The Convergence Newsletter
The Convergence Newsletter

From The Newsplex at the University of South Carolina

Vol. VIII No. 1 (February 2011)

Convergence: Newspaper killer?

By Amanda Johnson, Editor

The Internet's role in convergence is irrefutable as the centralized location of easily accessible information. This continues to send shockwaves throughout the newspaper industry, and while some applaud new journalism for breathing a new life into newspapers, others are quick to write the industry's obituary.

But the University of Alabama's Kristen Heflin cautions not to jump to conclusions. Her research of the newspaper industry's past shows the industry's ability to adapt to change and survive, rather than meet an untimely death at the hands of another news platform.

In this issue, Heflin explores the parallels between the emergence of television news and its effect on the newspaper industry and the relationship between newspapers and the Internet.

The Convergence Newsletter welcomes articles and feedback from all our readers.

We are seeking articles for the upcoming year. Our topics issues are International - April, Convergence and Communities - June, and Convergence in the Classroom - August. In other months we publish various submissions.

The newsletter does not exist without your articles. We call ourselves a publication of first impression that bridges academic research and professional practice, a perfect place for a description of front-line issues or for those ideas that are gestating but have not advanced to being ready for peer review. It also is perfect for those aspects of research that are compelling but that, for whatever reason, do not make it into your journal article or had to be so abbreviated that they deserve fuller treatment.

We are especially interested in work by graduate students.

Please e-mail articles or suggestions to us at You can comment on all articles at The Convergence Newsletter blog. View past newsletters at


Featured Articles

Newspapers' life or death: The utility of a historical, cultural approach


Quick Glance Calendar (Details)

February 28- March 1: OMMA Global Summit, San Francisco
March 4-5: AEJMC Midwinter Academic Meeting, Norman, Okla.
March 17-19: AEJMC Southeast Colloquium, Columbia, S.C.
March 18-19: Media & Civil Rights History Symposium, Columbia, S.C.
June 6-10: Newsplex Summer Seminar: Teaching and Research in Convergent Journalism, Columbia, S.C.
June 13-17: Newsplex Summer Seminar: Convergence Software Boot Camp, Columbia, S.C.
June 15: Papers due for October Convergence and Society Conference, Columbia, S.C.
August 10-13: AEJMC Convention, St. Louis (paper deadline April 1)


Featured Article

Newspapers' life or death: The utility of a cultural, historical approach

By Kristen Heflin, University of Alabama

With a shrinking audience and plummeting revenue, newspapers are in the midst of a full-blown crisis. According to the Newspaper Association of America, newspapers have lost 25.6 percent of their readership since 2000 and the newspaper industry's advertising revenue dropped more than 41 percent since 2007 [1]. This plummeting revenue contributed to the bankruptcy of several media outlets in 2009, most notably the Tribune Co., which owns the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune. Media organizations that do not face bankruptcy often face staff cuts. For example, over the past three years, newspapers lost close to $1.6 billion of their annual reporting budgets and reduced their newsrooms by 25 percent [2]. Even USA Today, the second largest newspaper in the U.S., reported in August 2010 that the paper would cut 9 percent of its staff to offset its declining advertising income [3].

While newspapers are struggling, the Internet is becoming an increasingly popular outlet for news. According to a Pew Center study, 42 percent of Americans are now turning to the Internet for most of their news [4]. While such statistics point to the Internet as an increasingly popular delivery platform, another 2010 Pew Center study found that in addition to users accessing the websites of legacy journalism organizations, participation from nonprofessional journalists is "clearly part of the news process" as online news consumption is increasingly becoming a "socially-engaging and socially-driven activity." For example, 37 percent of Internet users have "contributed to the creation of news, commentary about it, or dissemination of news via social media." [5]. Among these users, 25 percent have commented on a news story, 17 percent have posted a link on a social networking site, and 9 percent have created original news material or an opinion piece [6]. Similarly, among these "news participators" 21 percent visit blogging sites not affiliated with traditional journalism organizations for news and 12 percent visit news ranking sites like Digg [7].

