The Convergence Newsletter
From Newsplex at the University of South Carolina

Vol. VI No. 4 (November 2008)

Commenting on Convergence

By Katie Toole, Co-Editor

(Executive editor’s note: Katie Toole joined the TCN staff this fall as co-editor Brad Petit moves closer to finishing his graduate studies. While Brad will still be here for a while, Katie takes the reins of this issue, the first of several on this year’s convergence conference. Welcome aboard!)

If you couldn’t get to October’s Convergence and Society Conference at the University of South Carolina, we’re here for you. This month’s issue begins our spotlight of some of the interesting presentations and discussions during the conference.

Reading about it can never substitute for the great conversations and other interaction, however. So we hope to see you next year.

With the 2008 presidential election top of mind, politics and engagement through social networking and instant messaging got a close look by researchers. Jinghui Hou, a master’s student at Syracuse University, delves into how the Chinese are using instant messaging and social networking Web sites to fuel political learning.  Dr. Tim Brown and Jasmine Jones from the University of Central Florida explore how the roles of MySpace and other social networking Web sites were expanded during the 2008 elections.

Conference organizer Augie Grant explains how the “participatory web” was used this year to provide a rich site for research and a new way to share the results of that research.

Next month, we’ll continue with more conference presentations, but it’s also time to think about next year’s editions. We hate to sound like NPR here, but The Convergence Newsletter only works with your contributions of articles, reviews, and ideas. As we look ahead, we especially need contributors for our international issues in April and October and our “convergence and communities” issue in June.

We also welcome ideas for our teaching issue in August and, of course, all our other monthly issues. And don’t forget reviews of relevant books and other publications.

From the rain forests to the deserts, from urban neighborhood to small town and rural village, the convergence of technology, content, time (multitasking), and all aspects of information seeking and presentation are having profound effects on society, communication, and related professions. We need your help in telling those stories and in keeping TCN’s readers abreast of the wide range of developments.

We at TCN like to call ourselves a “newsletter of first impressions,” bridging the academic and professional. We welcome a wide range of contributions. In addition to reports from the field and the lab, it is the ideal place to begin working on the kernel of a larger paper or to begin coalescing ideas in their formative stages.

We would like to have an idea by the end of this year what we might look forward to for 2009. Please let us know as soon as possible what ideas you might have and be willing to write about – or let us know of colleagues’ work you think should be spotlighted so that we might contact them. We’ll work out the deadlines with you.

Contact Katie Toole, editor of The Convergence Newsletter, at

View past newsletters at
Visit The Convergence Newsletter blog at

Feature Articles

The Duality of 'The Participatory Web'

By-product Learning in the Communication Age: Instant Message Use and Political Learning in China

MySpace/MyVote: Young voters, social networking and 2008

Calendar at a Glance (Details Follow Feature Articles)

Nov. 21-22: Futures of Entertainment 3, Cambridge, Mass.
Dec. 3-5: Blueprinting the Internet Valet Economy, Columbia Mo.
Dec. 5-7: AEJMC Winter Meeting, Louisville, Ky.
March 6-8: AEJMC Midwinter Conference, University of Oklahoma
March 19-21: AEJMC Southeast Colloquium, Oxford, Miss.
April 2-4: Ad Bowl Symposium III, Columbia, S.C.
April 16-19: Health Journalism 2009, Seattle
April 22-25: BEA annual meeting, Las Vegas
April 24-26: Media in Transition 6, Cambridge, Mass.
Aug. 5-8: AEJMC annual conference, Boston

Job Announcements

Elon University

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

The Duality of 'The Participatory Web'

By Dr. Augie Grant, University of South Carolina

The most interesting lessons I took from October’s "Convergence and Society" conference can be summarized in a set of contradictions:

  • The processes we describe as “convergence” are broadening in some respects and narrowing in others.
  • Social networking and other participatory technologies have created a dual opportunity, both as rich sites for our research and as new ways to share the results.
When we at the University of South Carolina hosted our first convergent journalism conference in 2002, convergence was seen by many as a process leading to integration of print and broadcast journalism, with online journalism bridging the two. In the research and discussions at this year’s conference, there was much less discussion of unity between print and broadcast, and the distribution of news on the Web by traditional media organizations seemed taken for granted.

