The Convergence Newsletter

Vol. VIII No. 3 (April/May 2011)

Convergence and responsibility

By Amanda Johnson, Editor

With convergence comes great responsibility and opportunity - opportunity that the University of South Florida's Anne Anderson says many newspapers still seem to be missing. In her discussion of media platform convergence, Anderson highlights the industry's neglect of younger audiences even as studies show the reading habit begins early. Part of the news industry's responsibility is to adapt content to its audience, and Anderson suggests the industry expand the concept of younger readers and community content in order to capture this ignored audience.

Another responsibility is to try new things, as Chris Vadnais, superintendent of AFN-Incirlik, the Defense Department's radio and television station at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, has done as a converged journalist. He details his experience and says managers are vital to the convergence process and must lead by taking some of the fear out of failure.

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

Our topics issues are Convergence in Newsrooms - March, Convergence and Communities - June, and Convergence in the Classroom - August. In other months we publish various submissions.

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We are especially interested in work by graduate students.

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Featured Articles

Beyond NIE: Converging efforts on younger readers

Taking chances


Quick Glance Calendar (Details)

June 15: Papers due for October Convergence and Society Conference, Columbia, S.C.

August 10-13: AEJMC Convention, St. Louis (paper deadline April 1)

November 17-20: National Communication Association Convention, New Orleans


Featured articles

Beyond NIE: Converging efforts on younger readers

By Anne W. Anderson, University of South Florida

As the traditional news media's influence and profits dwindle - from mighty rivers to narrow streams - the industry has focused on increasing the number of media platforms to disseminate a decreasing amount of news to fewer and fewer consumers. But all the media platform convergence in the world won't make a difference to the industry's future unless it also seeks to reach a largely ignored, potential audience by expanding its concept of readers and re-examining its concept of community news.

Expanding the concept of readers - think younger

The news industry needs first to drop its standard definition of young readers, currently people between 18-34, [1] and to think younger, much younger. Second, the industry needs to think of these readers not just in terms of circulation department Newspaper in Education programs but in terms of news sources and news consumers.

Consider these numbers:

  • Almost 50 percent of regular newspaper readers in that golden 18 to 34-year-old age category began reading newspapers before age 14 - many before age 10 - and another 10 percent began reading newspapers in high school [2]
  • Less than half of North American newspapers have any kind of program to reach young readers 6-12 [3].
  • Less than half of all public schools receive NIE newspapers [4], and there is little documentation indicating how many of those newspapers are used in the classroom [5].

Howard Schneider, currently dean of the School of Journalism at Stony Brook University in New York, put it succinctly in 2003, when he was vice-president for content development at Newsday: "You start attracting Generation Y at 7 and not at 17" [6].

Schneider and Bill Zimmerman produced the "Student Briefing Page," an A-section insert in Newsday targeted to middle-grade students that ran from 1991-2004. At its height, SBP was an eight-page insert written by regular journalists about the same events they covered for Newsday, but written with attention given to 1) making deliberate connections between young audiences and a real world, 2) ensuring appropriate readability levels, and 3) providing background information.

Response, according to Zimmerman, was overwhelming, with "tens of thousands of letters each year" pouring in from students, parents and teachers. The page was nominated twice for a Pulitzer. For a time, the insert was bilingual, with articles in both Spanish and English [7].

"It [Student Briefing Page] showed they [students] had brains in their heads," Zimmerman said [8].

Expanding the concept of community content

By contrast, what kind of content do newspapers today provide the 20 percent of the population age 14 and under? [9].

I explored this question as a master's student at the University of Alabama. Because I could not find any studies of news content targeted to children 14 and younger, I conducted an exploratory content study. Using a systematic sampling of Alabama daily and weekly newspapers published during a two-week period, I studied 123 issues to identify current practices in five areas: quantity of content, prominence, source, focus, and readability.

I searched for content that included and identified, by name, a child age 14 or under or content with a visual or verbal clue, such as NIE or Kids' Page, that it was targeted to children. I included locally produced regular pages - no comics or other nationally produced inserts, no ads, and no locally produced special sections, unless they were children's sections or inserts.

About 20 percent of the issues contained no qualifying content at all. Two issues devoted 20 to 22 percent of their available news hole space to qualifying children's content. The average mean percent of qualifying available news hole content was 6.6 percent. Weeklies and smaller circulation papers tended to contain more qualifying content than dailies and larger circulation papers.

