The Convergence Newsletter
The Convergence Newsletter

From The Newsplex at the University of South Carolina

Vol. IX No. 10 (December 2012)

Look both ways before converging

By Chris Frear

As American newspapers work through the trauma of the digital disruption, and college journalism programs search for new models, a researcher urges caution in forging partnerships.

In this edition of The Convergence Newsletter, Larry Dailey of the University of Nevada Reno revisits how the news industry has practiced convergence with previous partners. And he raises provocative questions about the "teaching hospital" model for journalism programs and the way forward for universities.

Respond to Dailey's argument at The Convergence Newsletter blog and at the newsletter's Facebook or Google+ pages. View the full archive of newsletters at

The Convergence Newsletter poses a forum for developing research and discussing best practices in researching with new technology. We're always interested in those ideas or parts of research projects that are compelling but deserve fuller treatment beyond a journal article or that do not make an article's final cut.

Please e-mail articles or suggestions to us at


Quick Glance Calendar (Details)

Jan. 16: The Newsroom of the Future, Newsplex webinar with Ken Doctor and others, online.

Jan. 16: Community Journalism Conference, Cardiff, Wales.

Feb. 8-9: Journalism Interactive, Gainesville, Fla.

Feb. 28-March 2: AEJMC Southeastern Colloquium, Tampa, Fla.

March 21-23: Media and Civil Rights History Symposium, Columbia, S.C.

April 4-6: American Copy Editors Society, St. Louis

April 19-20: The International Symposium on Online Journalism, Austin, Texas


Featured article

A call to disrupt convergence

By Larry Dailey
University of Nevada, Reno

Cross-media partnerships and media technology sharing – newsroom convergence – have been, for years, championed as possible saviors for the craft of journalism. Journalism schools have revamped curricula to cross-train their students on a variety of media forms. And "newsrooms of the future" have been built to allow people from different types of news media to work together.

In doing these things, I am led to wonder if journalists are striving to preserve the values they feel must be preserved for our government to work. Or are they striving to find cheap sources of news that will support arguably outmoded organizational forms and arguably obsolete communication routines?

As I read about the life cycles of other businesses, I'm learning that the news business seems to be facing some predictable obstacles that can lead to an almost certain decline. It's a normal part of the business cycle. And that business cycle almost inevitably ends with an established business model being disrupted by a new one.

Most often, the disruption comes from outside established organizations. Clayton Christensen's two books The Innovator's Dilemma and The Innovators Solution elegantly describe businesses' predictable paths and their narrow chances of surviving. [1]

In both of those books, one hope for survival is presented: If businesses can let go of their core routines (otherwise stated as old bad habits), preserve only the most core values (the reasons they got into business in the first place), and then actually develop a model that makes their old business obsolete, then the organizations, or some part of them, might survive. This most often happens when companies create and seriously invest in "skunk works" whose mission is to make the old business model obsolete.

Simply put, businesses must discard their old bad habits, bring in outside knowledge, and embrace habits that may make them very uncomfortable.

At first glance, newsroom convergence seems to promise part of Christiansen's disruptive mandates. Collaborations with outside entities – and experimentation with new technologies – would seem to disrupt old business models and invite future innovation.

I question, however, if this is how convergence is actually being harnessed by today's news industries. It seems that instead of gaining knowledge from new types of partnerships and enabling news organizations to reinvent themselves, these organizations are simply – and desperately – searching for cheap content from any available source. As they do this, it seems the industries may be actively avoiding the very learning that could save them.

For example, a paper my colleague Mary Spillman and I just completed seems to show that while newspapers are forming partnerships with, for example, universities – the "teaching hospital model" – many of those newspapers are not actually sharing much information with their partners. They seem to be using their partners as cheap workers and not as new sources of information that might help reinvent journalism. Newspapers appear to use other, non-newspaper partners in the same way. For example, rather than learning how to connect with communities as bloggers do, many newspapers seem simply to borrow content from bloggers. [2]

This really is not surprising if one considers that news organizations are typically change-resistant, routine-driven cultures that "are more defensive than other organizations – and the results are fairly uniform across all newspapers. In a defensive culture, employees lose sight of the overall goal, get lost in details, and make little effort to coordinate with others." [3] Given this, news organizations do not seem well positioned to become organizations of learning, let alone catalysts of disruptive innovation.

News professionals may take some solace in that they are not alone.

Left to their own devices, almost all organizations tend to avoid social costs with partners and, instead, seek market stability and predictability. They value routines and safety more than innovative cultures, diverse partnerships and other behaviors that may spark discomfort. For almost all businesses, this tendency to focus on short-term profit and routinization causes them to become blind to sources of new knowledge, and thus sustained innovation. It is even not unusual for companies to establish systems that punish people for stepping out of highly routinized roles. [4]

Many of these organizations die because they did not disrupt their own routines in time to meet the needs of changing audiences. And journalists may be repeating those patterns.