On the other hand, many explorations of “convergence” in both the papers and showcase presentations expanded the term's operationalization to a wide swath of interactive technologies, from social networking to user-generated content. This emphasis should have been expected considering the conference theme, “The Participatory Web.” What was unexpected was the number of submissions, which almost doubled from the previous year. (Although I would like to take credit as conference chair for the increase, the more logical explanation is that it was directly related to the theme.)

The implication of these two observations is that a significant evolution over the past seven years has pushed the focus of convergence researchers beyond print, broadcast, and the Internet to a much wider range of media forms, especially those that offer elements of interactivity, user-generated content, and social networking.

Moving to the second point, it is clear from the presentations that these new media forms are generating at least as much research, and perhaps more, than the initial convergent journalism developments that inspired the establishment of this conference series. There may be many reasons for the amount of research devoted to participatory media, from the breadth of theory that can be applied and the sheer number of processes implicated to the anticipated impact of these new media forms on traditional media content and organizations.

The “duality” of these interactive technologies was reflected in how they were applied to enhance the conference experience for those attending as we followed advice submitted by attendees of previous conferences and readers of this newsletter. These included:
  • Setting up a Twitter site to allow attendees to make comments on presentations in real time.
  • Increasing the amount of discussion during every session.
  • Ending the conference with a one-hour roundtable discussion designed to draw conclusions across the session.
  • Giving each attendee a flash drive to download conference papers and presentations.
There were advantages and disadvantages. For example, the additional discussion resulted in less time for each paper presentation (10-12 minutes instead of 15-20 minutes). Also, the number of presentations accepted limited the amount of time available for discussion in some sessions.

One clear lesson is that academic conferences provide a great opportunity to apply convergent media technologies and processes to create a more effective way to share information. More innovation is needed, and a primary goal in organizing the 2009 "Convergence and Society" conference will be to engage in further innovation in this area. (The Call for Papers for that conference will be in the next edition of The Convergence Newsletter.)

Looking at the individual research papers, the trend toward broader applications of theory to help understand convergent media processes and practices continued. The theme sessions on user-generated content, politics and the participatory Web, and citizen journalism provided focused discussions that underscored the importance of research in convergent journalism as a tool for understanding the evolving media system.

As in past years, the “Showcase of Convergent Journalism Processes and Practices” and the teaching panels provided interesting examples, ideas, and approaches that could be applied by those seeking innovation in teaching convergent journalism.

We’re left at a familiar intersection — the ways we operationalize “convergence” are not quite the same as they were a year ago, but the change in media industries continues unabated. Personally, the most important lesson for me from the conference is that we all have an opportunity — and an obligation — to apply the technologies and tools we are studying to improve communication within the academy.

Dr. August E. Grant is an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of South Carolina. Contact him at

By-product Learning in the Communication Age: Instant Message Use and Political Learning in China

By Jinghui Hou, Syracuse University

In April 2008, a new wave of patriotism suddenly swept China. The power of instant messaging was seen when 2.3 million Chinese MSN users added a red “love China” icon to their online signatures to show their unity and patriotism (Xinhua News, 2008). Many more opened their MSN accounts to find a message asking them to add the icon in front of their signatures. Chinese Internet users started this spontaneous movement as a way to raise awareness of the Beijing Olympics and as a response to anti-China/pro-Tibet protests. Most MSN users could not miss the symbolism of the red-dotted buddy lists. They became aware of the issue, discussed it with friends, and turned to mass media to learn more. Some even joined the wave. IM users were accidentally exposed to political information, and as a by-product,  the “love China” icon prompted users to learn about a political issue.

Political theorists often discuss the notion of obtaining information as a by-product (Downs, 1957; Fiorina, 1990; Popkin, 1991). Even if people are not motivated to learn about politics, they may still absorb information as a by-product of non-political activities. In the age of Web 2.0, when user-generated content and communication are emphasized, the Internet does more than provide information. Various social networking services have emerged, enabling individuals to get involved in, among other things, message construction and communication. Adding a “love China” icon to support the Beijing Olympics is one example. People can now get political information through the interactive features of Web 2.0.