I found 253 qualifying items, almost half of which were just a photo - the typical "cute kid" photo and a caption, which speaks to the depth of coverage of children by newspapers. Professional journalists/writers produced less than half - an average of 46 percent - of the items. The rest were community submitted, such as children's drawings. Less than 10 percent of the items quoted children.

Of the professionally produced items, only 80 were more than just a photo and a caption. I used the Microsoft Word grammar feature to determine, among other indicators, the Flesch Reading Ease Score and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Score for each of these items.

Most articles were written at the ninth-grade reading level. Only three were written below the fifth-grade level; none scored at below the fourth-grade reading level. Twelve articles, including one syndicated page sold to newsroom managers as being a child-friendly product, had Flesch scores in the difficult-college/very difficult-postgraduate reading ease range.

For the most part, syndicated children's pages consisted of general-knowledge items, puzzles, and games. One four-page insert, labeled Newspapers in Education, consisted of text supplied by the American Bar Association. The cover article was about writing wills. The crossword puzzle on the inside consisted of clues and answers related to divorce and child-custody case terminology.

Bill Kovach and Ted Rosenstiel, writing in The Elements of Journalismand reflecting on the industry's travails, said:

Nor did [journalism] make much investment in the youngest Americans. Stories were long, sophisticated, and often required college degrees to follow. In the name of efficiency and profit margins, we did nothing to make a new generation that wanted news. (emphasis added) [10].

What might be done to provide real news to young readers? As an example, I took articles I had written for adult readers and rewrote them for readers in grades 2 through 6. One was about a school district-s copy machine lease to which I added background information on bidding rules and a relevant photo with identified children.

Real community news written for the entire community readership within the pages of real newspapers and on other platforms too. That's convergence.

[1] Heys, J. (2006). Division for addition. Presstime, 28(6), cover and pp. 24-30; Pew Research Center for the People & The Press. (2007)., Internet news audience highly critical of news organizations: Views of press values and performance: 1985-2007. Available online at

[2] Newspaper Association of America Foundation. (2004). Growing lifelong readers: The impact of student involvement with newspapers on adult readership, pp. 5-6.

[3] World Association of Newspapers. (2007). Engaging young readers, p. 28.

[4] Newspaper Association of America. (2002). Measuring up! The scope, quality and focus of Newspaper in Education programs in the United States, pp. 3-4.

[5] I have seen unclaimed stacks of newspapers sitting outside school offices, and I have watched teachers move newspapers delivered to the classroom into closets so students wouldn't be "distracted from their work."

[6] Negron, E. (2002). Why Gen Y? Newspapers have three years to get it right. MMC News. Media Management Center. Retrieved from

[7] B. Zimmerman, personal communication, May 1, 2008; H. Schneider, personal communication, July 11, 2008.

[8] B. Zimmerman, personal communication, May 1, 2008

[9] U.S. Census Bureau. (2008). Table 2: Annual estimates of the population by sex and selected ages groups for the United States April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2007. Retrieved from

[10] Kovach, B., & Rosenstiel, T. (2001). The elements of journalism. New York: Three Rivers Press.

Anderson, an instructor and doctoral student in Childhood Education and Literacy Studies in the College of Education at the University of South Florida, Tampa, was a Knight Foundation Fellow in Community Journalism at the University of Alabama and The Anniston Star. In addition to being a journalist, she has had several children's magazine stories published and is the author of Insiders' Guide to the Greater Tampa Bay Area. She can be reached at


Taking chances

By Chris Vadnais, superintendent of AFN-Incirlik

Editor's Note: AFN-Incirlik is the Defense Department's radio and television station at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey.

In Military Journalists Ahead of the Pack (The Convergence Newsletter, June 2006) I wrote about the military's use of a single person to handle the multiple electronic newsgathering tasks generally farmed out to three or more people in the civilian sector. At the time, commercial stations might have sent a reporter, a camera operator, and, in some cases, a sound gatherer (and often return to the station and pass everything off to an editor); each military journalist is trained to handle all these tasks and more. In that article I predicted "the one-person band TV producer of yesterday is tomorrow's do-it-all hybrid print-Web-photo-video journalist" and bragged that America's military forces were leading the way in the convergence movement.