It is tempting to argue the Internet is taking the place of newspapers or to proclaim that newspapers are on their deathbed. However, if history has anything to teach us - and it does - we should think twice before planning a funeral.

Some of the most pressing questions about the current media landscape necessitate looking at the past. A broadly conceived cultural, historical approach such as the one in the works of Williams, Marvin, and Gitelman and Pingree can provide a good deal of insight while avoiding the pitfalls of technological determinism [8].

It was expected Mexican newspaper sites would have fewer features than their counterparts in more technologically developed countries like the United States and Canada. It was also expected that broadband penetration would be a major factor in the number of features, with more developed areas likely to have sites that use more features.

Claims that the Internet has somehow caused or is causing the death of newspapers rely on an implicit technological determinism, which downplays if not outright ignores political, economic, and historical context. Taking a more cultural, historical approach that emphasizes radical contextuality is useful for challenging assumptions about the nature of technologies and their uses, and for generating additional ways of understanding their implications. Building from this perspective, technologies do not suddenly emerge and take the place of other technologies. Nor are they inert, stable objects with predetermined uses that can be isolated and studied apart from their context, because they do not exist apart from their social, economic, political, cultural and historical milieu. Rather, technologies are in flux and reciprocally produce or change key social processes in unintended as well as intended ways. In this sense, technologies are social and always already part of culture because they are part of and mutually constitutive of society.

Thus, avoiding mechanically determinist logic that limits questions about technology and society to ones about cause and effect (i.e. the Internet will cause the death of newspapers) requires attention be paid to past and present relationships and practices - it requires careful attention to historical and present context.

For example, understanding the newspaper industry's reaction to the emergence of television news provides some useful context that can help us better understand the relationship between newspapers and the Internet today. Newspapers were the main source of news for a majority of the American public in the mid-1950s [9]. But, by 1974, 65 percent of Americans said television was their main source of news [10]. Throughout this 20-year period, newspapermen continually addressed the notion that newspapers were "dying," but television news never fully replaced newspapers. A closer examination of the reactions of newspaper industry representatives reveals the mutually constitutive relationship between society and technology as newspapers changed and were changed by practices and processes in deliberate and unforeseen ways.

Instead of lapsing into paranoia about the impending death of newspapers, newspaper industry reactions to television news ranged from optimistic (arguing that newspapers had nothing to fear), to defensive (arguing that television will never take the place of newspapers), to cooperative (arguing that television and newspapers should work together), to self-reflexive (arguing that newspapers need to improve to compete) [11]. As television news became further entrenched, the newspaper industry increasingly advocated the idea that cooperation and reflexivity were more productive than simply ignoring the threat, downplaying the strengths of television news, or mourning the death of newspapers. This increased cooperation and reflexivity enabled newspaper journalists to re-evaluate and adapt their professional practices, which in turn changed the newspaper.

While it can be argued that the subsequent changes in newspapers did not produce better content, newspapers survived the challenge of television news because they were not stable, immutable objects that could be easily overtaken. Instead, newspapers (as all technologies) are in flux, continually responding to and shaping society. This fluid nature of technologies makes it inherently difficult to proclaim when or where one technology ends because existing technologies are constantly changing, adapting, and influencing new technologies. In this sense, technologies cannot “die”; they may adapt or inform the development of a "new" technology, but their existence never completely disappears.

Newspapers survived the introduction of radio and television news because of this fluid nature, and they are likely to survive the incursion of the Internet and Internet-enabled convergence technologies. Newspapers may eventually forgo newsprint and publish solely online; they may incorporate more video or interactive content to compete with blogs and social networks; they may be collectively produced by nonprofessional journalists, but they will not die. Instead, newspapers will most likely continue to be reflexive and adapt; they will remain fluid. Some form of the newspaper, albeit a potentially unrecognizable form, will exist long as the social intention and need exist for collecting, creating, and distributing information. In the future, newspapers may not look like they do today, but even today's newspaper is a far cry from Publick Occurrences.

