The Convergence Newsletter

From The Newsplex at the University of South Carolina

Vol. VII No. 1 (February 2010)

Newsroom Change

By Matt McColl, Editor

In looking at the newsrooms of 10 or 20 years ago and those of today, the comparisons are staggering. The process of making, gathering, buying and selling the news has changed dramatically, with everything from massive layoffs to totally integrated newsrooms.

This month, Jack Lail, the Knoxville News Sentinel's news innovation director, gives a firsthand account of his newsroom's evolution and the mental and emotional strains that came with it. Lail also analyzes how the Sentinel's staff has measured the effectiveness of its efforts.

As newsrooms converge, one of the questions to be examined is whether the community involvement that researchers have found correlates with newspaper reading also carries over to online. Jennifer Cox of the University of Florida finds a relationship, but with a simpler metric than time spent on site.

We here at The Convergence Newsletter welcome articles and feedback from all our readers. Feel free to e-mail us at or comment on all articles at The Convergence Newsletter blog.

Contact Matt McColl, editor of The Convergence Newsletter,

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Featured Articles

Knoxville's newsroom convergence

Newspaper follows audience to web


Quick Glance Calendar (details)

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

June 21-25: 2010 Newsplex Summer Seminars, Columbia, S.C.


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

Knoxville's newsroom convergence

By Jack Lail, Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel

Over three years ago, the Knoxville News Sentinel's senior executives gathered in a cold, windowless room in a downtown Knoxville conference center with a consulting group whose history had been of working with manufacturing clients.

They put together Legos in an assembly line for a mythical company. The output was measured and then improved by rearranging the workstations, the production processes and the creation of job aids. Predictably, production dramatically improved.

Can doing an assembly-line exercise with little yellow Lego pieces really improve a newsroom or even a newspaper? A factory floor, maybe, but a newsroom?

In the News Sentinel's case, it did. Not the assembly line exercise itself, of course, but the thought processes and workplace changes that were utilized.

One definition of transformation is: "A marked change, as in appearance or character, usually for the better." The culture change process at the News Sentinel involved all aspects of the newspaper's operations, but this article focuses on the newsroom, generally viewed as one of the areas most cynical about management led initiatives such "team building," or "culture change" or even work rule changes such as whether you can eat at your desk.

Even three years later, the curmudgeons of the newsroom aren't all convinced the effort was "usually for the better." But it is undeniable the newsroom is organized differently and its physical layout has changed and that roles have changed for many.

How did it happen?

"The thing that I will always remember about my engagement with the newsroom was that of all of the departments, that was supposed to be the most difficult. What I found and observed about the people of the newsroom is that there was no lack for opinions, but those opinions were always shared openly and sometimes brutally honestly," said Brad Greene, a consultant who worked most closely with the newsroom.

"Ironically enough that is one of the true harbingers of success in the transformation process, because at the end of our process there was no doubt that everyone had been heard and that there was no one person that could take full credit for the success (or failure) of the resulting design. The very process of designing the new system was (and most often is) a unifying factor that provides the momentum to make big changes."

It wasn't easy. There were tears, red-faced arguments, storming out of meetings, and rumors and fear.

Greene lists four fundamental changes:

1) A shift from thinking about news as primarily for the print edition and repurposed online to directing news to the most applicable platform (i.e. print, Web, text alert, etc.).

2) Cross-training the newsroom to post stories on the Web and redesigning the newsroom to facilitate sharing of information. That led to the design of the newsroom with the key day-to-day news decision-makers in the center.

3) Getting most of the newsroom, instead of just a few people thinking "online."

4) The Visual Communication Center, "which allows for daily communication and reinforcement about what is now important to the newsroom."

The center is a large curved white board in the center of the newsroom filled with numbers: Number of breaking news stories posted; single copy sales; number of corrections, Web page views, and unique visitors; number of videos posted, etc.

How good a job a newspaper does and the quality of its journalism is something most editors have long said you can't measure with accounting-like precision using spreadsheets and charts. But News Sentinel Editor Jack McElroy agrees with Greene that developing and highlighting metrics has been crucial.

