The Convergence Newsletter
From Newsplex at the University of South Carolina

Vol. V No. 6 (December 2007)

Commenting on Convergence

By Brad Petit, Editor of The Convergence Newsletter

Around this time of year, you’ll usually find a lot of people looking back and looking forward. It’s December, after all, and as the new year approaches, “Where have we been?” and “Where are we going?” will become increasingly popular questions.

Those are questions all of us who practice, teach and monitor convergence are always asking. Studying convergence means looking at what changes have been taking place and what changes may be likely to come about. That’s our MO 12 months a year. But lest we get too caught up in the pre and the post, we are also wise to investigate what’s happening in the present.

In this final issue of The Convergence Newsletter for 2007 we offer three perspectives that illustrate this paradigm:

Dr. Jeff Wilkinson of China’s United International College reflects on a decade of trial-by-fire convergence teaching.

USC and TCN’s own Doug Fisher discusses how to effectively incorporate blogging into your teaching agenda today.

Then, a very forward-looking Dr. Kevin Kemper of the University of Arizona issues a challenge to investigate how newsgathering will adapt in tomorrow’s oil-starved world.

Past, present, future. It’s what we do.

Contact Brad Petit, editor of The Convergence Newsletter, at

View past newsletters at
Comment on articles at The Convergence Newsletter’s blog:

Feature Articles

May I Have a Bandage Please? A Decade on the Bleeding Edge of Teaching Convergence

Blogging for Learning

Sustaining Journalism and Fractal Ecology: Exploring a New Research Agenda for Maximizing Economy, Equity and Ecology for U.S. Newspapers


Conferences, Training and Calls for Papers

Newsplex Summer Seminar

International Conference on Information & Communications Technology

AEJMC Midwinter Conference

BEA 2008

61st World Newspaper Congress

15th World Editors Forum

Convergence and Society: The Participatory Web

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

May I Have a Bandage Please? A Decade on the Bleeding Edge of Teaching Convergence

By Dr. Jeff Wilkinson, United International College, Zhu Hai, China

Like most revolutions, media convergence has been occurring for a number of years in mostly small, relatively unnoticed ways. Many academics at the forefront have participated without deriving any fame, fortune or even stock options. My foray into media convergence began in 1996 with streaming video. Along the way I diverged into Internet 2.0, videoconferencing and convergent journalism.

All of these lessons are based on specific, real events. Names, places, dates and times have been left out to protect the innocent. And me.

Lesson 1: Go beyond your “turf”

In 1996 I was relatively content to focus on broadcast journalism and did not consider myself a techie. But one afternoon a stranger literally walked into my office and asked if I would be interested in something called “streaming.” My reporter training (and my easygoing nature) kicked in and said “why not?” It wasn’t long before I was spending hours making mistakes to produce (on computer) audio and video clips that could be viewed through the Internet on 14.4 and 28.8 modems. These skills in turn were passed on to students. Remember metafiles? I hated those.

Lesson 2: The toys aren’t yours

Besides the technology itself, there is an administrative context to consider. It quickly became clear that universities prefer not to give academic units money and equipment. Instead, they like to direct them toward the “equipment and money” units themselves. I have learned to love Network Services and all the people therein. As long as I agree to let them “own the stuff” (hardware, software, whatever), I get to play as much as I like. If I will follow protocols, get permissions and fill out forms, then eventually I can get access (keys, passwords, space) and allow students to play and learn with them — which is what universities are all about anyway. So, as long as I give up ownership and turf, the toys get bought and the students get to educate themselves. Works for me.

Lesson 3: Admin Support = Rules Support

It’s easy to criticize administrators and think they are no help. But often that’s due to our ignorance. Rules, policies and guidelines are important. Administrative forms are there for a good reason. In keeping with my own experiences, today, if someone comes to me and wants my support, I will work extra hard to ensure he or she follows the rules. In fact, I’ll set up as many meetings as needed until he or she has correctly completed and submitted all the necessary forms (and even unnecessary ones, if I’m not sure). Then we’ll wait until we get proper approval before proceeding. Finally, I’ll make sure he or she submits all the appropriate follow-up reports on time.

Lesson 4: Don’t believe hype re: students and technology

While it’s true that young people tend to adopt new technologies and ideas faster than those who are old, not all of them do. In 1999 I produced and streamed a series of video lectures, and students complained because of excessive download times. I still don’t know why they tried to download the files. Streaming is faster and easier. While there will always be a few outspoken students who are way ahead of the rest of us, it is a comfort to know most of them struggle with technology too.