Approaching technology from a cultural, historical perspective enables us to see its fluid nature. It enables us to move beyond questions of cause and effect or whether a technology is good or bad. It allows us to see the technologies of yesterday, today, and tomorrow as intimately enmeshed with each other and our society. It enables us to see the complexity of the larger picture, the relationships, and the trends. It calls for us to examine relationships and linkages, continuity and culture. In other words, it requires us to consider the life of a technology while others are mourning its death.

[1] "The State of the News Media 2010: Newspapers" (2010). Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism. Retrieved from, "The State of the News Media 2010: Overview" (2010). Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism. Retrieved from

[2] "The State of the News Media 2010: Newspapers" (2010). Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism. Retrieved from, "The State of the News Media 2010: Overview" (2010). Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism. Retrieved from

[3] "USA Today to Lay Off 130 While Revamping Newsroom" (2010, Aug. 27). The Washington Post. Retrieved from

[4] "Press Accuracy Rating Hits Two Decade Low" (2009, Sept. 13). The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Retrieved from

[5] "Understanding the Participatory News Consumer" (2010, March 1). Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. Retrieved from

[6] "Understanding the Participatory News Consumer" (2010, March 1). Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. Retrieved from

[7] "Understanding the Participatory News Consumer" (2010, March 1). Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. Retrieved from

[8] Williams, R. (1989). What I Came to Say. London: Hutchinson Radius; Williams, R. (1990). Television: Technology and Cultural Form, 2nd ed. London: Routledge; Marvin, C. (1987). When Old Technologies Were New: Thinking about Communications in the Late Nineteenth Century. New York, NY: Oxford University Press; Pingree, G.B. and Gitelman, L. (2003). "Introduction: What's New About New Media?" New Media 1740-1915. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, xii.; Gitelman, L. (2006). Always Already New. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

[9] McCann-Erickson statistics, quoted in Bogart, Leo (1956). The Age of Television. New York, NY: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co. This survey was conducted in New York, Philadelphia and Charlotte in 1956.

[10] The Roper Organization, Inc. (1977). Changing Public Attitudes Toward Television and Other Mass Media 1959-1976. New York, NY: Television Information Office.

[11] Heflin, K. (2010). "The Future Will Be Televised: Newspaper Industry Voices and the Rise of Television News," American Journalism 27, no.2: 87-110.

Heflin is an assistant professor in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations in the College of Communication and Information Sciences at the University of Alabama. Her current research addresses the use of new-media technologies in journalism to respond to the crisis of credibility in public communication. She can be reached at


Conferences, Training and Calls for Papers

OMMA Global Summit
San Francisco
February 28- March 1


AEJMC Mid-Winter Academic Meeting
University of Oklahoma, Norman
March 4-5


The Joint Journalism Historians Conference
(The American Journalism Historians Association and the
AEJMC History Division joint spring meeting)
New York
March 12


AEJMC Southeast Colloquium
Columbia, S.C.
March 17-19


Media and Civil Rights History Symposium
Columbia, S.C.
March 18-19


AEJMC Papers Due
April 1, 2011


Newsplex Summer Seminars
Teaching and Research in Convergent Journalism: June 6-10
Convergence Software Boot Camp: June 13-17
Columbia. S.C.


Papers due for October's Convergence and Society Conference, Columbia, S.C.
June 15, 2011


AEJMC Convention
August 10-13, 2011
St. Louis


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

Editor: Amanda Johnson

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

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.

Creative Commons License


Submission Guidelines

The Convergence Newsletter provides an editorially neutral forum for discussion of the theoretical and professional meaning of media convergence in all forms including technological, organizational, operational, psychological, and sociological. We welcome articles of all sorts and encourage those addressing the subject in new ways and with new perspectives. We also accept news briefs, book reviews, calls for papers and conference announcements. Our audience is both academic and professional; 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 no more than 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 monthly 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 or write to The Convergence Newsletter c/o School of Journalism and Mass Communications, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208.