"The seemingly simple step of establishing and discussing metrics might have had the most profound effect," McElroy said. "For the first time, the newsroom is focusing each day on its productivity and on the results that have been achieved. That has proven to be a powerful tool for identifying successes and problem areas and focusing effort."

As part of the process, the newspaper adopted an online first, multiplatform approach. Web content posting and comment management responsibilities were spread to originating desks and copydesk as well as online producers. Reporters are often expected to cover a breaking story for online, even posting Twitter messages or Facebook messages, and then fashion a new story for print— and if needed, to shoot video or take a photo.

"Once the thinking part was done, we began the physical transformation informally and then formally about two years ago, establishing priorities of breaking news online first, followed by our other electronic platforms — text and e-mail alerts and billboards," said Tom Chester, director of news operations. "The print approach was one of repurposing, expanding and packaging.

"The social media channels followed."

Chester noted, however, that some newsroom departments embraced the new culture more enthusiastically than others.

One of the other elements of the process is a focus on training, with a training matrix that fosters the development of multiskilled journalists.

"Establishing a training matrix had a positive impact on the overall operation, again by creating an objective measurement of where we stand and a tool for measuring successes and opportunities," McElroy said.

"The overall exercise also indoctrinated many in the organization in the concept of organizational change. Although many of the changes made through transformation may be swept away by the next wave of change coming from the corporate level, we have built some of the tools that will continue to be useful."

The next wave McElroy refers to is called Scripps 3.0, which is being rolled out to E.W. Scripps' newspapers. Scripps 3.0 involves a new effort at putting the Lego pieces together creatively chain-wide.

"In Scripps 3.0, our newsrooms put audience interaction at the core of our work, valuing dialogue over monologue regardless of platform, so that we both create and cause great journalism. We will organize our newsrooms around four pillars of content: deadline, data, grassroots, and watchdog, integrating social media throughout the organization," said Rusty Coats, the former vice president of digital who was named vice president for editorial content in late August and to whom editors report.

"Our reporters and photographers are multimedia journalists — MMJs — who can write, shoot photos and video, and know how to use social media tools such as Twitter as both a distribution and a reporting tool.

"We're going to begin our news days earlier, reflecting the early-morning appetite for news on our Web sites, when we reach more people than any of our competitors," Coats said.

And the focus on metrics expands.

"We're setting goals for how much of our content — print and online — comes from users, expanding the number of voices we publish. We're setting aggressive goals for gathering and sharing data— from crime statistics and school scores to restaurant inspections — and will invite users to get their hands dirty to help us find the stories inside the numbers," Coast said. "We're also doubling down on our commitment to be the watchdog of our community; in an era where there is a riot of opinion, our communities need someone to check the facts. And that's us.

"Most of our newspapers do this now. This reorganization sets a bar and continually raises it. It's not magic. It's focus. It's measurement to keep us honest. And it's communication, so that our newsrooms — instead of being isolated — learn from each other's work so that we have an even greater impact in our communities."

McElroy believes the transformation process the Knoxville newsroom went through prepared it to succeed with Scripps 3.0. Chester, the news operations director, said, "It is a continuous process here that began with changing the culture about four years ago of how our editors and staff think about gathering and delivering information."

And continually refining, improving, and experimenting is an integral lesson of the Knoxville transformation.

Jack Lail is director of news innovation at the Knoxville News Sentinel and blogs at You can contact him at


Community involvement and news use remain linked online

Jennifer Brannock Cox, University of Florida

Traditional print newspapers are in danger of extinction — no surprise there. As online publications, blogs, and various emerging forms of media penetrate the market, it is becoming increasingly difficult for newspaper publishers to justify their print products.

The implications of this shift away from print have been scrutinized through multiple lenses: How are newspaper reporters coping with the lack of opportunities? How has the dual focus of print and online affected the newspaper product? How can online newspapers be profitable?

