The Convergence Newsletter
The Convergence Newsletter

From The Newsplex at the University of South Carolina

Vol. IX No. 3 (April-May 2012)

Convergence requires learning to use all the tools in the box

By Chris Frear

Yes, blogging is journalism, writes West Virginia University's Bob Britten in this month's edition, because like any other tool we can use a blog to build whatever we choose. Teaching students how to use the blog form to connect with communities, not just voice their own opinions, remains the key component of using blogging to create journalism.

The Convergence Newsletter welcomes articles and feedback on any topic related to digital convergence.

The newsletter is a perfect place for a description of front-line issues or for gestating ideas that 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


Quick Glance Calendar (Details)

May 9-11: International Conference on Communication, Media, Technology and Design, Istanbul, Turkey

May 12-28: International Communication Association conference, Phoenix

May 17-19: International Association for Literary Journalism Studies Seventh International Conference,
Toronto, Canada

May 30-June 2: 11th Annual Hawaii International Conference on Social Sciences, Honolulu

June 10-13: International Symposium on Language and Communication, Izmir, Turkey

June 15: Deadline to submit papers for the 11th Annual Convergence and Society Conference:
Advancing Business Journalism and Convergence, Columbia, S.C.

Aug. 9-12: Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference, Chicago

Sept. 27-28: 11th Annual Convergence and Society Conference: Advancing Business Journalism
and Convergence, Columbia, S.C.


Featured article

Tools, not Toys: The Blogging and Interactive Journalism Course

By Bob Britten
West Virginia University

You've probably, even now, encountered that delightful old chestnut, "Is blogging journalism?" You might as well ask "Is writing journalism?" or "Is getting an expensive haircut and having your image broadcast to viewers journalism?" The tool is not the thing; one can use a hammer to build a church or a brothel. Yet when proposing the incorporation of blogging and social media tools into your curriculum, you may get some opposition. Some of it may even come from yourself (and that's not a bad thing).

In the face of that skepticism, whether internal or external, consider not the tools but what you want to do with them. I teach a course called "Blogging and Interactive Journalism," which is admittedly a bit unwieldy as titles go. My initial idea was "Connective Journalism," but my dean suggested something a little more explicit about the course content. (Would you know what that course was about?)

On the other hand, I stand by the idea of connectivity as being at the heart of the course. I'm not interested in teaching a class about technology, but I am interested in teaching a class about using social media's connective, network-based nature to become effective mass communicators who can interact with readers in a variety of communication channels. Consider the expected learning outcomes for my course:

  1. Write regularly on a focused subject
  2. Identify and connect with communities
  3. Produce and promote a team publication
  4. Use social media tools to conduct and disseminate journalism
  5. Recognize HTML and write some basic code

You'll notice that only the last point makes explicit reference to any specific technology, and point four could easily refer to any medium. Otherwise, you could be looking at a typical beat reporting class. The only differences are that the writing is online, as are some (but not all) of the tools and interactions.

My students start the semester with personal blogs on a focused topic that requires engaging with and reporting on existing communities (no diaries, no "my crazy life," and no "expert advice" blogs – you're not an expert yet). These are updated at least twice a week throughout the semester. Engagement is why I ban all those above topics, which are one-way, preaching-from-the-mountain approaches that assume the Internet exists so you can be heard. I try to impress upon my students that you will be heard, but only if you also listen and participate rather than simply spouting your self-professed wisdoms to the electronic ether.

Oh, and no recipes, either.

This goes to the teaching of transferable skills. An example I'm fond of is one of my past students' personal blogs, which was all about being an apartment-bound student living with a cat (you're riveted, I can tell). It wasn't hard journalism by any stretch, but it didn't need to be – that comes later in the semester. Her blog consistently received the most traffic in class. She had active comment sections, engaged with her commenters and with like-minded bloggers, and posted a variety of news and stories from her readers about their area of interest. Which happened to be cats.

By the semester's midpoint, my students must conceive, plan, report and write for, and promote group blogs on subjects specific to the area (e.g., rental housing). My catblogger [1] found she had developed a strong set of engagement skills. She was comfortable with finding communities, engaging with them, and drawing on their feedback to identify the stories relevant to them. In this sense, engaging with cat enthusiasts isn't much different from engaging with college Republicans; it's all based on who's willing to do the legwork.

Another key element of the class is "Social Media Challenges," semi-weekly assignments designed to get students using familiar technology as a tool rather than a toy. They're meant to help students understand how to use social media to follow relevant sources, forge connections, mobilize existing connections, and synthesize new ideas via those connections. If I hadn't said "social media," that description could be from any journalism text. It's shoe-leather journalism without the shoes.

Here's just one example. I've had students ask "The Facebook Question." How many Facebook friends do your students have? Who has the most? How often do they actually use that network – each node of which has its own knowledge, expertise, and experiences – rather than just spouting off to it? In this assignment, students write an earnest question without a single right answer and watch your network mobilize (it's also dandy for deciding which HDTV to buy). What responses do they get? How do they engage with the responders (replies? likes?)? Did they hear from anyone they don't usually hear from?

They're often amazed at the wealth of answers they get. To underscore the point, I show them a screenshot of a status update that read simply "Help!" It got a "What's wrong?" within minutes. At the professional level, though, the ability to mobilize social networks is at play at forward-thinking newspapers and stations around the country. Check out the Oregonian's Facebook page. Amid the straightforward story posts are those that query readers ("How will the plastic bag ban affect you?") and even invite them to assist ("Are you using Google+? Let us know what you think!").

Developing a connective skillset is vital for any budding journalist (as well as the sprouted and bloomed ones), but it's important not to let the technology blind you to the principles. At the end of the day, to do connectivity right, you've got to focus on several key objectives:

  1. Learn the apps, but focus on the skills
  2. Use social media connectivity to follow, forge, synthesize and mobilize
  3. Teach to participate, not just take
  4. Find the journalism

Any new technology will draw apostles and detractors, but principled users define what can be done with that technology. Play with it. Break it. Have your students do the same. If you base your teaching on what the outcome is (great journalism and mass communication), it shouldn't matter what the tools are.

Now get out there and find your own cat people.

Bob Britten is an assistant professor in the P.I. Reed School of Journalism at West Virginia University. You can see or steal his course readings, assignments, and other ephemera at, and you can follow the course conversation on Twitter at #WVUblogJ.

[1] Strictly speaking, this is an incorrect term. The student in question once referred to another writer on her blogroll as a "catblogger" and was politely informed that the term is only used if the blog is written from the perspective of the cat. Every group has its jargon. (Return)


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

International Conference on Communication, Media, Technology and Design Istanbul
May 9-11


International Association for Literary Journalism Studies 7th International Conference Toronto
May 17-19


International Communication Association conference
May 24-28


11th Annual Hawaii International Conference on Social Sciences
May 30-June 2


International Symposium on Language and Communication
Izmir, Turkey
June 10-13


11th Annual Convergence and Society Conference: Advancing Business Journalism and Convergence
University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C.
Deadline to submit research papers: June 15
Conference: September 27-28


Annual Conference, Association of Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
August 9-12


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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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.

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