The Convergence Newsletter

From Newsplex at the University of South Carolina

Vol. VI No. 11 (October 2009)

Classroom Convergence

By Matt McColl, Editor

In the developed world, surrounded by cell phones, broadband Internet and video on demand, there is a fairly widespread set of frames by which people approach "convergence."

In other parts of the world, however, the term can take on a far different meaning. It can be, as Paul Bowers explains, as simple as a cell phone hanging from a tree in a village. For us with our wi-fi, that would be primitive. For the villages of West Africa that Bowers visited with New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, it is high technology.

Bowers won the trip with Kristof in a competition with about 900 others and spent part of his summer accompanying the columnist through part of Africa and blogging about it for the Times. He shares some of his specific observations with us this month in one of the two international issues we try to assemble each year.

There is no problem finding a cell phone on today's college campuses, where having one seems to be the birthright of every student and where the devices themselves are becoming media centers. Convergence is upon us, and colleges are adapting with new programs and majors. Elmer Ploetz, a journalism professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia, shows how a new program approaches the challenges.

You might have noticed above that we said we "try to assemble" two international issues each year. Lest we sound a little like NPR, it doesn't happen without you, dear reader and contributor. We don't want your money, however. We want your articles. International perspectives are among the hardest to get but also among the most valuable because they break us out of the sometimes insular, technology saturated world many of us operate in.

Our next international edition – we hope, if you help – is in April. And don't forget our yearly February issue devoted to developments in newsrooms, June dealing with convergence and communities, and August focusing on convergence in the classroom. In between, we run a variety of articles and topics; we're open to a wide range of suggestions and ideas, so send them in. You’ll see we have made some small but important changes to our call for papers to reinforce that convergence is a broad term and that we want to run research and commentary dealing with all facets.

We here at The Convergence Newsletter need to hear from you. TCN welcomes feedback from all our readers. You can e-mail us at and you can comment on all articles at The Convergence Newsletter blog,

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Featured Articles

Convergence in Africa: A phone on a mango tree

‘More, Better’ May Not Be Better, But It’s Reality


Calendar- Quick Glance (get details)

Nov. 5-6: Convergence and Society: The Changing Media Landscape, University of Nevada, Reno

Dec. 4-5: AEJMC 2009 Winter Meeting, Jacksonville, Fla.

March 11-13: AEJMC Southeast Colloquium 2010 Chapel Hill, N.C.

April 22 - 25: 68th MPSA Political Science Conference, Chicago

May 6 -7: 4th International Conference on eDemocracy, Danube University, Krems, Austria


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

Convergence in Africa: A phone on a mango tree

By Paul Bowers, University of South Carolina

When it comes to the developing world's problems, everyone claims an answer: aid, reform, education, investment. What about convergence?

In the two weeks I spent traveling through West Africa with New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, I saw hints of such a cure. In Sierra Leone, we saw a billboard for the cell phone service provider Zain that expressed, in native Krio, a sentiment many convergence boosters hope will soon come true: "All man kin get fon now!"

No, not everyone can get a phone yet. But in one relatively isolated Guinean village, under the branches of a mango tree on the community's outskirts, what appeared to be an early model Nokia was dangling from a string. I asked our local guide its purpose, and he said that in some villages there was one phone that got service in a certain spot and that people would wait their turn to use it.

Before the advent of mobile phones, many of these villages never could have had phone service. Especially in countries with shaky infrastructure, the idea of running landlines that far out is near laughable.


Later that day, Kristof and I set up his satellite phone connection - which got us on the Internet to submit stories, albeit slowly — and I got to thinking: What if the village leaders got their hands on one of these?

Development takes business, and business takes good information. What if the cashew farmers were able to exchange planting techniques online and research the going price of their cash crop? What if Kebbeh Sumbo, the palm oil exporter we met in the Liberian capital of Monrovia, had a Web presence?

Many of the villages we visited got electricity from centrally located solar panels, but then there's the issue of cost. The device we were using, made by British company Inmarsat, will set you back more than $3,000.

This is not the only option, of course. In some cities, I saw people using a device that has also just been gaining popularity stateside: a 3G connection that goes into the USB port of your computer like a flash drive. In other words, if you've got cell phone signal, you've got Internet. I was told that it was cheap and simple to use as long as you already had mobile service.

In one sense, convergence means being able to tell your own stories. For now, the developed world simply isn't hearing enough strong voices from West Africa. Sure, there are the occasional Ishmael Beahs and Dambisa Moyos who make it into the spotlight with a book or two, but what about the bloggers? When convergence truly comes to the region, we'll see an important shift in coverage of the region. Rather than hearing about the region's poverty from a few privileged Americans, we'll get it firsthand from people who really know what they’re talking about. Think less Bono, more Pewee Flomoku.

I'll make no claims that Twitter can end malnutrition. In fact, all this talk of convergence is still pretty far-fetched. Most of Monrovia still isn't on a power grid, and low literacy rates among women negate many of the Internet’s benefits. Still, convergence could be a powerful tool in West Africa.

Paul Bowers is a journalism student at the University of South Carolina who competed against 900 other entrants to win the two-week trip to Africa with New York Times writer and Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof. During the trip, he blogged for the Times (his posts can be found here). Bowers previously had been to India and Mexico..


'More, Better' May Not Be Better, But It's Reality

By Elmer Ploetz, SUNY Fredonia

You know the mantra. When students walk out your institution's doors with their diploma, it's not enough to be good at just one thing anymore. Reporters have to take photos and video. TV reporters and photographers have to write for the Web. Radio people have to write on their blogs. They all have to be able to do it all.


The curious thing I’m finding is that most - at least in the early development of our major - really don't want to do it all. There are students who want to write and perhaps do photography. Some want to do video, and perhaps photography. Some just flat out want to do print reporting.

