Convergence Newsletter

From Newsplex at the University of South Carolina

Vol. V No. 3 (September 2007)

 

Commenting on Convergence

By Augie Grant, Executive Editor of The Convergence Newsletter

 

In 2003, this newsletter was conceived to help journalism educators and journalists share their experiences, research, and perspectives on the emerging convergence trend. One of our biggest challenges was deciding the editorial perspective that this newsletter would take. Some suggested that it be used to promote the Newsplex philosophy and Newsplex brand name ("Newsplex Newsletter" was one name that we considered); a few suggested a strict focus on research, and still others suggested a focus on practical lessons from converged newsrooms.

 

The guiding philosophy that emerged was that The Convergence Newsletter would be a hub for all sorts of work on convergent journalism, sharing as much information as possible from researchers, practitioners, and even our own USC/Newsplex staff. I've had the pleasure of working with five fine editors since the first edition was published: James Christian, Tyler Jones, Holly Fisher, Jordan Storm, and Melissa McGill. Each of these editors has left an impact on the newsletter. As graduate students, each one has taken the lessons from the newsletter and moved on to greater things. This is Melissa's last edition as Editor, and I want to thank her for her unflagging efforts over the past year to produce a quality newsletter and grow the subscriber base.

 

Likewise, it is with mixed emotions that I am also announcing it is now my time to move on. As Executive Editor of The Convergence Newsletter, I've been able to work behind the scenes to guide these editors, set the editorial policy, write articles, and put a small stamp on each issue.

 

The challenge for a newsletter such as this one is remaining fresh and relevant, and I believe it's time for a change in editorial voice. A new editorial team is needed to help move The Convergence Newsletter to the next level. I'm proud of the impact this newsletter has made, and that 870 of you think enough of the content to spend a few minutes each month perusing its content.

 

My deepest appreciation goes out to Dean Charles Bierbauer who has consistently supported (and funded!) this newsletter since the very beginning. I'm also grateful to the five aforementioned editors who have helped to build the newsletter. Most of all, I want to thank the dozens of contributors who have shared their research, perspectives, and opinions in this publication.

 

So what's next? For the newsletter, look for a continuation of the mix of content you've come to expect and a chance for you to share your research, opinions, and announcements along with a few innovations that we hope you'll find exciting. For me, I'll be focusing on new research on user-generated content, Internet advertising, and, of course, media convergence for the next year as I look for my "next big challenge."

 

Next month's newsletter will introduce the new editorial team and some new features for the newsletter. In the meantime, I hope you'll send your suggestions so we can make sure The Convergence Newsletter continues to provide what I believe to be the most eclectic mix of industry trends and academic insights on the most exciting developments in media convergence.

 

Send suggestions, research ideas, and challenges to: augie@sc.edu.

 

View past newsletters at .

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Feature Articles

 

Converged Management Roles — The Story of Two Alabama Hires

 

Convergence: Beginning, Middle and End

 

Caution: Media Convergence Zone Ahead

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Conference Information and Calls for Papers

 

Convergence and Society: Media Ownership, Control, and Consolidation

 

International Conference on Information & Communications Technology

 

BEA

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

 

Converged Management Roles — The Story of Two Alabama Hires

By George L. Daniels, University of Alabama

 

When Wayne Snow took over as managing editor of the Opelika-Auburn News August 20, the publisher made sure readers understood that he was not just running the printed newspaper.

 

“Snow will also be charged with taking a leadership role in guiding how the newspaper interacts with its news partners to break and deliver news to consumers along many different platforms, including with WRBL-TV, our station in Columbus, Ga., and our Interactive Media Division," said Jim Rainey in an Aug. 21 Opelika-Auburn News article about Snow’s hire.

 

Snow’s arrival comes just months after a similar hire was made across the state at The Tuscaloosa News as Anna Maria Della Costa was named not just the assistant managing editor of the newspaper, but the assistant managing editor of content, which includes online and video.

 

One of the things Della Costa is charged with is ensuring the content of the paper is presented on the paper’s award-winning Web sites, tuscaloosanews.com and tidesports.com, which together were named Web Site of the Year by the Alabama Press Association’s annual competition this summer.