Lesson 5: There is a pecking order: Identify it first

I was once at a university where I was informed that I could not do some research involving Internet 2.0 until some other school did theirs first. Strange as that sounds, every university has pecking orders (journalism is to advertising as advertising is to marketing; marketing is to accounting as accounting is to engineering; engineering is not as important as football if your team is in the Top 10), and knowing what they are informs you as to what is possible. It’s no use complaining the football team gets all the money; you’re better off finding a way to be a part of it and help all parties involved.

Lesson 6: Students are people too

My initial experiments with Internet videoconferencing involved setting up a small Polycom unit in my office. I linked up with a school in another country and brought small groups of students together. We started off sober and somber, discussing educational topics related to courses of study and university programs. After a while we opened up the topics, and the students started talking about their respective cultures. At some point I left the room for a few minutes, and when I came back the young men and women were excitedly discussing dating rituals — time, place, manner, etc. That was an “a-ha!” moment.

Lesson 7: You can lead a horse to water, but your priorities are not always theirs

You will face struggles even within your department and from your well-meaning colleagues, no matter how much you do for them. At one school a colleague “dismantled” the streaming server; at another school the computer lab was set up so there would be no audio (because it would disrupt others). Even if you want to use or work with new technology, your administration may insist on putting you in courses that do not easily lend themselves to such (because of content, time, or location). I once set up an Internet videoconference with a school in another country at the exact time our Intercultural Communication class was meeting. Despite my pleas, the instructor refused to be a part because “it wasn’t on his syllabus.”

Lesson 8: Find how the round peg fits

Sometimes we find new technologies that don’t have a neat and easy application for what we do. Finding the link between journalism and videoconferencing has not always been easy. But in 2005 I had a second “a-ha!” moment when a journalism student wanted to talk with students in Taiwan about a particular issue. During the course of the interview, I saw the makings of international feature writing coming out of that relatively informal question-and-answer session.

Lesson 9: When it works, it’s obvious

A journalism course in the U.S. was matched with an English-language course at a university in Asia. After instructing my students to find topics and do some background research, they could use the videoconference as an interview to probe further on the topic they were writing about. This exercise produced two noteworthy stories: one about the impact of bird flu and the other about an encounter with a ghost (published at Halloween).

Lesson 10: Victory and defeat go hand-in-hand, so find another mountain to climb

Flushed with victory and knowing I’d found something significant, I arranged to do “more, better” the following semester. What I discovered was that students don’t know much about history, don’t know much about geography, and don’t know much about other lands, or interviewing or generating ideas for features involving other cultures. That’s education. It’s important to stay curious and open to new things. Teach the basics and give students opportunities to write, produce and tell the stories that are meaningful to them and their peers. We’ll never become obsolete as long as we embrace the tools and shun the gimmicks. Convergence is an attitude and a willingness to try new things in new ways, even as the finished products tend to come out much the same as they always have. Journalism — even when it’s random — is still journalism.

Dr. Jeff Wilkinson is a professor at United International College in Zhu Hai, China. This article was adapted from a presentation at the annual Convergence Conference at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, October 2007. For more information contact Dr. Wilkinson at


Blogging for Learning

By Doug Fisher, University of South Carolina

I began blogging almost four years ago, long enough that I have earned the title in some recent program descriptions of "veteran blogger."

Hyperbole aside, it means I get asked about using blogs in the classroom, and such exchanges invariably open with: "I'm thinking of using a blog as part of my class. What can you tell me about it?"

And just as invariably, I ask the most important question: "Why do you want to blog?"

This isn't snarkiness, but a question that becomes even more important as technologies converge in the classroom. Technology is good, except when it's wrong for what you want to accomplish. It's easy to get sucked down the technological rabbit hole, the result being that you spend more time producing less learning than you might otherwise.

Here are three aspects of "why" to consider:

  • Why is this the best instructional technology?
  • Why will this accomplish what I want (and what exactly do I want to accomplish)?
  • Why do I think students will respond?
If students don't respond, then most of your effort is for naught.

In my beginning editing class, students contribute to a class blog for six weeks toward the end with specific objectives:
  • To learn to self-edit (and to see whether they have learned anything).
  • To think about language and what is happening in the business.
  • To learn about linking — the reporter's job but the editor's responsibility. More newsrooms finally are including links in their staff blogs and online story versions.
  • To keep writing and ingrain the idea that editing is just part of the writing continuum, not something divorced from the process.
The semester starts with students posting online profiles — but not on a blog. With about 20 students posting, older blog entries would quickly flow off the page. A tag scheme to help link them is not available in the blogging software we use with the Blackboard course-management system, and it would be inefficient for this use.

Instead, the students use a wiki, so each has a separate page. When a page is updated, all older versions are saved so that I can view the history. Not surprisingly, the initial efforts are filled with errors. In the middle of the semester, I pull an old page for each student and make it an editing lab assignment to see whether any learning has occurred.

Blogging comes later because by then students should be able to produce relatively clean copy. We also have discussed online headlines, linking and online story structure.