The transition to digital democracy is most evident in this year’s presidential campaign. Recent interviews and surveys conducted by The New York Times aimed to explore young people’s information consumption throughout the campaign. (Editor’s note: See also Tim Brown and Jasmine Jones’ article in this issue.) The Times’ research showed that younger voters tend to be both consumers and conduits of news. Young people e-mail interesting news stories and videos to friends. In turn, they rely on friends and online connections to get their news. Web 2.0 provides a participatory platform, engaging individuals in information construction and communication. The evidence suggests young voters are getting recommendations from friends about election news or text messages from a campaign. This type of information is shared, but not necessarily sought. In the Communication Age, “If the news is that important, it will find” the audiences (Stelter, 2008).

I pondered these new phenomena and asked myself what potential instant messaging has to provide accidental political information to users. And in turn, how does this potential affect IM users’ acquisition of political knowledge?

My questions prompted me to conduct an online survey of undergraduate students in China. They were asked about their IM use and political learning behavior, their political knowledge gain, how often they turn to mass media for political news, and how often they discuss political issues with others.

The respondents were selected from a large public university in eastern China. More than 160 undergraduate students from the journalism school were invited by e-mail to take the survey. The questions were presented in Mandarin Chinese. Students were told they could earn extra credit for their participation. I used Survey Monkey to conduct the survey online and received 134 responses.

I drew two major conclusions from the results. First, IM intensity – which is measured by number of instant messaging services a student uses, average IM friends, frequency of IM use, and IM attachment level – doesn’t predict political learning. Yet IM information use, which reflects a student’s inclination to obtain as well as publish information on IM, is a positively strong predictor of knowledge gain, political news seeking, and political discussion.

This finding is in line with the by-product learning model: People may obtain free political information through nonpolitical activities. In this study, the quantity of free information  received depended on the extent to which an individual pays attention to the information on IM. If a student uses IM all the time and has a large number of friends but rarely reads his friends’ information, the student obtains no free information from it, and the conditions for by-product learning are not met.

The  by-product  learning  model  emphasizes  that people pick up free information, even though they do not intend to. Thus, political interest is included in this study to test this expectation. IM information use has little effect on political knowledge for respondents with a high level of political interest. Among those with a low level of political interest, however, the impact of IM information use is substantial.

Consistent with the by-product learning model, IM produces learning even among  those  with  less  interest  in politics, while more interested individuals have fewer opportunities to learn more using IM. Students highly interested in politics follow the news closely and find it enjoyable. Their political knowledge remains relatively high with little change as the media environment changes. Thus, IM users’ information use becomes a more powerful predictor of gaining political knowledge when they have less interest in politics.

Many scholars claim that younger generations in many nations are breaking away  from consuming news and knowing much about government and public affairs (Delli Carpini & Keeter, 1997). However, recent studies demonstrate that long–term declines in voter turnout in American elections seemed to end after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks (Lester, 2006). In particular, youth voting rates increased. Approximately 36 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds cast ballots in 2000, but more than 42 percent voted in 2004 (Bennett & Xeons, 2005). Such a trend raises doubt about individual-level change as a result of increasing news and political information exposure by interpersonal communication tools. The present study adds to literature that  examines the link between new communication platforms and political behavior.

Digital technology has the potential to facilitate innovative forms of civic engagement. How can we involve younger citizens in the interactivity of democracy? How can we enable them to encounter more political information– even those people who are not motivated to actively seek any on their own? This study suggests that instant messaging is one potential way for young adults to increase their knowledge of politics.


Bennett, W., & Xenos. M. (2005). Young voters and the web of politics 2004: The youth political web sphere comes of age. Circle Working Paper, 42, 1-17. Retrieved June 1, 2008, from

Delli Carpini, M. & Keeter, S. (1997). What Americans know about politics and why it matters. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Downs, A. (1957). An economic theory of democracy. New York: Harper and Row.