 

“Our approach to news gathering and publishing is changing quickly,” said Executive Editor Douglas Ray in a July 29 Tuscaloosa News article about the award. “Our focus increasingly is on how we can deliver information and tell stories in new ways online."

 

While at different newspapers on different sides of our state, Snow and Della Costa represent a trend in the type of manager now taking over in newspaper newsrooms here in Alabama and around the nation.

 

These two individuals both work at newspapers in college towns with the state’s two largest universities in their backyards. Yet, the similarity in their job descriptions is just as remarkable as the differences in the ownership structures and convergence strategies of their parent companies, the New York Times Company and Media General.

 

Snow, who assumed his newest position after 21 years at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where he most recently was edition manager, comes into a news facility that is less than a year old. You can read on my web log more about my visit to the new facility back in March, just days after it was dedicated.

 

You might call the Opelika-Auburn News-WRBL operation Media General’s second Temple to Convergence. (The first, of course, was The News Center where The Tampa Tribune, WFLA-TV and TBO.com moved in together almost seven years ago in Florida’s largest media market.)

 

When Auburn University’s more than 25,000 students and its hundreds of faculty and staff return to town, the readership of the Opelika-Auburn News’ printed publication swells in much the same way as the readership of The Tuscaloosa News when the University of Alabama crowd returns to Tuscaloosa.

 

What’s different is the Opelika-Auburn News is working directly with a television station that it owns and gives operating space to in Opelika, Alabama. While the Tuscaloosa paper hosts the Web site of and has a relationship with the University of Alabama-owned TV station WVUA-TV, it began installing its own television studio only this summer.

 

The TNews managers have not released plans for the studio just yet. But, they are no doubt going to redouble their efforts to generate their own video content online instead of relying on other sources such as viewer-generated content or rerunning material from their full-power, university-owned commercial TV station partner.

 

I happen to know that they have stepped up efforts to have video content to go with stories in the newspaper on a regular basis. Within the last year, the Tuscaloosa paper has redesigned its Web site to showcase a major photo each day and its viewer-generated video, TuscTube.

 

As media ownership takes center stage at next month’s Convergence Conference at the University of South Carolina, it’s helpful to consider how companies such as the New York Times Regional Group and Media General are conceptualizing convergence in 2007. At least for now, the FCC has not relaxed its cross-ownership rules. So, companies such as Gannett (my former employer), which we’ll hear from at the conference, are operating in an “in the meantime” mode, likely hoping the rules will change.

 

I look forward to some vigorous discussions at the conference about the role academic researchers (should) play in these ownership discussions.

 

But, at the same time as we talk about ownership, it’s important for those of us charged with preparing tomorrow’s reporters, producers and editors to keep a close watch on how these newsroom jobs are changing.

 

Taking note of the new management hires is one way to do that.

 

See you in Columbia!

 

George L. Daniels is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

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Convergence: Beginning, Middle and End

By Brian Richardson, Washington and Lee University

 

In the beginning

In 1990, after hearing from a couple of employers about our professional program graduates, we determined that journalism education at Washington and Lee needed some revamping. Most of our print graduates were doing pretty well, but it was clear that graduates from the broadcast sequence were leaving us with different values, amounts of experience and levels of skill than their print counterparts.

 

That fall, we began putting the lecture sections of the print and broadcast beat reporting classes together. We needed to make sure that, in both sequences, we were fulfilling our mission – to prepare students to serve audiences in a democratic society by providing them accurate, contextualized information in clear, understandable stories, using the strengths of each medium.

 

To do that, we made sure the print and broadcast students were exposed to the same lessons about tracking down sources, interviewing, finding documents, doing journalism ethically, and the logic of narratives. Labs continued to meet separately; that’s where the medium-specific skills were acquired and practiced. Nobody I knew was talking about convergence in those days; the teaching model we adopted was meant to serve our students’ and their future audiences’ needs.