But as with any teaching technology, translating it into effective learning requires a clear set of expectations. In my class, the expectations are that:
  • Posts will be grammatically and stylistically clear, coherent, and as engaging as the blogger can be (with feedback from me). They may deal with language or editing issues, things happening in journalism or topics with some substance at the university level. (Another rant about lousy parking does not meet that threshold; suggesting solutions does.)
  • Students will embrace the blogging ethic, which is copious relevant links and interaction with those who leave comments.
Students must do at least three posts. Three additional items may be posts or substantial comments. Students are grouped, and each group gets a day of the week to post, though all posts must be individual work.

But effective feedback requires instructor time outside the classroom. Every post gets feedback — public comments on the substance and private notes on editing problems. This commitment, which in my case is about an hour per day, figures into how you answer those initial questions.

Other things you will have to consider:
  • Do you want a class blog or individual blogs?
  • How will you monitor posts? Most systems, but not all, will produce RSS feeds that you can track in a "reader." However, some course-system blogs, like those in Blackboard, do not have this feature.
  • What kind of blogs do you want: One that mostly points to interesting links, one that provides commentary while also liberally linking (the most common form), or one used primarily for publishing stories?
  • Will the blogs be public (seen outside the class) and open to comments or private? And if comments get out of hand, how will you know and what will you do?
"Public" blogs can be created in moments through online sites like Blogger or Wordpress.

If you choose a public blog, your students can also get a sense of "real" publication, especially if you attract outside comments. If there are enough of those, you might even be able to teach a bit about the issues of online community moderation. You also could set up writer-editor teams to give a sense of modern workflow — things go online and then get quickly edited with much less emphasis on style and more on voice.

But that must be balanced against educational privacy concerns. We may see it as similar to publishing a newspaper or producing a news broadcast. But people — students especially — tend to bare more of themselves on a blog. This is educational work being produced for a class, so we might want to think about such issues further.

Blogs can be a great tool, but don't consider class blogging just because it seems as though everyone else is doing it. Be clear about why you think it will help the learning, what you expect the blogs to do (be able to summarize the concept in five words or fewer), how often you expect posts and how you will grade them.

Doug Fisher is an instructor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of South Carolina. He is also the executive editor of The Convergence Newsletter. This article was adapted from a presentation at the AEJMC conference in Washington, D.C., August 2007. For more information contact Doug Fisher at

Sustaining Journalism and Fractal Ecology: Exploring a New Research Agenda for Maximizing Economy, Equity and Ecology for U.S. Newspapers

By Dr. Kevin R. Kemper, University of Arizona

The price of a barrel of oil flirted with a record $100 on Nov. 26, and by the time you have read this article, the price may well have pushed past that magic number.

In the past year alone, the average price of unleaded gasoline in the United States shot from $2.24 per gallon to $3.09 per gallon.

While pundits and politicians shake (or bury) their heads about the impending implosion of the world economy caused by dropping oil supplies and skyrocketing prices, news organizations will have to find the energy to transport the reporter to gather the information and send it back to the news organization, which then delivers the news to the media consumer.

This is where the Internet and other new technologies will become more salient and powerful; news will be able to flow through the energy of electricity (hopefully generated by sun, wind or other renewable sources) instead of the energy of fossil fuels.

Consider the basic process for producing a newspaper today (for more details, see Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things by John C. Ryan and Alan Thein Durning).

A logger uses oil to get to the forest so he can put oil into a chainsaw so he can cut down a tree; that tree needs oil to be carried by a truck to a paper mill, and oil is involved in the process of making and then shipping newsprint. Newspaper organizations send writers and photographers (all of whom consume oil) to faraway places to write about interesting and relevant events (all of which consume oil). Then, editors and designers and other newspaper employees commute to work by using some kind of energy (usually oil). Plastics in newsroom computers and even restrooms are made through petroleum products.

Once the newspaper is printed, trucks deliver the newspapers to carriers, who then use cars (some still bicycles) to throw the paper into your yard.

It would be difficult to gauge the exact amount of oil used to transport news, but I hope to find out. I assume the daily requirement would be staggering.

And those who gather and publish the news — whether they work at print, broadcast or online outlets — really do not know what they will do when oil hits $300 a barrel or unleaded gasoline reaches $10 per gallon. We need research into the effects of high energy prices upon newsgathering and distribution through various media.

Already, news organizations naturally are responding to pressures on the transportation system. The net effect is a reduction of newsgathering, which journalists often interpret as being an attack by the corporations upon journalism itself. Journalism may be under attack, but not from the news business; rather, a fundamental shift to a post-oil economy may be one of the greatest threats to journalism to date.