Fiorina, M. (1990). Information and rationality in elections. In J. Ferejohn, & J. Kuklinski (Eds.), Information and Democratic Processes (pp. 329-342). Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Lester, W. (2006). Voter excitement level highest in years. Retrieved October 11, 2006, from

Popkin, S. (1991). The reasoning voter: Communication and persuasion in presidential campaigns. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Stelter, B. (2008). Finding political news online, the young pass it on. Retrieved June 1, 2008, from

Xinhua News (2008, April 14). "Red heart China" appears in netizens' MSN signatures. Retrieved May 30, 2008, from

Jinghui Hou is a master’s student in the Media Studies Program, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. Contact Hou at

MySpace/MyVote: Young voters, social networking and 2008

By Dr. Tim Brown and Jasmine Jones, University of Central Florida

The 2008 presidential campaign saw candidates use the Internet to garner support like never before. At the same time, the popularity of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace has reached substantial levels, leading some candidates to develop pages on these sites in an effort mobilize young voters to the polls. But do younger voters tend to look at these sites as places to find information about the candidates? Or do they see a candidate simply as their “friend,” but not someone they would vote for?

In order to better understand how young voters evaluate political information through these social networking Web sites, we decided to follow a path outlined by previous, seminal research into the motivations for the political use of the Web. Kaye and Johnson’s “A Web for all reasons: Uses and gratifications of Internet components for political information” (2004) helped define some of the reasons users go online for political information. Since that article, others have focused on similar motivations. The growth of the social networking phenomenon, as well as the recently concluded presidential campaign, made this an opportune time to revisit Kaye and Johnson’s study and see what, if anything, has changed.

We decided to replicate the study with two distinct differences: sample and media type.

First, we surveyed a sample of undergraduate college students at a large Southern university; Kaye and Johnson sampled adult Internet users. Certainly, there is a sense of convenience in our decision, as we had ample access to large classes. But another factor was that many of these young people would be voting in a presidential election for the first time; we wanted to know if they were more likely than others to go to social networking sites for information.

Second, we modified Kaye and Johnson’s questions about e-mail lists and bulletin boards and substituted social networking sites. Technology and media have changed to where social networking is far more dominant that those older forms of online communication. In addition, many of the functions of e-mail lists and bulletin boards are now included on most social networking Web sites.

We sent out more than 800 surveys and achieved a 72 percent response rate. The demographic breakdown of respondents was in line with that of the University of Central Florida student population as a whole (University of Central Florida, 2008), but mixed when compared to both Florida and the rest of the country (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008). There is a higher percentage of Caucasians, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and multi-racial respondents in the University sample than either Florida or the U.S. However, our demographics were dramatically different from those reflected in Kaye and Johnson’s initial study. In 2004, 91 percent of the respondents listed themselves as Caucasian, with less than 1 percent African American. Hispanics and Latinos were rolled into the “all other minorities” category. Certainly the differences between populations from which we sampled affected our respective findings, as well as the four-year interval between the studies (more people are now using the Internet). In the present study, the average age of the respondents was 19, and more than 80 percent were eligible to vote in their first presidential election.

As previously mentioned, the main purpose of our study was to see what motivations young voters have for accessing political information online. Our study found similar motivations for accessing information in general on the Web as were noted by Kaye and Johnson: convenience, entertainment, information seeking, and guidance. However, the strength of those factors was lower than reported in the 2004 study.

In addition, when young voters were asked specifically about motivations for using social networking and instant messaging/chat functions for finding information, the factors for each of these functions were reduced from four to two: convenience/information seeking and entertainment/social integration. In other words, young voters see social networking and IM/chat as different from the Web in general. In their minds, social networking is more of a place to get information that facilitates integration into their social groups than it is to help them make up their minds. It allows them to be “in the club,” but doesn’t provide them with information useful at the polls.

So where do these students get their information? Only 25 percent said they got general information from social networking sites, but close to 60 percent said they got it from some form of television (local, national, or cable news). And about the same number (57 percent) said they got political information from national broadcast and cable outlets.

Web sites of national cable networks beat out local television Web sites as places these young voters find political information. There is pretty strong evidence that information from television (or at least the Web component of the television network) is the primary place these young people are getting information to help them make up their minds.

Certainly more research must be done along these lines; we didn’t ask about getting information from the Web sites of the candidates themselves, as we were primarily focused on the social networking aspects of information gathering. And while, in our study, there were slight negative correlations between political party affiliation strength and Web use motivations, it would be interesting to see just how much credibility Web users put into both candidates’ sites and those of national media outlets.

