The Convergence Newsletter
From Newsplex at the University of South Carolina

Vol. V No. 11 (June 2008)

Commenting on Convergence

By Brad Petit, Editor of The Convergence Newsletter

This newsletter has devoted a lot of space and discussion to the impact of convergence on media – what does it mean for newspapers, television stations, the Web? Certainly, that’s an inquiry worth making, for we know that new technologies, business models, and ownership structures have significantly reshuffled the media landscape and challenged our conceptions and definitions of what had always been.

But this month, we decided, it was time to consider the impact of convergence not so much on media themselves, but on the communities (both physical and otherwise) those media serve.

Leading off this special issue on convergence and communities, Paul Niwa of Emerson College tells how an ambitious Web project designed to change the way journalists compile their sources has been embraced by the community as much more than a newsgathering tool. Niwa’s article is a valuable reminder to watch for unintended consequences, particularly when the Web is involved and users are put in control.

Yet it’s not only when new media are involved that communities find themselves impacted by convergence. When the radio station and newspaper in a small Iowa town joined forces, it meant better news coverage for listeners and readers, better opportunities for advertisers, and new jobs. Cliff Brockman of Wartburg College tells the story.

This issue closes with a conversation with Marc Fest, vice president of communications at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. We talk with Fest about the newly created online community manager position at Knight – what this new position entails and what Knight hopes to accomplish.

After an off-month in July, we’ll return in August with a look at convergence and education. Later in the fall is our biannual special issue on convergence internationally. As always, we encourage you to contact us if you have submission ideas for our upcoming theme issues, or on any other convergence-related topic that compels your pen.

Finally, please take note that our e-mail address has changed. If you have friends or colleagues who would like to subscribe to The Convergence Newsletter, please have them send a message to the new address given below.

Contact Brad Petit, editor of The Convergence Newsletter, at convedit@mailbox.sc.edu.

View past newsletters at http://www.jour.sc.edu/news/convergence/.
Visit The Convergence Newsletter blog at http://convergencenl.blogspot.com.
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Feature Articles

Community Embraces a Converged Journalism-Sourcing Project

Radio and Newspaper Converge in one of Iowa’s Smallest Markets
 
Knight Foundation Looks Online to Connect with Innovators
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Conferences, Training and Calls for Papers

Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Writers Conference
July 18-20

UNITY 2008
July 23-27

AEJMC Convention 2008
Aug. 6-9

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

Global Investigative Journalism Conference
Sept. 11-14

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


Community Embraces a Converged Journalism-Sourcing Project

By Paul Niwa, Emerson College

Boston’s Chinatown is one of the largest and oldest Asian American neighborhoods in the country. Yet, this community of 40,000 does not even have a weekly newspaper. Coverage of the neighborhood in the city’s metropolitan dailies is also weak. In 2006, The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald mentioned Chinatown in 78 articles. Only 16 percent of the sources quoted in those articles were Asian American, indicating that newspapers relied on information from non-residents to cover the neighborhood. With all this in mind, I created the bostonchinatown.org project as an experiment to build a common sourcebook for newsrooms.

Sourcing is one of the key factors in journalism quality. Journalists believe that the more people they talk to from the widest variety of backgrounds, the more likely they will be able to accurately portray the “truth.” A journalist with a wide variety of sources is also more likely to generate more story ideas.

Despite the principle of source diversity, research shows that journalists tend to quote a narrow group of sources. Studies have found that journalists are more likely to quote men over women, whites over minorities, and government officials over non-officials. Researchers have explained this contradiction between a journalist’s belief and practice by citing the tight deadlines that journalists face. Reporters are said to pick sources out of convenience. So, the key to improving journalism in a neighborhood like Boston’s Chinatown is to make interested, informed citizens easier to find for journalists.

One popular method for increasing source diversity involves hiring journalists who share a similar background with the audience being covered. However, this method is often tainted with racial politics and incurs high recruitment and retention costs.

The Civic Journalism movement has also been developing ways to increase source diversity. One of its techniques is called Civic Mapping, a version of sociology’s snowball sampling method. In Civic Mapping, a journalist identifies newsmakers in a community and asks the newsmaker for a referral to someone else they talk to in the neighborhood. The journalist then talks to those people and repeats the process of asking for referrals.

The goal of Civic Mapping is to aid journalists by helping them discover “third places” where people congregate, the “catalysts” who are informed citizens, and the “connectors” who communicate between organizations. However, the process of how the journalist finds these “third places,” “catalysts,” and “connectors” has largely stayed inside the reporter’s notebook. Sources are so valuable to journalists that they are often reluctant to share them. This is shortsighted because journalists could improve the coverage of neighborhoods if they cooperated rather than competed for sources.

