From Newsplex at the University of South Carolina
Vol. VI No. 2 (September 2008)
Commenting on Convergence
By Brad Petit, Editor
October approaches, which means the annual Convergence Conference here at South Carolina is right around the corner. The theme of this year’s conference – the biggest yet – is “The Participatory Web,” and those attending will learn about the latest research and teaching tips on this and other convergent-media themes. The conference chairman, Dr. Augie Grant, discussed changes to the format in last month’s issue. The agenda is available at http://sc.edu/CMCIS/news/Fall08/PWeb/index.html.
The Convergence Conference, Oct. 8-10, will be capped by a keynote address from Daryn Kagan, a journalist-entrepreneur who has leveraged the shifts in media power, business models, and consumer preferences in her transition from CNN reporter/anchor to head of her own independent, award-winning media enterprise.
Following the Convergence Conference, on Oct. 11 Ifra Newsplex will host the Broadcast Educators Association District II Conference. Click here to download the registration form (PDF).
In this month’s issue of The Convergence Newsletter, we offer a couple of first-hand perspectives on convergence from two practicing journalists, a pair of reports from the “convergence trenches.”
Stan Zimmerman of the Sarasota, Fla., Pelican Press, reflecting on a career that has seen its share of industry trends and changes, says the challenges posed by today’s changing media landscape require less panic and more practical solutions and forward thinking.
One such practical solution is on display in Shelby, N.C., where The Star uses its mobile newsgathering tool, the Star Car, to bring its audience up-to-the-minute reports as few papers can. Former Star reporter Drew Brooks tells us what it was like taking the Star Car, and its newsbreaking capabilities, for a spin.
Check back next month for this year’s second special look at international convergence. And as always, please keep the great ideas and contributions coming.
Contact Brad Petit, editor of The Convergence Newsletter, at email@example.com.
View past newsletters at http://www.jour.sc.edu/news/convergence/.
Visit The Convergence Newsletter blog and comment at http://convergencenl.blogspot.com.
Don't Fear Media Evolution – Outrun It
Star Car Helps Paper Adapt to the Future of News
Conferences, Training and Calls for Papers
Investigative Reporting on Business and Finance Conference
28th American Journalism Historians Association (AJHA) Annual Conference
Convergence and Society: The Participatory Web
Broadcast Education Association District II Conference
Rebooting the News
Media in Transition 6
Don’t Fear Media Evolution – Outrun It
By Stan Zimmerman, Pelican Press (Sarasota, Fla.)
In doing research to teach a class called “Local News: For Better or For Worse,” I have been struck by the “I‘m shocked there’s gambling going on here” tone of both the academic researchers and practitioners of convergence journalism. But convergence reflects the natural evolution of things – it should not shock anyone.
I took an M.A. from The American University in Washington, D.C., back in 1980. The tracks were divided into “print” and “broadcast,” but everybody had to take the “Writing for Broadcast” course because – and everybody agreed – broadcast writing was not only more demanding (because of time limitations) but also required closer attention to tense and elimination of useless verbiage. The class was further split between old pros (I’d had four years in radio news by that time) and newbies trying to get employability from their English degrees.
I spent three nights a week holding down the overnight desk at the Mutual Radio Net and took freelance gigs with NBC’s Religious Affairs Unit for holiday broadcasts to fund my continuing education. And it all came down to the same damn thing: words. If you’re not a writer, then you’re a technician stringing lights and mic cables. Later, as a TV news reporter, I found it was the same.
The essence of the experience – then and now – is the story. Sometimes it’s an old story, like a crucifixion from 1,975 years ago. Or a robbery 10 minutes ago, one block over. Five W’s, one H.
It’s the “how” of convergence that has everybody strung out. But it doesn’t need to be so difficult. I visited the Newseum in D.C. last month, and it has an entire gallery devoted to convergence and how a local newspaper set out to “own” the Virginia Tech shooting story. Video, audio, print, blogs, a Web page. Three people on scene, and they did a very nice job of it. A good example of “backpacking” the gear and using it aggressively.
