Convergence Newsletter
From Newsplex at the University of South Carolina

Vol. V No. 4 (October 2007)

Commenting on Convergence

By Brad Petit, Editor of The Convergence Newsletter

We here at The Convergence Newsletter have a few announcements to make.

Changes are in store. Actually, you were forewarned of this in last month’s issue, when longtime executive editor Augie Grant bade farewell. Also departed is editor Melissa McGill, who is finishing up her master's coursework here at USC while also looking forward to begining her practicum.

Enter the new editorial team behind The Convergence Newsletter. Brad Petit (that’s me) is your new editor. USC School of Journalism and Mass Communications faculty member Doug Fisher takes over as executive editor, and you will be hearing from him next month.

I’m excited to be involved with this project. I have to thank Melissa for graciously agreeing to help out the new guy as he got his feet wet. Professor Fisher and I look forward to bringing fresh innovation and excitement to The Convergence Newsletter. We promise to fill you in on the details soon.

This month, we are pleased to offer you three perspectives on how universities are making strides to adapt to the new realities of journalism and media convergence.

The University of Hawaii’s Dr. Ann Auman discusses the challenges of initiating multiplatform journalism curricula and team teaching in traditional institutional environments.

Dr. Randy Reddick, from Texas Tech University, emphasizes the need for good, solidly trained journalists no matter what the technological landscape may be.

Last but not least, Laura Ruel of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill writes about understanding and embracing all the media tools that journalism students can use to deliver well-crafted stories.

Now, don’t forget that the University of South Carolina will be hosting a conference on media convergence, consolidation and ownership this month, from the 11th through the 13th. I hope to see many of you there!

Send suggestions, research ideas and challenges to:

View past newsletters at

Feature Articles

Stuck in a 20th Century University: Overcoming Institutional Barriers to Preparing Students for the 24/7 Newsroom

Producing Traditional Journalists Who Can Function in a Chaotic Media Environment

Integrated Multimedia Storytelling: Teaching Students to Shape the Future

Conference Information and Calls for Papers

Convergence and Society: Media Ownership, Control, and Consolidation

International Conference on Information & Communications Technology

BEA 2008

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

Stuck in a 20th Century University: Overcoming Institutional Barriers to Preparing Students for the 24/7 Newsroom

By Dr. Ann Auman, University of Hawaii

Journalism instructors who have created multiplatform journalism curricula often have to educate their own institutions about new approaches to learning, particularly team teaching, because of the structural impediments they face.

Teaching multiplatform journalism requires that teachers and students embrace an integrated and holistic mindset so they can produce stories effectively across multiple media. But most instructors are in a transition phase at their schools and must combine their specialties in teams as they learn how to prepare students to be flexible mobile journalists, or “mo jos.”

And, they are doing this in an institutional environment that doesn’t necessarily wholeheartedly support team teaching, which necessitates changing entrenched ways of assigning credit hours, teaching workload credits and evaluating faculty for tenure and promotion.

The 3 Ts
Schools making the transition to a multiplatform journalism curriculum need to adopt the 3 Ts:

• TIME: to develop a new convergence program
• TECHNOLOGY: to add technical resources and training
• TEAMS: to create new teaching arrangements involving faculty and students.

Faculty specialties dissolve as instructors collaborate in the classroom, learning from one another and modeling this teamwork for students.

Holistic Thinking
A commitment to teaching multiplatform journalism means a commitment to team teaching. Teaching convergence necessitates a new attitude; instructors must get out of their comfort zone and create new arrangements for learning, such as linked courses or faculty teams spread over longer credit-hour courses over multiple sections.

But problems arise because many instructors are ahead of their institutions in understanding that a multiplatform journalism curriculum and team teaching go hand in hand.

New Curriculum
At the University of Hawaii, we embarked on a new all team-taught, multiplatform curriculum in 2004. Three instructors in each team collaborate to teach two sections of each six-credit-hour course (instead of the traditional three-credit-hour semester course). There are four of these core courses, each with a team leader who collaborates to create the course syllabus.

The new team-taught courses took a lot of extra time for faculty to develop and administer – time that wasn’t recognized as part of the regular teaching workload. Challenges were:

• Finding enough time for faculty course planning and coordination of syllabi, grading, etc.
• Getting release time for new course development and teamwork
• Cross-training of faculty/technical skills
• Course structuring: Making teaching schedules consistent. Instructors were often in the class on different days at different times each week

Institutional Limitations
Instructors faced several challenges. There was no financial support for release time during the implementation of the entire program. Course evaluations were not designed for teams or courses designed by a group. And tenure and promotion decisions did not take into account the extra effort that goes into team teaching at the expense of research time. As a result, we asked students to fill out course evaluations for each instructor, and we are working with the Center for Teaching Excellence to create new team-teaching evaluation instruments.

Only the team leader’s name was included on the list of classes for registration, so the other instructors did not appear to be getting teaching workload credit for their contribution to the class.

In addition, production facilities and classrooms were not set up for student or faculty teams. We overcame some of these obstacles by scheduling TV and print/online sections of the production course at the same time in different rooms. That way, students could work as independent mo jos on one project, then work in teams in one classroom at another time.

Students also had to adjust to the new arrangements with multiple instructors. However, students developed into more integrated learners, starting at the beginning of the two-year program.

School Size Matters

Large schools have more resources to dedicate to the transformation of a journalism program; however, they may resist change. On the other hand, small and medium-sized schools may not have the resources, but may have the flexibility to move ahead.

Moving the Institution Into the 21st Century – What’s Next?

Telling colleagues and administrators about the new curriculum and its challenges and rewards can help educate others and garner support. For example, we are planning to present a campus workshop on new approaches to teaching that connect team teaching models with student learning outcomes.

In addition, tenure and promotion criteria need to be revised to reflect team efforts. Financial rewards are also a great motivator. Course evaluations need to account for multiple instructors and courses developed as a team. On-going program assessment is a necessity.

There are rewards in team teaching and collaborative learning. Students are more marketable. Faculty members learn from one another and become less isolated. Collegiality is enhanced.

This was adapted from a presentation at the annual Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication annual conference in Washington D.C., Aug. 8, 2007. For more information contact Dr. Ann Auman at

Producing Traditional Journalists Who Can Function in a Chaotic Media Environment

By Dr. Randy Reddick, Texas Tech University

One of the early strategies for media companies trying to stake a claim in cyberspace found newspapers and some broadcast properties trying to recruit established journalists who knew HTML, understood “The Net,” could write code at 120 words per minute and get it all right the first time.

The chaos, uncertainty and blind confusion of the time was captured by Mike Read, then online editor of the Houston Chronicle. Read told a gathering of college and university journalism administrators gathered in Austin, Texas in December of 1995, “They ain’t no rules, so we makes ’em up as we go.”

Less than five years later, Read and other industry leaders sang a new song. Assembled in Phoenix at what was billed as a “New Media Summit,” industry leaders and journalism educators wrestled with the challenge of describing the journalist of the future. Sponsor of the August 12 summit was the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication at the conclusion of its annual convention. Industry representatives present included not only Read, but Neil Budde of The Wall Street Journal; Leah Gentry of the Los Angeles Times (formerly with the Chicago Tribune); Elizabeth Osder, who had been part of the team that brought The New York Times online; Dave Farrell of Lone Buffalo, Inc. and formerly of The Detroit News; Steve Yelvington of Cox Interactive (formerly with the Minneapolis Star Tribune online); and Nora Paul, who was between positions at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies and the Minnesota New Media Initiative.

With one accord, the group sent a new message to educators: “We need journalists first.” They wanted people who knew what a news story was and who could pursue a story, get it straight, and then tell it in a compelling way.

Much has transpired in the intervening seven years, and the message to journalism educators retains some of the same threads at heart while shifting back toward another kind of all-purpose journalist out on the fringes. Mary Flood, newsroom recruiter for the Houston Chronicle, has suggested that the new in-demand journalist is not one who writes code. She told an audience of college students that one of the “back doors” to employment at the Chronicle is to first be a good journalist, and then demonstrate that you can write for print, handle a camcorder and a microphone, do some video editing, create a podcast, post to the Internet and keep a blog going.

Speaking of blogs, what does all this “citizen journalism” portend for students trained in traditional journalism values?

Now a strategist with Morris Communications, Steve Yelvington is the guiding light behind Bluffton Today, a citizen-journalism news operation driven by staff blogs as well as community blogs by and about the community of Bluffton, S.C.

Yelvington tells of an episode from earlier this year where word appeared in one of the community blogs that there was some kind of bomb scare at the local Wal-Mart. Citizen bloggers, aware that staffers at Bluffton Today often entered into the online conversations, posted a blog entry asking the people at BT to check out the rumor “and let us know.”

Whether there was a bomb scare or not (there was), the episode may signal something positive for the future of traditionally trained journalists in an otherwise shifting and chaotic news environment. When the need arose in Bluffton to get the straight story about a serious event, the “citizen journalists” asked for the trained professionals to get the story and pass it along.

For now, the message seems to be that we still need traditionally trained journalists. For their own benefit, we need to give them a realistic picture of a news industry undergoing change. And, we should equip them to be as flexible as they possibly can be about their own work expectations.