The bostonchinatown.org project was executed by a class of 16 first-semester graduate students. We started with a brief orientation to the neighborhood. Local high school students took the graduate students on a tour of their neighborhood. Meanwhile, I held private meetings with neighborhood leaders to introduce them to the project.

After the orientation, the students each picked a community newsmaker to profile. After each interview, the student asked the newsmaker with whom do they discuss community news. The students then repeated the process with the person they were referred to. Each student profiled at least four people over two weeks. What started as a list of 16 newsmakers became a diverse network of more than 130 people, including patrons of a beauty shop, a 12-year-old boy, and a local restaurant owner.

A MySQL database was used to hold the profiles and biographical data collected by the students. To make data entry more user-friendly, I created a Web form using Movable Type, an inexpensive form of blogware. Movable Type also generated the user interface for searching the catalog of sources by topic.

We use a graphical user interface to show how the people in the neighborhood database are interconnected. The database was imported into NetDraw, freeware that can plot social networks into a map of relationships. The x-y coordinates of NetDraw’s map were placed into Adobe Flash to make the map interactive. Users can click on the people in the map to read a person’s biography.

The students immediately used the database to find sources, and their stories reflected more depth. They were also able to generate novel story ideas because of their contact with sources. But the project had the most impact on the neighborhood itself.

A local business owner used the map to find legal counsel to fight an illegal eviction. Construction of a high rise was put on hold because a real estate developer used the map for an environmental impact study and found residents who were more opposed to the project than the community leaders who are usually interviewed. A city council candidate checked the map to figure out who to court for support. A nonprofit used it to search for people to hire. Users have searched community hot topics to find people to build coalitions on neighborhood issues.

But the map of relationships in the neighborhood also incited many angry responses. Several people complained about their location on the map and argued that they were far too important to be placed on the fringe. Others accused me of intentionally injuring reputations, even after it was explained that the map was generated mathematically based on the cooperation of their neighbors and themselves.

The source map unexpectedly conferred social capital to the people in it. Sources passionately competed to be placed toward the center of the map. This competitive spirit could be used to motivate sources to refer others to the map or keep their information up-to-date.

Using the Newspaper Next principle of “invest a little, learn a lot,” the bostonchinatown.org project is a proof-of-concept for the next step of development. Plans are being made to allow users to update their biographical information and invite their friends to the map. We will add a function to allow people to upload and search community documents by topic. Members will be able to post neighborhood information and share stories. A local daycare has asked to use the new map as a writing tool for its children. Journalists will be able to send questions to members to allow for “crowdcast” reporting. The new site will also have the ability to host other communities and generate new maps for each of them.

The new map will also be a research tool. Scholars will be able to survey users about their interaction with journalists. The data collected can be used to watch the formation of neighborhood coalitions or to observe how information flows to resolve community conflicts. Most of all, the map is a new journalistic method to portray a neighborhood other than using a handful of personal anecdotes or statistics that are snapshots of the past. This new dynamic story form is a more “truthful” representation of the nuance and diversity within a neighborhood as opposed to the linear storytelling method journalists have been practicing.

I am in the process of raising funds for technical and marketing expertise for the new version of the map. I hope this version will be available in June 2009.

Paul Niwa is an Assistant Professor of Journalism at Emerson College in Boston. He is the principal organizer of bostonchinatown.org. Contact Niwa at paul_niwa@emerson.edu.

Links referenced in this article:
MySQL: http://www.mysql.com
Movable Type: http://www.movabletype.com
NetDraw: http://www.analytictech.com/Netdraw/netdraw.htm
Adobe Flash: http://www.adobe.com/products/flash/
Newspaper Next: http://www.newspapernext.org
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Radio and Newspaper Converge in one of Iowa’s Smallest Markets

By Cliff Brockman, Wartburg College

It’s Monday night and the Iowa Falls, Iowa, City Council has just finished its meeting. Kent Thompson, Times Citizen newspaper editor, covered the meeting, but before he called it a night, he wrote a radio story about what happened at the meeting. Thompson called into KIFG radio’s voice mail and recorded the story for use on the next morning’s newscasts. Tuesday, he wrote a print version for the Wednesday edition of the Times Citizen.