To me, the promise of convergence is more than finding people to produce cheap content, multimedia, or interactive graphics. And it's more than getting people from different media organizations to work together.

To innovate, organizations must bring new ideas into their cultures and embrace them. Of course, those new ideas will disrupt existing routines and make many people uncomfortable. Those are growing pains. In the long run, that discomfort may lead to learning and longevity.

Many academic theories, including The Diffusion of Innovations [5] and the Strength of Weak Ties [6] , clearly show the benefits of learning from people who are different from one's self. It is from difference that people and organizations learn, if they can manage the tension that comes from that difference.

This was and is the promise of convergence.

It would not be easy, but if news organizations can learn from cultures that are very different from their own newsrooms, they might be able to better innovate new, meaningful news forms. These new journalistic forms, while based on the old values of helping people survive in a democracy, would harness the power of new technologies and meet the needs of relentlessly changing audiences.

This would require us to rethink the purpose of newsroom partnerships. Instead of looking for cheap or convenient or cool sources of news content, newsrooms would be seeking partnerships based on what they could learn from those partners – and what their partners could learn from them. This symbiotic relationship would exist more to evolve a disruptive newsroom culture than it would to provide content for tomorrow's newspaper.

As with any innovation, these types of partnerships would involve risk. However, taking that risk may help slow or even reverse an almost certain decline in this vital industry.

[1] Christensen, C. M. (1997). The innovator's dilemma: when new technologies cause great firms to fail. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press. Christensen, C. M., & Raynor, M. E. (2003). The innovator's solution: Creating and sustaining successful growth. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press. (Return)

[2] Dailey, L., Demo, L., & Spillman, M. (in press). Birds of a feather: Similarities and differences in cross-media partnerships. Newspaper Research Journal. (Return)

[3] Readership Institute Media Management Center. (2001). Impact quick-read summary: Background and research results for meeting participants. Retrieved Dec. 24, 2002, from (Return)

[4] Christensen & Raynor (2003); Dougherty, D., & Hardy, C. (1996). Sustained product innovation in large, mature organizations: Overcoming innovation-to-organization problems. The Academy of Management Journal, 39(5), 1120-1153. (Return)

[5] Rogers, E. M. (1995). Diffusion of innovations (4th ed.). New York: Free Press. (Return)

[6] Granovetter, M. (1973). The strength of weak ties. The American Journal of Sociology, 78(6), 1360-1380. Granovetter, M. (1983). The strength of weak ties: A network theory revisited. Sociological Theory, 201. (Return)

Larry Dailey is the Reynolds Chair of Media Technology at the University of Nevada, Reno. He worked with the Associated Press and MSNBC. Correspondence to


Conferences, Training and Calls for Papers
(Return to top)

The Newsroom of the Future, free, two-hour Newsplex webinar with Ken Doctor, Charles Bierbauer, The Wall Street Journal's Raju Narisetti, World Editors Forum's Cherilyn Ireton, architect Saf Fahim, and others.
Jan. 16, 2 p.m.


Cardiff University Community Journalism Conference
Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies, Cardiff, Wales
Jan. 16 index.html


Journalism Interactive
University of Florida, Gainesville
Feb 8-9


AEJMC Southeastern Colloquium
University of South Florida, Tampa
Feb. 28-March 2


Media and Civil Rights History Symposium
University of South Carolina, Columbia
March 21-23


American Copy Editors Society
St. Louis
April 4-6


Research Symposium of the Broadcast Education Association
April 7
Las Vegas


The International Symposium on Online Journalism
April 19-20
University of Texas at Austin


International Communication Association
June 17-21


International Symposium on Language and Communication
Izmir, Turkey
June 17-19


Job Listings

University of South Carolina: Assistant Professor, Science/Health/Risk Communication
Applicants should send a letter of application, CV, contact information for three references, and any supplementary materials to Dr. Sei-Hill Kim, Search Committee Chair, School of Journalism and Mass Communications, Carolina Coliseum, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208.
Review of applications will begin immediately and continue until the position is filled.

Tarleton State University: Assistant professor, one position in computer-mediated communications and a second in speech and interpersonal communication.
For more information on either position and to submit an application, visit The department requires a cover letter, resume and transcripts for these positions.
Direct questions to Dr. Charles Howard at or 254-968-9640.


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: Christopher Frear

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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 and reviews 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.The newsletter is published monthly except January and July. Please submit all articles by the 15th of the month to be considered for the next month's issue.

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