At the sixth annual Convergence Conference at the University of South Carolina in October, I presented some ongoing research in order to begin asking questions about what news organizations may be able to do to survive the coming economic disaster brought on by the exhaustion of nonrenewable fossil fuels like oil. I look at fractal ecology (PDF) as a possible solution: how to maximize economy, ecology and equity while manufacturing a product. William McDonough and Michael Braungart of MBDC in Charlottesville, Va., use what they call fractal ecology and “cradle to cradle design” to explain how this process of finding a sustainable process of manufacturing would help businesses and the world profit at the same time.

That is, it’s possible to figure out how to gather and deliver the news without wrecking the environment and people in the process. But the challenges are enormous for all of us.

Just consider a micro example of one family. We live about 23 miles away from the University of Arizona’s Department of Journalism where I work as an assistant professor. My wife, Lisa, works about another three miles beyond that. We know we ought to commute more together to work and synchronize our schedules and trips to the store — it’s just too expensive to keep pumping so much gasoline into our cars, despite our good salaries. We talk about finding a house nearer to work. But that’s too expensive. We talk about bicycles and alternative energy and picking paper over plastic at the grocery store. But we just have not been able to figure out how to function profitably in this stressed economy. We have to figure out a sustainable way of traveling and living.

And that’s the very problem news organizations are facing too. During the 21st century and beyond, journalism will survive if sustainable energy, rather than fossil fuels, transports information from the journalist and to the people.

Thus, my research also examines the energy flow of the news and how to create a sustainable system to manage that flow. In the process, I hope that news organizations will be profitable and reinvest that profit into the product. I call that process “sustaining journalism.”

If James Howard Kunstler and other “peak oil” theorists are correct, the world will suffer greatly when it runs out of oil. When that happens, people will need accurate news and information so they can make appropriate decisions on where or how to live. But they won’t be able to receive all of that information if journalists can’t get to the news and bring it home. Though I don’t agree with all of Kunstler’s conclusions in his articles and book on the topic, I do agree it is a serious problem requiring immediate solutions.

I wonder if converged journalism will play a greater role in sharing that information, as it reduces the costs of newsgathering. We need to examine that potential, as well.

Also, more and more people use the Net, though we still have to admit there is the proverbial “digital divide” affecting those who don’t have the resources to purchase a computer or Internet access, or perhaps don’t have the knowledge and literacy to use it wisely. Television has a way of reaching around the world. That process also uses electricity, which has more potential in sustainability than fossil fuels, if we assume that electricity is not produced by fossil fuels (not a safe assumption).

Which medium is more sustainable? Which is more sustainable — converged or separate media?

I also wonder what would happen in the chaos of a world that couldn’t afford to travel or to ship things like TVs or newspapers. I frankly wonder if the “peak oil” theory — which seeks to predict when world oil production will reach its zenith and then fall into decline — is a bunch of hooey, or if in fact there are threats that must be addressed. After all, the experts themselves differ on whether our oil production capacity has already peaked, or if this will even occur at all.

We have at least some basic starting points for my research, which I hope to develop into a book:
  • First, there appears to be a growing energy problem.
  • Second, it’s affecting the pocketbooks of families, including my own, and the bottom lines of businesses and other organizations.
  • Third, we can safely assume that widespread economic pressures will affect the gathering and distribution of news and the organizations that manage that process.
  • Fourth, this economic pressure upon news organizations may worsen the artificial (and perhaps mythological) divide between those who want profit and those who want product in the news business.
  • Fifth, more electronic delivery of news, if that electricity is manufactured in a sustainable way, could be a possible solution.
So, what will happen to your life when gas is $10 a gallon or oil is $300 a barrel? What will happen to your news?

Answering those questions will be essential if we want to steer the news industry and the rest of the world through the problems ahead of us. I welcome anyone who wants to join me in the process of researching and implementing real solutions.

But e-mail me. It’s just too expensive to travel to faraway meetings these days.

Kevin R. Kemper, Ph.D., J.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Journalism at the University of Arizona in Tucson. This article is adapted from a presentation at the annual Convergence Conference at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, October 2007. Contact Dr. Kemper at or


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

Newsplex Summer Seminar
Columbia, S.C.
May 12 – 16, 2008
As of Dec. 4, half of the available spaces have been taken. If you are interested in one of the five remaining seats, please register online as soon as possible at the above Web page.

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

AEJMC Midwinter Conference
Feb. 29 – March 1, 2008

BEA 2008: The New Communications Frontiers
Las Vegas
April 16-19, 2008

61st World Newspaper Congress
Goteborg, Sweden
June 1-4, 2008

15th World Editors Forum
Goteborg, Sweden
June 1-4, 2008


Convergence and Society: The Participatory Web
University of South Carolina
Columbia, S.C.
Oct. 9-11, 2008
Call for Papers deadline: June 15, 2008

---------------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.

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