It's just one of several ways the radio station and newspaper in Iowa Falls practice convergence. “We’re in the news business, not the newspaper business,” said Jo Martin, chief operating officer of Times Citizen Communications, the company that owns both KIFG and the Times Citizen. Initially when the two merged in 1999 there was some reluctance by the newspaper reporters to share stories with the radio station, but Martin said she insisted on convergence and any resistance soon disappeared as reporters and editors became accustomed to it.

The news staffs do more than share stories, they also share facilities. KIFG news director Sarah Konrad has a desk in the Times Citizen newsroom, just down the hall from the radio studios. Konrad is a one-person radio news department. At 8:30 a.m. each day, she meets briefly with the newspaper’s six-person editorial and reporting staff to discuss the stories they’re working on. She often asks for radio versions of the stories and may ask the newspaper reporters to take one of the station’s cassette recorders with them to get actualities for use in her newscasts.

The convergence goes both ways. Konrad doubles as a reporter for the newspaper, writing articles for most editions of the twice-weekly paper. “I kind of have a split personality,” she said, “writing a story for one media and then rewriting it for the other.”

Critics have argued convergence diminishes the number of news reporting voices in a community. However, Martin said cross-ownership is the only way the Iowa Falls area can have both a radio station and a newspaper. There aren’t enough businesses with advertising dollars to support both media, she said. Iowa Falls has a population of 6,000 and the media market covers about 26,000 people. The radio station was barely surviving when the paper bought the station in 1999, she said. Martin is certain KIFG would have gone off the air if her company had not stepped in.  About a year after the purchase, Times Citizen Communications had spent nearly half a million dollars on equipment and other improvements for the radio station.

The convergence resulted in better reporting by both the Times Citizen and KIFG, said Jerry Welden, mayor and life-long Iowa Falls resident. The larger news staff, he said, has given the paper and radio station the ability to cover news in a larger area and serve other nearby communities. One of KIFG’s original news reporters, George Vest, said the radio news is better than it used to be. “They became more aggressive after the convergence,” Vest said. Steve Howard, the vice-president of a local car dealership, also believes the quality of the reporting has improved. The larger media company resulting from the convergence has helped attract better quality people, Howard said.

The cross-ownership of the Times Citizen and KIFG might be considered a return to the past. At one time, there were many cases of cross-ownership of newspapers, TV, and radio stations in the country. In Iowa for example, the state’s largest newspaper, The Des Moines Register, owned KRNT radio and TV. The Register sold off both stations after the FCC prohibited cross-ownership in the same market in 1975. The Times Citizen received a waiver from the FCC on the cross-ownership rule because it is such a small market, Martin said.

Times Citizen Communications also owns three Web sites: KIFGradio.com, TimesCitizen.com, and iafalls.com. The radio Web site offers short audio newscasts, an audio sports report, and an audio report on local obituaries. The newspaper site has both an online version of the paper and a PDF of the paper. The company's other Web site, iafalls.com, offers general information about the town’s businesses, government, and schools. The Web sites are generally updated once daily. Martin said the sites need improvement but the company only has a two-person IT services department that has many other responsibilities.

News isn’t the only converged department. Sales departments for the radio station, the newspaper, and the Web sites are combined. “Convergence was more difficult on the advertising side,” Martin said. Sales people from KIFG and the Times Citizen were often calling on the same customers when the newspaper bought the radio station. Under the new set-up, the accounts were divided so only one sales person calls on each advertiser. Martin said that proved difficult for some of the sales people who had long-standing accounts and had to give them up to a sales person who used to be their competitor. Advertisers like it though, she said, because they can purchase ads on three different local media by seeing only one person. Howard said the new system works well for his car dealership. “It helps us get a united message across, which is key,” he said.

Convergence has “expanded the reach” of the sales department, Martin said. Because the radio station has a larger coverage area than the paper, the company has increased its market by 7,000 households to almost 20,000 households.

Martin didn’t release an earnings statement, but said annual revenues for the newspaper, radio station, and Web sites total $1.5 million. The company also has a large printing division and an electronic news release distribution company. Total overall revenues for the company are $7 million. Martin said that represents an increase of 10-15 percent in revenue over the past five years. It also had an economic impact on the small town as the company added 25 new jobs during that time.

Even in a small market, convergence isn’t always easy, Martin said. It takes somebody to lead the staff who wholeheartedly embraces convergence, and that person must be relentless about it, she said. “Otherwise it drifts back to the comfort levels people have.”

Convergence, however, is simply the means to the same goal the media have always had, Martin said.  “Our core business is collection of information and dissemination of information, no matter how the consumer wants to get it.”