 

Where we are today

About a decade ago, through the vision of Ham Smith, our former department head, we identified full convergence and multimedia education as the best way to continue to fulfill the department’s mission. By 2002 our building had been taken down to its shell and fully renovated, with an all-digital multimedia platform installed for our skills courses.

 

Now, The Rockbridge Report, produced by our reporting, editing and producing classes, includes stories for print and broadcast converged on our Web site, rockbridgereport.wlu.edu, as well as a 30-minute newscast that airs over our local cable access channel. We began a five-minute podcast last winter.

 

We build momentum for convergence and multimedia as students go through our program. They are introduced to writing for print, broadcast and the Web in our first skills course, Introduction to Reporting. They continue to report and begin contributing to The Rockbridge Report as they learn their basic multimedia skills set in the following course, Introduction to Digital Journalism.

 

Just as we began doing in 1990, the beat reporting classes meet together, including a combined news meeting. The difference today is that students work shoulder-to-shoulder much more in their labs as well. In a subsequent class, Producing, each student is required to produce at least two newscasts and the Web site at least twice during the 12-week term. Finally, we bring all professional-sequence students together in our capstone course, In-Depth Reporting, near the end of their college careers. They work in teams to report on local issues and are required to produce print, broadcast and Web packages. They are evaluated on their reporting and on how well they used the strengths of each medium to tell their audiences the story.

 

All professional sequence students are required to serve at least 300 hours in a newsroom internship. They are allowed – in some cases encouraged – to cross platforms. Print majors may go into broadcast or online newsrooms; broadcast majors to print or online operations. We still maintain distinct print, electronic and business journalism sequences, so that students can develop a primary focus. We keep close track of the industry to see whether – or when – we will need to change that.

 

Sex, lies and videotape

Let’s deal with what I consider falsehoods or leaky assumptions about convergence and multimedia:

 

1. Convergence is a fad. As teachers, we need to be careful in preparing our students to avoid the often-quoted observation about generals: that they’re always preparing for the last war. In a report for the Newspaper Association of America, Wendy Zomparelli, former president and publisher of The Roanoke Times, quotes Jim Brady, executive editor of washingtonpost.com: “There’s general agreement now that we have to figure the Web out, and that the future is about telling stories in a variety of different formats,” Brady says. “Everybody’s in agreement about that. The stress is about how to get there.” If you’re not teaching convergence, your graduates might not be as competitive in today’s job market.

 

2. Convergence forces us to choose between teaching fundamentals and teaching technology. As we learned in our program at Washington and Lee even before convergence was a concept in the industry, teaching all our professional sequence students the same values, ethics, and skills reinforced and strengthened our teaching of fundamentals. Forcing students and faculty to choose between fundamentals and technology, and framing convergence that way, is a curricular choice you make, not an inevitable byproduct of convergence. But when you create a culture of teaching both integrally, students will absorb both. Not long after we moved back into our building in 2002, one of our students was showing our operation to the CEO of the news group that owns one of the biggest newspapers in our state. The CEO, whose company was an early adopter of multimedia platforms, reminded the student that it wasn’t all about technology. “No, sir,” the student said. “We’re still graded on the journalism.”

 

3. Teaching convergence is prohibitively expensive. When we converged fully in 2002, this was true. Today, with cheap, user-friendly Web-building software and near-broadcast-quality digital video cameras available for about $400, cost can be used as an excuse, but it’s not a deal-breaker. Take an inventory of what’s in your shop now. Like the home-handyman books say, you can converge with tools you probably have lying around your own department. Like the Web. Like $400 digital video cameras. Like iPods. Your students already have them.

 

4. There are too many other obstacles to convergence in our program. Faculty silos, FTE- course-load-counting hassles, old, single-media skills sets, the difficulty of assessing team- or co-taught courses. Again, if you don’t want to converge, any of those can be cited as a reason. If you want to teach convergence, they can be dealt with. (Our program just went through reaccreditation. I’ll be happy to share our assessment plan for our converged curriculum, which passed muster with ACEJMC.)

 

Still, you won’t converge your program with a single, finely crafted email.