While I still think military journalists are leading in many ways, much has changed.

The Air Force did move toward that hybrid journalist. Producers were highly encouraged to gather photos and produce print stories in addition to the radio and television news products we have traditionally created. In some cases it worked like a charm, in other cases, not so much.

Many of those opposed to the concept said time was a factor, that shooting photos and writing print stories took valuable time away from creating broadcast products. As a result, these people said, the quality of all the products was sure to suffer. Further, without formal training, they felt the extra effort was bound to yield substandard still photography and print products as well. The result was going to be less-effective products across the spectrum. It's an argument I'm sure you've heard, and it's not at all exclusive to the military.

Others tried to make it work. At that time I served as a broadcast journalist at the Air Force News Agency's Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii News Bureau. The Air Force also employed an enlisted photojournalist in that office, and he and I teamed up on most of the jobs we took.

However, when he left that assignment, his replacement didn't arrive for several months. That left only a broadcast journalist (me) in the office on a base where public affairs leaders had come to expect professional video and photo support. C-17 Globemaster III cargo jets were leaving the base regularly on humanitarian and combat missions - the stories didn't stop when my partner and his trained eye left. He had taken me through the essentials of his gear prior to leaving, so while I was no pro like him, I was familiar with the basics of the office's still photo equipment. I began picking up where he left off, providing photo and print journalism support as well as broadcast products. I traveled around the world gathering every kind of media I could capture and had a fantastic time doing it. As far as quality of the products goes, in this case it was what I got or nothing, and to my customers what I brought back was easily better than nothing every single time.

Alas, in the end most of us weren't able to make it work for the long term.

Jump to 2009: Social media's popularity is skyrocketing, and it's clearly becoming something in which we need to engage. Our affiliate stations serving local audiences overseas can leverage Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to extend their products and messages past the traditional broadcast signals' finite reach. The advent of social communities, microblogs, and video sharing outlets has brought new meaning and a fresh sound to convergence.

These new responsibilities were different in that they didn't threaten the quality of broadcast products because, I believe, the tasks didn't threaten the producers.

Engaging in social media is easy. It's not something that appears to have a lot of hard-and-fast rules, though some are emerging. You won't disdain a blurry Facebook status update, for example, and no one cares if a tweet is grammatically incorrect or not written in inverted pyramid style. It's something people don't mind doing because it's simple and low-threat. It appears that if a new task is intimidating, many people will resist seeing its value and adopting it as part of their daily routine. If it's something we're confident we can handle, it's not such an imposition.

When I was shooting photos and writing print articles along with producing broadcast pieces, I wasn't overwhelmed by the additional tasks. Granted, my work wasn't close to the caliber of my partner's, but it was good enough to get published and was much better than no image or print story at all. I wasn't afraid to fail, and I was able to produce the extra products with a reasonable degree of success. Those who didn't try obviously failed to produce anything.

Producers excel when they have been allowed to venture outside their comfort zones, for that is where the most productive learning and growing happen. Management plays a vital role in this process. Leaders can take the threat out of new tasks simply by adjusting requirements, accepting and even expecting some level of failure at first.

This is not to say quality baselines should be ignored - to the contrary; they should serve as valuable teaching and coaching tools. However, one should not be expected to immediately meet those quality standards just because he or she has read and understood them. Demanding expert quality from nonexperts will be counterproductive, so careful coaching and nurturing is critical to keeping people interested and excited about developing new skills. Patient, attentive leadership and consistent reinforcement of quality standards will foster growth. The products will likely fall short of genius at first, but eventually a solid proficiency will develop without contempt for the task.

Convergence is about accepting new responsibilities. It's about adopting and exploiting new technologies-whether they're newly emerging or simply new to you. It's about taking chances and seeing where experimentation leads. In that sense, it's as much about a reporter's personal and professional growth as it is about how the story is delivered.

As journalists, if we want to reach a wider audience, we must be brave enough to take some chances. To facilitate that, managers must be prepared to endure some level of failure during the growing process.

Vadnais is also the author of broadcast technology books including Instant Boris FX and Broadcast Graphics on the Spot (Focal Press).


Conferences, Training and Calls for Papers

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

June 15


AEJMC Convention

St. Louis

August 10-13


National Communication Association Convention

New Orleans

November 17-20


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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