Fundamentally, convergence is about technical mastery of several different media. How to cut audio for a radio feed, cut video to a voice track and make a package or Sony sandwich; how to write a breaking story; how to snap a winning photo; how to craft a tease. It’s about the “how.”
The remainder is up to higher headquarters. And as usual, they’re removed from the process and often clueless. The eyeball-tracking work done by The Poynter Institute last year wasn’t aimed at reporters; it was aimed at page designers. And page design, while important, is not journalism. It’s an adjunct of the advertising department, which controls most of the space available.
The issue with convergence isn’t journalism. It’s how to make journalism pay for itself in this Internet age. Do blogs pay? Are Web sites self-supporting? Why is the younger generation ignoring broadsheets? How did local TV newscasts lose share? And what are they all losing “share” to? Video games? Text messaging? Cable channels?
Advertisers like eyeballs (or ears, in radio). They pay real money for an audience. If the audience is going away, they’ll pay less money – and eventually none at all. My daily newspaper is a shadow of its former self. Want ads are down dramatically, a damning indicator. Car dealers, restaurant owners and theater operators are all finding the same thing – the ads aren’t working anymore.
So if you want to find the future of convergence, assign the academics and “nooze managers” to find out where the ad dollars are going. And put journalism there. I watched radio news die in the United States. Now I’m watching daily newspapers die. It’s evolution. The idea is to stay ahead of the curve, not lament the curve. Journalism is not the problem; people will always want stories. Publishers and station managers need to determine where to profitably put them.
In 2004, Poynter’s Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson released EPIC 2014 (since updated and rechristened EPIC 2015), a short Flash video that takes a science-fiction look at the immediate future of the news business. It’s a good example of the basic sci-fi maxim, “If this goes on…” The video examines one possible evolution of the content provider-disseminator-user relationship – an evolution that EPIC projects to end badly for today’s newsrooms.
But there remain many questions. When ink is no longer purchased by the barrel, but is replaced by electrons, who pays for it? As mega-corps buy up disseminators, where can content providers (that is, journalists) earn a living? Thousands of laid-off newspaper reporters are asking that question today, and thousands more will be asking tomorrow. And most importantly, whom can users trust?
Last month, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press released the findings from its 2008 biennial news consumption survey. The results are not a “light bulb moment” indicating change – they are a thunderbolt. People are dropping broadsheets like cyanide-laced brownies.
Survival may be possible, but several elements are missing. Journalism evolution at the moment is in the same position as the first beached fish: “It's a brand-new environment, and I’d better work up some lungs and mobility or I’m gonna die.” In other words, new ideas and new paradigms are needed. The one-to-one medium – texting, e-mail, etc. – is flourishing. Can traditional journalism swap models? Can it develop the lungs and legs? I think so, but it requires getting local and intimate.
Are things as bad as EPIC 2015 portrays? No, not yet – and they don’t have to be.
Stan Zimmerman is the author of four nonfiction books and has won awards from the National Press Club, the Society for Professional Journalists and the U.S. Naval Institute. He is happily the county beat reporter for the weekly Pelican Press in Sarasota, Fla. Contact Zimmerman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Links referenced in this article:
Poynter Eyetrack: http://www.poynterextra.org/eyetrack2004/
EPIC 2015: http://www.albinoblacksheep.com/flash/epic
Pew Center report: http://people-press.org/report/444/news-media
Star Car Helps Paper Adapt to the Future of News
By Drew Brooks, The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer
[Editor’s Note: In May, we told you about the Star Car, the mobile newsgathering tool operated by The (Shelby, N.C.) Star. Before reporter Drew Brooks left Shelby for Fayetteville earlier this year, he had a chance to tool around in the Star Car. His experience follows.]
I admit it. When the Star Car was unveiled with a full front-page spread in The (Shelby, N.C.) Star, I was not impressed.
We had already been using the mobile newsroom for several weeks, trying to test its limits and figure out the bugs before the full launch. Some of the flaws we had already found: