The Convergence Newsletter
The Convergence Newsletter

From The Newsplex at the University of South Carolina

Vol. IX No. 9 (November 2012)

Researchers seek information literacy in the age of convergence

By Chris Frear

The new technology explosion demands that newsrooms, advertising and public relations agencies, and mass communication programs continually adapt to new forms and practices. The new technology also requires that media audiences learn and maintain new skills for information literacy so they can find, filter, evaluate, and use information.

In this issue, Alex Gorelik and Anton Bezuglov of Benedict College report on their experiment to determine how students seek and evaluate information. Their pilot study used T.D. Wilson's framework of information-seeking behavior to record students' choices among reference works as the students searched for the answer to a question. They found that students' impatience to find a clear answer can trump even their knowledge that a single information source may be suspect.

The explosion of information also makes it easier – and useful – to evaluate the performance of journalists. The second article in this edition recaps Chris Roush's pointed review of business journalism leading up to the financial crisis of 2008. He delivered the address at the 11th Annual Convergence and Society Conference in September. Roush, the Walter E. Hussman Sr. Distinguished Scholar in Business Journalism at North Carolina-Chapel Hill, combined interviews with editors and a rereading of news coverage to assess how business journalists performed. Roush concluded that they largely did their jobs to inform and warn readers but that lawmakers and regulators weren't listening.

The Convergence Newsletter provides a place to describe front-line issues for practitioners and for professors training a new generation of reporters and editors. 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 You can comment on all articles at The Convergence Newsletter blog. View past newsletters at


Featured Articles

Information-Seeking Behavior of College Students:
A Pilot Study at a Historically Black College

Convergence Conference: Rereading business journalism before the meltdown


Quick Glance Calendar (Details)

Dec. 1: Paper submission deadline, Research Symposium of the Broadcast Education Association, Las Vegas

Dec. 3-4: Annual International Conference on Journalism & Mass Communications, Singapore

Dec. 10: Paper submission deadline, AEJMC Southeastern Colloquium, Tampa, Fla.

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 articles

Information-Seeking Behavior of College Students: A Case Study at a Historically Black College

By Alex Gorelik
and Anton Bezuglov
Benedict College

The scope and volume of information at our disposal is unprecedented, and the mounting evidence suggests that the ways we approach it are changing significantly as well. Media convergence has triggered fundamental changes in the way media professionals, as well as media audiences, process and evaluate information. As media educators, we are faced with this challenge on two levels.

We must continually refocus our curricula to address new technology platforms, new patterns of audience behavior, new business models, and new market alliances in mass communication. Current literature on information and learning design covers an extremely wide scope, spans multiple disciplines, and suggests a range of approaches based on technology, design, or policy. When discussing the role of information literacy in education, researchers typically address academic performance, learning practices, and course design as well as student engagement (or disengagement).

On the other hand, information literacy remains very much a personal skillset for our students. It manifests itself in a certain level of technical proficiency and – more importantly – in the ability to efficiently search for information; evaluate its relevance, accuracy, and completeness; and disseminate it effectively. A behavioral model of an information user, suggested by Wilson (1994), provides a still-valid framework for concisely describing the complexity of information literacy skills. [1]

This study uses the framework of Wilson's model of information behavior to focus on several central components – specifically, the participant's definition of information-seeking behavior, need, success, and demands on information systems. The study aims to create a snapshot of students' behavior as they use competing reference sources to search for information and evaluate it.

Method: An experiment in the use of reference works

The scope of the research was restricted to Benedict College, a private four-year college in Columbia, S.C. The current enrollment of nearly 3,000 consists of mainly undergraduate students of African-American descent, making it one of the largest historically black colleges or universities in the U.S.

Student volunteers (n=43) came from majors in mass communication/English as well as computer science/engineering. Each participant was given the assignment to find the meaning of solipsism, using only four available reference sources in any combination. A workstation provided to each participant was connected to the Internet and loaded with three reference resources: an electronic database of academic research articles (EBSCO), a searchable PDF reference book [2] , and a shortcut to Google. A hard copy of the Webster's Dictionary was available as the fourth reference source.

When participants used the search engine, a proxy server compiled specifically for the purposes of this study intercepted Google's responses. The results were altered to include a substitute link and description, formatted as the first result and indistinguishable from the rest of the page. The substitute then led the participant to a Web page discussing the definition of the visually similar but irrelevant term "solarism."

Data captured during the quasi-experimental stage were analyzed in conjunction with the participants' responses to an exit interview and supplemented with recorded observations.

Findings and Discussion: Speed and Clarity in Information Seeking

The students' information-seeking behavior was dominated by considerations of speed of access and clarity of information, with progressively lesser importance attached to relevance, accuracy, and convenience (sometimes equated with familiarity with the source).

Correspondingly, the demands on sources of information included speed of access as well as the ability to provide information in a succinct and straightforward way. The students valued the ability to get a definitive answer (an answer that does not have to be checked, clarified or corroborated) fast, as well as the ability to quickly clarify the information. Thus, the overwhelming preference for an Internet search engine may be predicated not only on the familiarity, ease, and speed of such systems, but also on their ability to provide concise, easily comprehensible information – consumed within the 70 or so seconds the students spent with each source. It has to be noted that the mass communication/English students were somewhat less reliant on the Internet search engine as a single source of information vis-à-vis the computer science/engineering students.

Success was conceptualized mostly as the ability to match the "answer," provided by the first available source, to the question. A quick and clear answer was preferred to an "authoritative" one that required further reflection.

About half of the students who were presented with the irrelevant "Google" result did not realize the information was incorrect and submitted it as the final answer. Most participants did acknowledge in some way during exit interviews the necessity to evaluate critically and then corroborate the information, but that was trumped by considerations of speed, clarity, and convenience of access. With each subsequent source of information they examined, the patience among students decreased.

Some students articulated their concern that a single source of information would not be enough, unless the source was recognized as authoritative. For example, one participant explained during the exit interview, "Google directs you to a number of sources, not just one, and if one can distinguish between the credible and not credible sources, one should use what is faster." Many also recognized the fluidity of the information presented by the Internet search engines. Another student remarked: "Things can be changed on the Internet, but the book stays the same, the information does not change. Therefore it is reliable."

While the study presented here is based on a small sample and therefore is restricted in both scope and applicability, it provides an important insight into the information behavior of the students in one of the largest HBCUs in the nation – a group that has so far been underrepresented in information and learning design literature. This exploration may result in more new questions than answers. Nevertheless, we believe it delivers an important "proof-of-concept" application of Wilson's framework, one that the researchers plan to expand to include students from other HBCUs as well as mainstream universities.

For example, looking at the gap between the self-reported level of information literacy and the actual performance on test tasks, as well as comparing the resulting data between HBCUs and mainstream academic institutions, may be an important direction for future research. As various forms of crowdsourcing become prominent in student and scholarly research, reviewing the impact of online interactions, as well as developing robust evaluative measures of the interaction roles and barriers, becomes another critical dimension of future research.

[1] Wilson, T. D. (1994). Information needs and uses: fifty years of progress. In B. C. Vickery (Ed.), Fifty years of information progress: a Journal of Documentation review, (pp. 15-51).

[2] The Concise Encyclopedia of Philosophy of Language (Pergamon, 1997, Peter V. Lamarque, ed.).

Alex Gorelik is the coordinator-director of the mass communication program and assistant professor of mass communication at Benedict College. Anton Bezuglov is assistant professor of computer science at Benedict. Correspondence to

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Convergence Conference: Rereading business journalism before the meltdown

By Chris Frear

Journalism professor Chris Roush said he knows business journalism protected some people from the 2008 financial crisis. He knows because his family heeded the journalists' warnings and moved its money out of stocks before the market dropped.

"It forced at least one family, mine, to take a hard look at its savings and retirement plan well before the market crashed. And when the market fell, more than half of my family's savings was in cash and money market accounts, not stock, not derivatives, and not housing. We'd read too many stories that there was too much risk in the market and something had to happen soon," the University of North Carolina senior associate dean and former business writer told the 11th Annual Convergence and Society Conference on Sept. 27.

Speaking as part of the Baldwin Business Initiative at the University of South Carolina, Roush closed his defense of business journalism's performance leading up to the global financial crisis with his strongest piece of evidence – his bank accounts. But for the first 40 minutes, he laid out a compelling case not just for recent performance but also for business journalism historically.

Roush identified three works ranked in the top 100 of 20th century journalism as business journalism: Ida Tarbell's History of the Standard Oil Company, Lincoln Steffens' Shames of the Cities, and Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. [1] Then he reeled off landmark reporting through the decades:

  • Upton Sinclair's 1906 The Jungle on the meatpacking industry.
  • A 1952 Reader's Digest report on the dangers of smoking.
  • Ralph Nader's 1965 Unsafe at Any Speed on car safety.
  • The 1977 Mother Jones article about Ford Pinto gas tank fires.
  • Data expert Bill Dedman's 1988 reporting on Atlanta bank redlining of minority neighborhoods that denied many of them loans.
  • The investigation in 2000 by Houston's KHOU-TV of Firestone tires on Ford Explorers causing rollovers.

More recently, a 2006 Harvard study determined that the business press reported nearly a third of accounting fraud cases before the Securities and Exchange Commission or the company disclosed an investigation. [2]

Roush said rather than quote articles and conclude the press did its job, he examined coverage in the most influential media, the kind of publications "with the power to carry the conversation": The Wall Street Journal, the business sections of The New York Times and the Washington Post, and Fortune and BusinessWeek magazines.

In 2000, The Wall Street Journal published a page one article about problems at Fannie Mae, the government-chartered mortgage-guarantee company. The next year, Fannie Mae summoned a Journal editor to Washington to complain, but in 2008, with the collapse of the housing bubble, Fannie Mae was put into federal receivership.

In 2005, the Journal wrote that derivatives created a huge problem and that if turmoil hit the markets, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers would have trouble remaining independent. Bear Stearns was bought at a deep discount by JP Morgan Chase in 2008, and Lehman Brothers was sold off in pieces after seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Article after article, Roush cited reporting by the largest publications clearly warning of trouble ahead.

In Roush's opinion, the decade from 2001 to 2010 produced more top-notch business journalism than in any previous decade: The 2009 Pulitzers had business reporting finalists in five categories, the most for one topic ever; and from 2001 through 2010, four business journalists won Pulitzers.

"We wrote about it. What didn't happen was the reaction among the legislative and regulatory realm. We don't have subpoenas, we don't have handcuffs, we can't stop this stuff," Roush said, quoting Times' business journalist Diana B. Henriques. The investigative and explanatory articles were "like a bad Christmas present," according to Henriques. "Nobody wants to open it."

In the end, that was the problem, Roush said. No one wants negative news and warning signals during a roaring bull market.

"It's time to stop blaming business journalists for failing to tell us precisely when to get out of the stock market or to sell our homes," he concluded. "If business reporters and editors could predict that, they wouldn't be business reporters and editors."

[1] New York University, Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, "The Top 100 Works of Journalism of the Century,"

[2] Miller, G. S. (2006). The press as a watchdog for accounting fraud. Journal of Accounting Research, 44(5), 1001-1033.

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Conferences, Training and Calls for Papers
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Research Symposium of the Broadcast Education Association
April 7
Las Vegas
Paper submission deadline: Dec. 1


Annual International Conference on Journalism & Mass Communications
Dec. 3-4


Journalism Interactive
University of Florida, Gainesville
Feb 8-9


AEJMC Southeastern Colloquium
University of South Florida, Tampa
Feb. 28-March 2
Paper submission deadline: Dec. 10


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


American Copy Editors Society
St. Louis
April 4-6


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

College of Charleston: Assistant Professor, organizational communication or media and society.
Send a letter of application, CV, unofficial graduate transcripts, three letters of reference, and teaching portfolio with teaching philosophy, syllabi, student evaluations, and sample student work to
Deadline: Nov. 30. Send materials by Dec. 7 for full consideration.


Wright State University: Assistant Professor Department of Communication
To apply, go to Include three multimedia work samples or a website, and contact information for three references.
Deadline: Nov. 30


Elon University: Professional in residence, multimedia
To apply, email a letter of application, C.V., links to online works, and contact information for four references to
Deadline: Dec. 1. Search continues until position filled.


Rutgers University: Assistant, associate, or full professor of media and politics; health, science, and media; or media and technological innovation.
For more information, visit
Submit application at Include a letter of application, CV, up to three representative publications, and names and contact information of three references. Direct questions to Dr. John Pavlik, search committee chair,
Deadline: Dec. 1.


Samford University: Assistant/associate professor, journalism or public relations.
Send letter of application, curriculum vita with references, and evidence of teaching effectiveness to Dr. Bernie Ankney, search committee chair, Journalism and Mass Communication Department, Samford University, 800 Lakeshore Dr., Birmingham, AL 35229. Telephone: (205) 726-2948; fax: (205) 726-2586, email:
Deadline: Dec. 1. Search continues until position filled.


Utica College: Assistant/associate professor, journalism and public relations.
Master's degree in journalism, public relations, mass communications, or related field required.
Candidate will be expected to develop multimedia courses.
Submit letter of application, curriculum vitae, three professional writing samples, and list of references online at: Applications must be submitted online.
Review begins Jan. 22 and continues until the position is filled.


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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