Cliff Brockman is a lecturer in Communication Arts at Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa. He can be reached at cliff.brockman@wartburg.edu.
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Knight Foundation Looks Online to Connect with Innovators

(Editor's note: Marc Fest is the vice president of communications at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a Miami-based nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing journalism’s prospects and successes worldwide. Recently, we spoke with Fest by phone about Knight’s newly created position of online community manager.)

TCN:
What originally prompted Knight to create this position?

Fest: Originally (it) was initially the desire to use (an) online community to connect with innovators in new ways, and then as we walked down that road (we had) the realization of how much work that actually takes. So it was a desire to create (an) online community and a realization of how much work it takes, that in conjunction lead to the creation of this position.

TCN: What are some of the major duties of the online community manager?

Fest: For creating this online community there’s firstly the platform itself that needs to be created and conceived – how you do that, whether it’s a blog or more than a blog, and then it’s also connecting with the online community both online and in the real world. For instance, the online community manager will also attend conferences. As a matter of fact, Kristen Taylor, whom we hired for this position, she’s at a conference right now in San Jose that is about online community. So it’s creating the platform and then interacting with (the) online community and inviting it and cajoling it and entertaining it. It’s almost like an M.C., or a salon that you host, but there’s so much more to it than just making posts on a blog, so there’s a lot of relationship building involved, both online and offline.

TCN: Would you say that Knight was being reactive or proactive in creating this position?

Fest: I think we are proactive if you look at other foundations of comparable size, and I think we are one of the first if not the first foundation that would create this social-media position. So I think that counts for being proactive.

TCN: How is this position related to what we might call more traditional newsgathering and journalism functions?

Fest: The position is really primarily related to what Knight Foundation does as a foundation. And as you know, we’re not a newsgathering organization. We are a foundation that is in the business of helping journalism evolve into its best possible future. That’s our mission. … And we do this by connecting with innovators. And therefore this position is tied into this desire to connect with innovators in new ways so that we can help journalism evolve, you know, go though this transformation that is taking place right now in the industry. And therefore it’s not really, as far as we are concerned – this position is not tied to newsgathering It’s tied to what we do as a foundation and to our mission, and it’s intended to enable us to fulfill that mission more effectively.

TCN: What are some ways in which you see this helping to serve that mission?

Fest: Since we’re still in the very, very beginning stages of this, I can give you some hypothetical scenarios that we would count as success. So one hypothetical scenario would be that through the online community we connect with future grant recipients that we otherwise would have never connected with. If we connect with a university, school, or an individual who has a great new idea for how to sustain investigative journalism for some kind of new business model, and that person came to us through the online community, and maybe the idea itself was formed in conversations and interactions on the online community, that would represent the kind of success that we want to accomplish. … Another success scenario would be conversations and discussions that have an impact on the industry that happen because of this community gaining a reputation as a place where thought leaders come together, where a conversation then is being had about the future of journalism with results and with participants that otherwise would not have interacted in this way, and therefore contribute to the direction that the industry is taking. That would count as a success as well. But it all goes back to the mission of Knight Foundation as far as journalism is concerned, which is to help journalism evolve into its best possible future, because that’s what we want. We want to help ensure the viability of the fourth estate so that it can do what it needs to do for a healthy democracy.

TCN: Do you see this as a precursor to positions that other media companies might consider filling in the future? Do you expect to see more of these kinds of positions being advertised or created internally?

Fest: Yeah, I have a sense that I’m already seeing that. That there are more and more people trying to fill social media – and they have different names, they don’t necessarily call it “online community manager.” Sometimes they call those “social media director,” “manager,” something like that. … I think that certainly for-profit entities are realizing that for their efforts and whatever they want to accomplish, it makes a lot of sense to engage the online community, and they are more and more realizing that not doing so is not something that they can afford to do. They have to do it. But I think that as far as the future of the nonprofit sector is concerned, there’s no doubt in my mind that utilizing, harnessing the power of (the) online community and of the Internet is something that everyone will want to do because it just makes sense in terms of being able to more effectively do what you do as an organization.

TCN: How does the online community manager differ from other Web-centric positions? How does it differ from we might traditionally call “editors”?

Fest: Online community manager is much more about interacting and communicating with an online community, whereas a traditional position as a webmaster or an editor is more about editing text or maintaining a Web site and running a content-management system. This is very much about interacting with people, it’s about conversation, it’s about two-way interaction and bringing people together and connecting with people. That goes again to what I said initially – this notion of connecting with innovators. So I see quite a difference there with traditional Web-centric job descriptions.