 

What you need

Here’s the priority list, one through three: Faculty buy-in. Faculty buy-in. Faculty buy-in. If their teachers don’t lead, students will still adopt multimedia – they’re comfortable with multimedia already. Adoption isn’t the problem. The problem is that they’ll learn about multimedia – and develop skills, judgment and values associated with them -- from somebody other than your journalism faculty. That doesn’t mean you have to get all your faculty on board at once. Newsrooms that have successfully converged all look to the opinion leaders, the innovators, and the early adopters. Students tend to gravitate toward those people, too. Chances are that you already have people on your faculty who want to take the plunge. Let them try it. Put together the people from different platforms who are eager to go but might not know of each other’s interest. I’m betting their course counts will rise, and other faculty will soon want to know what their secret is. Don’t go to your dean or provost until you can show some results with the resources you’ve got. A track record -- including faculty buy-in -- makes those “look what we could do if” arguments much more compelling.

 

How hard can it be?

In one of Woody Allen’s movies, a woman asks Allen’s character if he thinks sex is dirty. “Only if it’s done right,” he answers. I’m reminded of that answer when people ask me if teaching convergence and multimedia is hard, or, as they often put it, worth the trouble. Yes, it’s hard if you do it right. Good teaching and learning are always hard. Teaching and learning convergence is full of ambiguity, putting students – and faculty – to work in sometimes fractious teams, consistently going beyond teaching what’s comfortable and putting up with occasionally disappointing results. So is doing good journalism. But, as we’ve always acknowledged in our mission at W&L, convergence done right is like all journalism done right: It’s fundamentally about serving audiences well.

 

In her report for the NAA, Zomparelli also quotes Michael Zimbalist, vice president for research and development at The New York Times:

“I always like to begin by taking a look at the customer, and how their days are spent, and how news and information fits into their days,” Zimbalist says. “If you do that, you get a view of a person who is multiplatform. They’re getting content online at home, in the office, on their iPod and cell phone.

 

“The multimedia mindset begins with that realization.”

 

Brian Richardson is head of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communications at Washington and Lee University. This article is adapted from his presentation to a panel discussion on teaching convergence at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications’ annual meeting Aug. 7-11 in Washington, D.C. He is happy to share syllabi with anyone who wants more specifics about Washington and Lee’s program. E-mail him at richardsonb@wlu.edu.

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Caution: Media Convergence Zone Ahead

How to construct a community-based student news blog

By Jennifer Mullins, M.A., and Teresa Lamsam, Ph.D., University of Nebraska at Omaha

 

The collaborative, community-based news blog assignment has given University of Nebraska students an opportunity to experience hands-on media convergence and a mix of citizen and traditional journalism practices. The motivation for the active-learning assignment stemmed from a series of assessments of an advanced news reporting class over several semesters. Students named interviewing as the skill that still eluded them. Also, students cited a lack of what they called “real world” experience in print journalism. Yet, other than internships, the only opportunity on campus was an independent college newspaper, which was not using a significant number of news editorial majors. Inspired by the Cingular/Newsplex election project, we decided to try our hand at a multimedia news project for students – but with no resources and only a handful of students. At the very least, we thought, the students will learn that all-important journalistic skill – resourcefulness.

 

From biker bars to community centers to local diners, our one-night, event-based news blogs took students on a community news tour that rarely makes the roadmap of local broadcast and newspaper coverage. In this assignment, students helped develop an issue-driven project and used election nights as the reporting platform. A faculty member and one graduate student developed the template for the assignment and then enlisted students and faculty to brainstorm the availability of free resources. From the beginning, the basic premise was that the news blog would resemble the news briefs section of a newspaper. But instead of unrelated news briefs, the news was presented in blog format as a strand of interview-driven mini-stories all revolving around the same issue. The election wasn’t the point -- the community was. As a whole, the news blog represented the underserved and unheard voices of our metropolitan community. As a result, a local TV station added our blog link to its Web site. Student reporting teams (they traveled in pairs) also handed out handbills that directed the public to our blog site.

