’s no joke.

Brad Petit is the editor of The Convergence Newsletter. He is a Masters of Mass Communications graduate student in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of South Carolina. Contact Petit at

Links referenced in this article:
TCN blog:

---------------Conferences, Training and Calls for Papers

61st World Newspaper Congress
Goteborg, Sweden
June 1-4

15th World Editors Forum
Goteborg, Sweden
June 1-4

Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Writers Conference
Grapevine, Texas
July 18-20

AEJMC Convention 2008
Aug. 6-9

SPJ Convention and National Journalism Conference 2008
Sept. 4-7

The Colorado Colloquium on Media Ethics & Economics: Competing Imperatives and Duties
Estes Park, Colo.
Sept. 15-17

28th American Journalism Historians Association (AJHA) Annual Conference
Oct. 1-4
Call for Papers deadline: May 15

Convergence and Society: The Participatory Web
University of South Carolina
Columbia, S.C.
Oct. 9-11
Call for Papers deadline: June 15

---------------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
Doug Fisher

Brad Petit


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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, book reviews, calls for papers and conference announcements. Our audience is both academics and professionals; the publication style is AP for copy and APA for citations. Feature articles should be 750 to 1,200 words. Other articles should be 250 to 750 words; announcements and conference submissions should be 200 words. Please send all articles to The Convergence Newsletter editor at along with your name, affiliation, and contact information.

If you would like to post a position announcement, include a brief description of the position and a link to the complete information. All announcements should be submitted to The Convergence Newsletter editor at

The Convergence Newsletter is published the first or second week of each month except January and July. Articles should be submitted by the 15th of the month to be considered for the next month’s issue. Any questions should be sent to


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