But first of all, they need to be good journalists. And other than having some new tools, good journalists today look, smell, walk and quack very much like good journalists of 50 years ago. They need to know how to recognize a story and how to source it. They need to understand news elements and news values. They need to know how to nurture human sources and how to use documents and data to add context and perspective.

And then they would do well if they were sensitive to and reasonably proficient in different ways to package their stories. To this end, we still require all the traditional news writing and reporting classes. We also have print and broadcast (and now online) majors who spend extra time going into depth with one kind of packaging. But our print majors have to handle camcorders and produce a couple of video packages. And all of our students produce Web sites.

We ask them to get their hands dirty and to understand the relative strengths and limitations of each platform, but first of all we ask them to be good journalists. Whatever shape news media assume on the other side of the digital revolution, the skills of a good journalist will still be in demand.

Dr. Randy Reddick is a professor of journalism at Texas Tech University. He can be reached at

Integrated Multimedia Storytelling: Teaching Students to Shape the Future

By Laura Ruel, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

As I sit down to write this piece, I can’t help but think of that line from the movie “Field of Dreams”: “If you build it, they will come.”

And although I’m not writing about a baseball field and Hall-of-Fame players, in a way my message here is similar: “If you teach it, they will create.”

In my experience, successfully teaching convergence journalism involves teaching students to be, balanced, fair and excellent storytellers. It also involves teaching two other essentials:

• The ability to recognize the value of every media form and delivery option
• Knowledge of the tools they will use to tell their stories

When I speak on this topic, no one ever protests about the essential need to teach and cultivate students to be critical thinkers and insightful journalists. It is reassuring that so many of us in this industry have not let technology cloud our judgment of what is at the core of good journalism. Helping students recognize good stories and accept the responsibility to tell them fairly is the basis of what we do.

The second point, however, is one that I find is not protested, but overlooked. Because the word “convergence” means different things to different people, let me first tell you the definition I am working with here. Convergence journalism is reporting that is not constrained by the delivery method. In convergence journalism, reporters have every delivery option available to them: text, audio, video, still images, interactivity.

With this in mind, it is essential that we teach students the value of each option. When is text the best method? When is video? How do we know when to invest the time in an interactive presentation? Convergence journalism means moving away from our traditional j-school silos, and understanding the strengths of all media forms. Here are some links to exemplify this point:

Online Media Types by Mindy McAdams
Multimedia Storytelling: When Is It Worth It? by Laura Ruel and Nora Paul

My third point is the one that, not surprisingly, “brings the heat.” (OK, I had to get a baseball pun in there somewhere!) It is understandable; most journalism professors did not get into this career to teach software. We barely have enough time to teach students to think critically and understand the value of each of the media forms. How, many ask, are we supposed to include software training as well?

It’s a legitimate question – and one I probably can’t answer to everyone’s satisfaction. But what I can tell you with confidence is that it is shortsighted (and unfair to our students) if we do not at least recognize this need. How many professors would recommend their best reporting student to write for a top-notch publication if that student didn’t know how to type? These new technologies are necessary tools for students to have as they move into converged reporting environments.

At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, we are in the process of revising our curriculum in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication to better address these areas for all our students. There are many challenges that we – and other programs – face as we confront teaching convergence:

• What “sequence” or “major” does convergence belong in?
• How do we balance the teaching of programming skills with journalistic skills?
• How do we get enough class time with our students to cover all that we’d like?
• How do we avoid creating a “jack of all trades but a master of none”?
• Are we preparing students for an industry that isn’t ready for them yet?

But, on another level, we must be doing something right already. Our students who major in visual communication and multimedia are leaving our program and going to some of the best online newsrooms in the industry:,, The list goes on.

And yes, they are shaping the future – creating online presentations that go beyond the basics of what we teach them.

Students today are imaginative thinkers and innovators. If we teach them, they will create.

Laura Ruel is an assistant professor of visual communications and multimedia in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She can be reached at

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

Convergence and Society: Media Ownership, Control, and Consolidation
University of South Carolina October 11-13, 2007

International Conference on Information & Communications Technology
“Media Convergence: Moving to the Next Generation"
Information Technology Institute
Cairo, Egypt
December 16-18, 2007

BEA 2008: The New Communications Frontiers
Las Vegas, Nevada
April 16-19, 2008
Call for Papers deadline: December 3, 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
Doug Fisher

Brad Petit


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The Convergence Newsletter provides an editorially neutral forum for discussion of the theoretical and professional meaning of media convergence. We welcome articles of all sorts addressing the subject of convergence in journalism and media. We also accept news briefs, 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.

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