 

Equipped with borrowed or personal cell phones and digital cameras, students traveled throughout the area connecting with community members “engaged” in the democratic process, whether that engagement was knocking back beer and nachos at a VFW post or handing out campaign buttons outside a diner. With real-time reporting, readers could travel along in the news blog as students wrote and photographed their first-hand experience of the roles of media and community in democracy. Back in the convergence newsroom (classroom), news editing students and faculty members linked with reporters in the field and edited copy for the news blog and online news site, which we ran in addition to the blog.

 

Lessons Learned

 

Even though this assignment is based in one or two classes, it can bring together other faculty members and students in a collaborative environment for a one-night activity. In our case, faculty members volunteered to be frontline editors in the convergence newsroom while News Editing students fielded calls from Reporting students who were constantly phoning in stories over the course of the evening. It got loud. Students couldn’t hear reporters on the other end of the phone. We had one team of students embedded in a Sudanese immigrant community for the night. News Editing students had a difficult time hearing well enough to spell names that were not at all familiar to them. They got frustrated … at first. Then, they felt the adrenaline rush and didn’t want the night to end.

 

The assignment put students and faculty in a fast-paced news environment with real-time reporting and editing. But the assignment also had enough flexibility to adjust to numbers and resources available – you don’t need a lot of either to pull off an exciting night of journalism. The impact of this assignment cascades throughout our medium-sized program. Foremost is the immediate impact on current students. Even though some students may work in student media, many never experience the adrenaline-rush reality of interviewing and reporting on tight deadlines. Two News Editing students excitedly remarked on one news blog night, “Can we get a job doing this sort of thing?” To which the teacher answered: “Certainly. It is called copyediting, and it’s what you have been studying all semester!”

 

A second important impact is on faculty. The news blog nights gave faculty the opportunity to work together for the first time in a newsroom environment. Faculty members saw one another in a new light, and students saw a side of faculty not often visible in the classroom. The experience energized and renewed both faculty and students.

 

A third potential impact is in the area of resources. We used the news blog assignment as a vehicle for writing mini-grants to purchase new equipment. We wrote two American Democracy and Civic Participation grants for $1500-$2000 to purchase digital cameras. The campus provided cell phones equipped with cameras for the night or students volunteered their own phones.

 

In Conclusion

 

In a society where fast-paced information and citizen journalism is becoming a way of life, our students need to be prepared to function beyond the traditional boundaries of journalism. This assignment provides students with a foundation for understanding how noisy and exhilarating on-the-spot reporting can be and expands their knowledge of journalism to include convergent media practices. While convergent newsroom training can be considered a costly addition to many small academic programs, this assignment packs a punch of knowledge at little expense.

 

Jennifer Mullins and Teresa Lamsam, both from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, presented this paper at the Great Ideas for Teachers Panel Session at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications’ annual meeting Aug. 7-11 in Washington, D.C. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

---------------Conferences and Calls for Papers

 

Convergence and Society: Media Ownership, Control, and Consolidation

University of South Carolina October 11-13, 2007

http://Newsplex.sc.edu.

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International Conference on Information & Communications Technology

“Media Convergence: Moving to the Next Generation"

Information Technology Institute

Cairo, Egypt

December 16-18, 2007

http://www.icict.gov.eg/ICICT2007/index.html

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BEA 2008: The New Communications Frontiers

Las Vegas, Nevada

April 16-19, 2008

http://www.beaweb.org/bea2008/index.html

Call for Papers deadline: December 3, 2007

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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

Augie Grant, Ph.D.

augie@sc.edu

 

Editor

Melissa McGill

convergence-news@mailbox.sc.edu

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---------------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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---------------Formatting

 

The Convergence Newsletter is optimized for 80 character display; you may need to reset the line length on the preferences menu of your e-mail program.

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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 convergence-editor@mailbox.sc.edu. Please include your name, affiliation and contact information with your submission.

 

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 convergence-editor@mailbox.sc.edu.

 

The Convergence Newsletter is published the first week of each month except January. Articles should be submitted at least 10 days prior to the publication date. Any questions should be sent to convergence-editor@mailbox.sc.edu.

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---------------Subscribe/Unsubscribe Information

 

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