The Convergence Newsletter
The Convergence Newsletter

From The Newsplex at the University of South Carolina

Vol. VIII No. 2 (March 2011)

Convergence in Cambodia

By Amanda Johnson, Editor

While it's no secret converging newsrooms face many challenges, such as staff restructuring, the convergence of two newspapers written in different languages for diverse target audiences creates its own set of issues.

John Turner recently worked for two Cambodian newspapers, The Phnom Penh Post and The Cambodia Daily. In this issue, Turner reflects on positive and negative aspects of multilingual and multicultural convergence.

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Featured Article

Multilingual and multicultural convergence in Cambodia


Quick Glance Calendar (Details)

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

Multilingual and multicultural convergence in Cambodia

By Jon Turner

Cambodia's English-language media employ journalists from a half-dozen countries to serve a readership even more diverse. Working for The Phnom Penh Post and The Cambodia Daily, my colleagues and I explored the benefits and pitfalls of multilingual and multicultural convergence.

Different products for different audiences
In September 2009, Post Media launched a Khmer-language sister paper of the Phnom Penh Post, informally dubbing it "PK," Post Khmer. The English version became "PE." Post Media already had Cambodian reporters in the field; it already had photos, connections, office space, and a printing house.

Things turned out to be a little more complicated.

The Post's access to international news might have given it a leg up on the competition, but even well-educated readers complained initially that the world section - which was directly translated, not fully rewritten - was too difficult to understand. "It give me cheugh k'bah," a headache, one friend told me.

Filing stories for both publications turned into a similar cheugh k'bah. Despite the convergence of the two papers on a basic level - produced by the same reporters, sitting at the same desks in the same newsroom - the target audiences were very different. Ordinary Cambodians seemed to want crime, gore, and scandal, but PE had always focused on policy, politics, history, and economics. Even when both papers wanted to cover the same story, they frequently took different angles. Post Media was often forced to send two reporters to the same event, and even that measure presented difficulties, as squabbles ensued over the role of writing for the English edition, an occupation seen as more prestigious.

Adapting to cultural norms
I asked PE's multimedia editor, Rick Valenzuela, about some of the differences among photos intended for Cambodia's various audiences. He suggested that running a shot in which the top of someone's head is cropped could be perceived as an insult in Khmer society. I figured that was probably an understatement: I distinctly recall coverage of an honor killing that followed an ill-advised pat on the head.

"There's also a visual hierarchy," Valenzuela said, one that has to mirror Cambodia's political and social hierarchy. On one occasion, an exhibition run by the Ministry of Culture rejected a submission by a Post photographer because one of its subjects had been holding a photograph of Prime Minister Hun Sen at waist level. "The premier being lower in the frame, under a policeman and everyday people, was insulting," Valenzuela said.

Some cultural differences are easy to spot and account for, like Cambodian readers' taste for blood. Others, like the bad luck that might be inflicted on a business by printing a photo of human corpses above an advertisement, seem somewhat peculiar when judged by Western sensibilities. Difficulties with multilingualism and multiculturalism were not limited to any one English language outfit: The Cambodia Daily offended many by printing a job ad calling for a "Native English and White-Skinned Speaker (Female is preferable)." The Daily's publisher apologized for the fairly typical racism and cut ties with the school that had placed the ad. If the spot had run in Khmer, no one would have noticed.

An undeveloped market
In Cambodia, infrastructure is inadequate where it exists at all. Mailing addresses and pavement are mostly nonexistent outside major towns, and the World Bank estimates that just 74,000 of nearly 15 million residents have Internet access [1]. The Cambodia Daily has remained strictly a print product, whereas The Phnom Penh Post has unveiled a bilingual website, picking up subscribers from Cambodia's war-era diaspora. Meanwhile, almost everyone in the country has a cell phone - many people have three, and some have eight. As telecommunications companies race to provide financial services, music and socialization tools, and as 3G web access gains a foothold, it seems likely that many Cambodians will enter the information age without ever seeing a newspaper, a land-line phone or a personal computer. What effect such a development might have on the country's media landscape is a question no one can answer.


Turner, an alumnus of the University of South Carolina, is news editor of the Farmington, N.M., Daily Times. He recently spent two years editing English-language newspapers in Cambodia. He can be reached at


Conferences, Training and Calls for Papers

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

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