TCN: Are there some similarities?

Fest: There are some similarities. … For instance, our online community manager, Kristen, she has skills that you find in webmasters, too. So she’s comfortable using Photoshop or tinkering with a content-management system and doing HTML or quickly editing a video or uploading it to YouTube or Vimeo or whatnot. So there’s an overlap. I think certainly this type of person would, in addition to the interactional communication skills, would always have a strong suit in Web-related skills, too, especially as far as multimedia content production is concerned. So you definitely want somebody who knows how to do a quick and dirty edit of a video and embed it into a blog without any difficulties, that goes without saying.

TCN: How much will blogs, user-generated content, and citizen journalism come into play here?

Fest: Blogging definitely will be an important component of the online community that Kristen will build for Knight Foundation, so there will be blogs and there will be guest bloggers and there might also be other forms of communication, whether that’s bulletin boards or Second Life-based interactions. We’re still in the process of really figuring out what it is that we want to do. So blogging … would be a tactic, would be a tool, would be an instrument that would be used to create (the) online community. The other thing that you mentioned, the citizen journalism, I certainly think that this would be a topic of discussion. Whether it’s a tool or a tactic, possibly. But it would certainly be one of the things that would be discussed. Like, how would you train them, how would you pay them, and how do you incentivize them, that kind of thing.

TCN: Do you see blogs, user-generated content, and the like continuing to gain prominence indefinitely? Do you think there’s a point when they’ll level off within journalism?

Fest: I’d be very surprised if people lost their interest in communicating using these new tools. It kind of reminds me of some people asking in the early 90s if the Internet might just be a fad, you know? I don’t think so. … Just from my own perspective I would be surprised if that trend were to reverse.

TCN: Is there an outlook or prognosis that you have in mind with this position, or will you just see how things happen?

Fest: Well we are going to keep a very close eye on the metrics of whatever we do. So we’ll count how many people engage in conversations, how many comments are being made, how many people come back, what is being quoted elsewhere. I think you do have to quantify – you have to think about what you do in quantifiable ways. I think the challenge with a position like this is to make sure that it is always tied to the mission of your organization and to make sure that it does not become kind of an exercise that justifies itself through itself. It has to be tied to what your organization does – in our case, help journalism move forward and transform itself. So as we evaluate the success and this position, too, we always go back to that one big question – how much is this truly helping us carry our mission more effectively? … The reason we did this has all to do with what Knight Foundation’s mission is. And the way in which we evaluate this position has all to do with what Knight Foundation is doing, which is to help advance journalism to its best possible future, so that’s really the key message as far as I’m concerned.

Links referenced in this article:
Knight Foundation: http://www.knightfoundation.org
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---------------Conferences, Training and Calls for Papers


Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Writers Conference
Grapevine, Texas
July 18-20
http://themayborn.unt.edu
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UNITY 2008
Chicago
July 23-27
http://www.2008unity.org
Preregistration deadline: June 13
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AEJMC Convention 2008
Chicago
Aug. 6-9
http://aejmc.org/_events/convention/08convention/index.php
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SPJ Convention and National Journalism Conference 2008
Atlanta
Sept. 4-7
http://www.spj.org/convention.asp
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Global Investigative Journalism Conference
Lillehammer, Norway
Sept. 11-14
http://www.gijc2008.no
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The Colorado Colloquium on Media Ethics & Economics: Competing Imperatives and Duties
Estes Park, Colo.
Sept. 15-17
http://jcomm.uoregon.edu/~tbivins/aejmc_ethics/news-events.html
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28th American Journalism Historians Association (AJHA) Annual Conference
Seattle
Oct. 1-4
http://ajhaonline.org/convention.html
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Convergence and Society: The Participatory Web
University of South Carolina
Columbia, S.C.
Oct. 9-11
http://newsplex.sc.edu/newsplex08/cfpapers.html
Call for Papers deadline: June 15
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---------------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
dfisher@sc.edu

Editor
Brad Petit
convedit@mailbox.sc.edu
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---------------Online

Visit The Convergence Newsletter blog at http://convergencenl.blogspot.com, where you can comment on recent articles and keep up with the latest in convergence news. There is also an RSS feed option for those who want alternative access.

View past and current issues of The Convergence Newsletter at http://www.jour.sc.edu/news/convergence/. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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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 convedit@mailbox.sc.edu 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 convedit@mailbox.sc.edu.

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 convedit@mailbox.sc.edu.
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---------------Subscribe/Information

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