But what this study does is further suggest that Internet users are now becoming more aware of the differences among Web sites and Web functions. Younger voters seem to understand how to differentiate between social and political information gathering. And while it is unlikely candidates will ever campaign exclusively on social networking sites, the foundation is being set for them to use these sites as a very complementary avenue to their traditional campaigns.


Kaye, B. K., & Johnson, T. J. (2004). A Web for all reasons: Uses and gratifications of Internet components for political information. Telematics and Informatics, 21(2), 197-223.

University of Central Florida. (2008). Facts about UCF.  Retrieved Oct. 20, 2008, from

U.S. Census Bureau. (2008). Florida QuickFacts. Retrieved Oct. 20, 2008, from

Dr. Tim Brown is an assistant professor at the Univeristy of Central Florida. Jasmine Jones is a master's student at the University of Central Florida. Contact Brown at Contact Jones at

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

Futures of Entertainment 3
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, Mass.
Nov. 21-22

Blueprinting the Internet Valet Economy
Reynolds Journalism Institute
Columbia, Mo.
Dec. 3-5

AEJMC Winter Meeting
Louisville, Ky.
Dec. 5-7

AEJMC Midwinter Conference
Norman, Okla.
March 6-9
Call for Papers deadline: Dec. 13

AEJMC Southeast Colloquium
Oxford, Miss.
March 19-21
Call for Papers deadline: Dec. 5

Ad Bowl Symposium III
University of South Carolina
April 2-4
Call for Papers deadline: Jan. 10

Health Journalism 2009
Association of Health Care Journalists Annual Conference
April 16-19

Las Vegas
April 22-25
Call for Papers deadline: Dec. 5

Media in Transition 6
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, Mass.
April 24-26
Call for Papers deadline: Jan. 9

AEJMC Annual Conference 2009
Aug. 5-8

Job Announcements

The School of Communications at Elon University is searching for six new tenure-track assistant or associate professors, effective immediately.

BROADCAST POSITION: We seek a faculty member with a Ph.D. and professional experience to teach Broadcasting in the Public Interest (an industry-based survey course), Communications in a Global Age, the Great Ideas capstone course, plus areas of specialty that might include media management and sales, communication research, or writing courses. Please send an application letter, CV and list of references to Dr. Connie Book at:

ADVERTISING POSITION: We seek a faculty member with a Ph.D. and professional experience to teach courses in the Strategic Communications major, with an emphasis on advertising concepts and skills. Courses may include Advertising in Society, Advertising Techniques, Strategic Writing, and Communications in a Global Age, plus areas of specialty that might include communication research or corporate publishing. Please send an application letter, CV and list of references to Dr. Connie Book at:

INTERACTIVE MEDIA POSITIONS: We seek four new colleagues with both the concepts and skills to teach in Elon's innovative M.A. in Interactive Media degree program that begins in summer 2009. Tenure-track positions require completion of a Ph.D. or M.F.A. and professional experience. Lecturer positions are available for those with an M.A. and significant professional experience. Faculty will teach both M.A. courses and undergraduate courses in their area of expertise in journalism, broadcast, strategic communications, or cinema. The ideal candidate will have an interactive media background and a solid theoretical foundation in interactive design and strategies. Professional experience should include strong scripting and authoring skills and a working understanding of today's professional digital media toolset (Adobe Creative Suite, Final Cut Pro Studio, ProTools). While not essential, skills in 3D modeling/animating, motion graphics design, audio production, and game theory add value to a candidate's application. Please send an application letter, CV (including examples of your work in the form of an interactive portfolio available online or by DVD) and list of references to Dr. David Copeland at: Visit for more information.

---------------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
Katie Toole


Visit The Convergence Newsletter blog at, where you can comment on recent articles and keep up with the latest in convergence news. There is also an RSS feed option for those who want alternative access.

View past and current issues of The Convergence Newsletter at

---------------Licensing and Redistribution

Creative Commons License

The Convergence Newsletter is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

This newsletter may be redistributed in any form — print or electronic — without edits or deletion of any content.


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.

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

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

The Convergence Newsletter is published the first or second week of each month except January and July. Articles should be submitted by the 15th of the month to be considered for the next month’s issue. Any questions should be sent to


To subscribe  or edit your information, please send a message to You may write to The Convergence Newsletter c/o School of Journalism and Mass Communications, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208.