Yet, few studies have examined the shift from a sociological perspective, focusing on how or if the loss of a print product will impact human behavior and society as a whole. In Channeling Janowitz: Exploring the Link Between Online Newspaper Readers and Campus Involvement for the 2009 Convergence and Society Conference, I examined the historical links found between print newspaper readership and community involvement, and I sought to discover whether such links also exist between the online product of a newspaper and involvement.

In short, the answer is yes — sort of.

I began by recreating the studies of researchers such as Morris Janowitz and Keith Stamm who found correlations between newspaper readership and community involvement. Because researchers later detected the strongest correlations between smaller, community newspapers and community involvement, I selected my own campus community to test my hypotheses.

I observed a strong relationship between readership of the print version of the campus newspaper and students' involvement on the campus. This finding indicated the link between readership and involvement still exists.

When I researched whether that same correlation existed between online readership of the campus newspaper and campus involvement, the result was a yes no combination that was confusing at first but now seems obvious.

There was a strong relationship between online campus newspaper readership and campus involvement, but only with regard to the number of days students read the paper online. Those students who said they read the online version of the campus newspaper several days each week also reported being heavily involved on the campus.

The oddity was that no such link existed with regard to the time students spent reading the paper online. There was essentially no difference in their involvement, whether they spent five minutes reading online or two hours.

But industry statistics indicate people do not spend as much time reading online as they do print. The reasons vary, from the difficulty of reading online text to the way people search for and imbibe information. Noting this, it now seems clear that simply making a habit of looking at the online newspaper regularly would have an impact on the reader's campus involvement and that the time actually spent on the site is irrelevant.

I also wanted to examine the audience to see if heavy readers of the campus newspaper's print version also reported being heavy readers of the online edition. Once again, there was a strong correlation with regard to the number of days students read both editions but not the amount of time spent on both.

One factor to take into consideration here is the availability of the print version of the newspaper. Students can pick up free copies at dozens of locations on campus and immediately off campus. Because most students are regularly on campus, there may be less of a need to read the paper online. Further studies could focus on why students do go online for their news. Breaking news? Multimedia features? The annoyance of ink on fingers?

Because researchers have reported that the link between the community newspaper and involvement is stronger than that found between larger, national newspapers and involvement, I asked students to report their usage of print and online newspapers other than the campus newspaper.

Once again, the research didn't lie. No links were discovered between print or online readership of other newspapers and campus involvement, indicating that simply reading any newspaper isn't the same as reading a community newspaper in terms of students' involvement.

Students routinely listed national publications such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, as well as newspapers presumably from their hometowns, as others they read. It is not surprising, considering many students tend to return to their hometowns following graduation and like to stay tuned in to the news there.

So what does it all mean? For starters, the link between print newspaper readership and community involvement was preserved. It is important to note that even during these trying times for the newspaper industry, community publications still fulfill an essential role in society, creating a base for involved community members to find and tell stories.

More importantly, as we look toward the future of a potentially print-less news industry, it is comforting to know that these involvement links appear to be translating from print to online products. While the print and online products of a newspaper offer many different features, both appear to still be effectively practicing a key function of journalism — to inform.

This study also reinforces previous research on the significance of community newspapers throughout the nation — that people turn to community newspapers for information about getting involved in their communities.

Newspapers are in transition, and there is much more work to be done to determine what effects this transformation will have on audiences, societies, and life as we know it. But it is encouraging to note, at least for now, that some things remain unchanged.

Jennifer Brannock Cox is a PhD. student at the University of Florida and received her master's degree in community journalism from the University of Alabama. She can be reached at


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

AEJMC Southeast Colloquium 2010

Chapel Hill, N.C.

March 11-13


68th MPSA Political Science Conference


April 22-25


2010 Newsplex Summer Seminars

Convergence Software Bootcamp

Columbia, S.C.

May 4-8


4th International Conference on eDemocracy Danube University

Krems, Austria

May 6-7


2010 Newsplex Summer Seminars

Teaching and Research in Convergent Media

Columbia, S.C.

June 21-25

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