Is there a problem with the students we’re drawing into journalism? Why don't they want to develop into the graduates who have the best chance of succeeding in their chosen fields?

It's a question that can pop up when you’re starting a convergence-based journalism major, as we are at the State University of New York at Fredonia. We're both blessed and cursed to be building a program from the ground up as the world of journalism is spinning on its head.

I suspect the question about the students is the wrong question. One of the questions I'm seeing develop is whether it’s possible to do journalism well - at least by the standards set in journalism education over the past 100 years - in a convergence world.

Students sense that. They know they need to develop the skills to survive in a convergence world. But they also know what they do well – and it usually isn't everything under the sun.

Under the old model, most people who pursued print were inclined toward writing already. Most photographers tended to be image-oriented. Television reporters tended to love being in front of the camera, and producers could live in the editing room if needed.

But we're looking to train people now to do all the things journalists have always done - identify stories, ask questions that get to the heart of matters, analyze information - while telling their stories in forms outside their comfort zones.

They realize - or they learn very quickly - how hard it is for a one-man band videographer to listen to the interviewee's answers well enough to think of good follow-up questions as they're also checking sound levels and attempting to frame the shot. Then they're going to write the story as well?

And that's not even considering the software side - putting together a slideshow, animation, map, or video back in the office.

So how do you teach all those things? How do you help them develop confidence in the areas they aren't necessarily predisposed toward?

Our strategy is that students must be immersed in it to get good at it. While observing another university's program a couple of years ago, I was told the students were expected to come together for a junior or senior year project where the print and electronic majors would work together. It didn't work. The students in electronic media worked together, and those in print worked together, but rarely did the two groups find a neutral ground on which to work.

Convergence can't be taught as a last-minute cherry on top of the sundae. It has to be built into a program from the start.

So freshmen reporters must start writing for multiple media. Print students must start taking video. And if they can start employing Flash or other software, they're ahead of the game.

Educators tend to think of current students as the digital generation. But most are digital consumers and users, not digital creators. That's what we have to teach.

We come back, though, to how do you teach that, although this time we're talking about immersion.

As we forge forward into the great unknown, here are some exercises I hope to try with my first reporting class this fall:

–Visual storytelling for writers. Don't have a video camera? Do it with your still camera. Or your cell phone. Sequence visuals in a way that tells a story. And write the story that complements it.

–Take a visual storyboard – the kind a documentary maker might use. Think about how you're going to tell that story in print. Then write it.

–Write a story in three-paragraph increments because that's the way you may have to tell it on the computer screen.

–Write the same story for print (both newspaper and magazine), online, audio, and video, for a blog and maybe even in Tweets.

–Break down a longer story from a source like Time magazine into those three paragraph increments, trying to keep the reader going from screen to screen.

Of course, that’s while also maintaining accuracy, fairness, and timeliness, the hallmarks of the profession. Good writing is still essential in every medium.

In cleaning out the upstairs rooms of my father's house, I recently came upon boxes of materials from my journalism classes some 30 years ago. I plan to revise and use some of those. Some tenets are timeless, things like respect for language, a sense of nuance, the desire to dig for information, writing for the ear in every medium, a sense of storytelling.

But the world also is changing outside our walls, and we need to teach students how to think about presenting information to it in different ways, while keeping journalism's highest values alive. We also have to be able to teach more, better.

It's not unlike the media world itself, one where reporters, editors, and producers all are being asked to do more - frequently with less. It's a world many us would not have been prepared for when we left college in recent decades, but it's the world we must prepare our students for.

Elmer Ploetz teaches journalism at the State University of New York at Fredonia, which has welcomed its first class of journalism majors this fall. Ploetz is also a video documentarian, songwriter, and former newspaperman, having spent 27 years in print, the last 23 at the Buffalo News. He's still learning new ways to do it all. He can be reached at


---------------Job Opening

Position: Convergent Journalism Professor

Lindenwood University's School of Communications is looking for a convergent journalist. This is a position for a convergence "expert" who can help transition an already strong communications program to a more relevant opportunity for our students. This person must have a passion for teaching and a desire to promote active learning in young adults. Candidates should have multimedia skills including videography, audio, web development, photography and visual storytelling. Terminal degree required.

Lindenwood's School of Communications has top-notch facilities including KCLC-FM (new digital studios- 2005), LUTV (LU’s cable TV channel with an HD studio that opened in fall 2008), The Legacy student newspaper, and high tech teaching labs that feature high performance equipment with the latest software updates including CS4.. While many universities froze salaries last year, Lindenwood's faculty got raises.

Lindenwood University is in historic St. Charles, Mo. 25 miles west of St. Louis' Gateway Arch. With a total enrollment of close to 15,000, Lindenwood is the biggest "little" school in America.

The School of Communications offers six undergraduate degrees and a master's program.

Applicant materials, including a CV, unofficial transcript and three letters of recommendation, should be sent electronically to Dr. Richard Boyle, Vice President of Human Resources, Lindenwood University at Applications may also be submitted by mail to Lindenwood University, Attn: Richard Boyle, Executive Offices, 209 S. Kingshighway, St. Charles, MO 63301.

Lindenwood University is an equal opportunity employer.

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

Convergence and Society: The Changing Media Landscape

University of Nevada, Reno

Nov. 5-6


AEJMC 2009 Winter Meeting

Jacksonville, Fla.

Dec. 4-5


AEJMC Southeast Colloquium 2010

Chapel Hill, NC

March 11-13


68th MPSA Political Science Conference


April 22 - 25


4th International Conference on eDemocracy Danube University Krems


May 6 -7

---------------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


Matt McColl



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