Media convergence: Can it work in smaller media markets?

For a time when I worked at the Longview News-Journal in the mid-1990s, the area NBC-TV affiliate, KETK, had a news studio in the basement of the News-Journal building. Given the longstanding antipathy between newspaper and TV reporters, it was strange to see the full-color NBC peacock and the call letters “KETK” emblazoned on the side of the red brick newspaper building. But the LNJ had empty space in its basement, and Tyler-based KETK needed a studio for its Longview reporters and production team, so the arrangement benefited both parties.

Photo illustration accompanying the Nov. 5, 2010, story about the partnership between the Longview News-Journal and KETK-TV.

During that same time, the newspaper and the TV station had another arrangement. The LNJ published KETK’s daily weather forecast, along with photos of the station’s meteorologists, and the anchors on KETK’s 10 p.m. newscast promoted the major stories that would appear in the next day’s News-Journal. This partnership lasted a year or two, and then faded out. KETK moved its studio to another Longview office building, and its call letters and the peacock came off the side of the News-Journal building.

I don’t recall a lot of dismay among newsroom reporters and editors about the News-Journal’s arrangement with KETK. Though we liked to make fun of the anchors and reporters on all three area stations, we could see the benefit of having our stories promoted on the nightly newscasts. None of us realized that the partnership between the News-Journal and KETK was an early example of media convergence; I doubt any of us knew what that was.

According to Dailey, Demo, and Spillman, as cited in DeMars (2009), the arrangement between the News-Journal and KETK was an example of the two lowest levels in their convergence continuum model: cross promotion and cloning. The LNJ promoted KETK’s weather and meteorologists, and KETK promoted the LNJ’s major stories.

The New Media City on a Hill

What once was old is new again

That was then, this is now: On Nov. 5, the News-Journal and KETK announced a partnership that goes further than just cross promotion. According to identical stories on the News-Journal and KETK websites, “You’ll see Longview News-Journal reports and staff featured on KETK and FOX 51. You’ll also see KETK and FOX 51 news team members in the Longview News-Journal and its partner newspapers” (Wesp, 2010, para. 5). This new affiliation would fit into Dailey et al.’s third and fourth levels of convergence: “coopetition” and content sharing.

Here are the definitions of Dailey et al.’s five levels of convergence activity, as cited in DeMars (2009):

  • Cross-promotion: Partners promote each other’s stories. For example, the TV station promotes stories that will be in the next day’s paper on its 10 p.m. news.
  • Cloning: Partners copy each other’s content, as in a newspaper publishing a local TV station’s weather report.
  • “Coopetition”: The partners both cooperate and compete with each other in the pursuit of news.
  • Content sharing: Partners “share repackaged content and sometimes even budgets” (p. 205).
  • Full convergence:  “The partners fully share in gathering and disseminating news, with a common goal of using each medium’s unique strength” (p. 205).

Some level of cooperation between newspaper and TV stations in smaller markets is becoming more common. Earlier this year, The Tyler Morning Telegraph joined forces with local TV station CBS 19 in a similar partnership. Morning-Telegraph reporters and editors appear on CBS 19 newscasts, and CBS 19 reporters write short stories for the paper.

Media convergence and the bottom line

In fall 2003, DeMars (2009) surveyed nine newspapers and 17 television stations in smaller media markets in Texas. Out of those, seven newspapers and 10 TV stations were working with other news media. A majority said their convergence efforts had been positive. Most said their primary reason to experiment with convergence was to better position themselves in the market; providing better service to the market was a close second. It seems that the glue holding these partnerships together is economics: the partners believe these arrangements will save or perhaps even make them money.

DeMars (2009) also conducted an ethnographic case study of convergence in Quincy, Ill., where one company owned the paper, the local NBC-TV affiliate, a cable-only Fox affiliate, local broadcast radio stations, and a website. He concluded that during the two years the newspaper and broadcast outlets worked together, the parent company benefited financially because of reduced costs. The quality of news-gathering didn’t suffer and, because all the media outlets were owned by one company, personal relationships and social networking were able to overcome the biases that print and broadcast journalists held about each other.

Finally, DeMars (2009) outlines three trends that he thinks will determine the future of convergence:

  • The addition of mobile media, including smart phones and now the iPad and similar devices, into the converged media mix.
  • New competition from Google and Yahoo! as they and other sites create and distribute local content.
  • The continued growth of citizen journalism through websites, podcasts, blogs, and video.

Economic pressure trumps technological advances and altruism

The findings of Keith & Silcock (2009) were somewhat different. They compared two examples of media convergence: The Arizona Republic’s partnership with KPNX-TV in Phoenix – both owned by Gannett Co. Inc. – and The Tampa Tribune’s partnership with WFLA-TV and Tampa Bay Online, also owned by the same company, Media General. Keith & Silcock did one round of interviews in 2002 and another three years later. While the Tampa arrangement hadn’t changed much, the partnership in Phoenix had. Having multimedia editors and a videographer working out of the paper’s newsroom didn’t turn out to be profitable. Newspaper circulation and television ratings didn’t go up. This confirms the suspicion that many media analysts have:

… that convergence has been as much a result of economic pressure as [of] technological advances and altruistic attempts to provide news in multiple ways to time-starved audiences. If the nation’s largest newspaper company, Gannett, cannot figure a way to make money from substantial, daily acts of convergence by a television station and newspaper under common ownership – one of the factors that usually promotes convergence (Quinn, 2005) – what does that suggest about the longevity of convergence partnerships between partners owned by different groups? (p. 226)

So, once again, does it all come down to money? Does the success or failure of convergence depend on how much it can cut media companies’ losses or boost their profits? I think the answer is a qualified yes. In the past couple of decades, most media companies seem to have mastered the science of losing money. They don’t need to adopt yet another way to generate red ink. But they can’t see a clear way ahead.

They are like the blind men in the fable who stumble onto an elephant and are trying to determine what it is. One man grabs the tale and says, “It’s like a rope!” Another blind man grasps one a massive leg: “No, it’s like a tree,” he says. A third seizes the elephant’s writhing trunk: “You’re both wrong. It’s like a snake,” he says. Each is right about the part of the elephant that he holds in his hand, but none of them has a clue about what an elephant really is. Media analysts, media owners, media scholars, and journalists – none of us – know how to successfully deliver news in the new media environment. We may grasp part of the new media “elephant,” but we can’t yet see the whole.


DeMars, T. (2009). News convergence arrangements in smaller media markets. In A.E. Grant & J.S. Wilkinson (Eds.), Understanding media convergence: The state of the field, pp. 204-220. New York: Oxford University Press.

Keith, S. & Silcock, B.W. (2009). Beyond the “Tower of Babel”: Ideas for future research in media convergence. In A.E. Grant & J.S. Wilkinson (Eds.), Understanding media convergence: The state of the field, pp. 204-220. New York: Oxford University Press.

McLellan, M (2010, Nov. 15). Key to culture change: Unlock the middle. News Leadership 3.0 [Web blog]. Retrieved from

Wesp, M. (2010, Nov. 5). KETK & Fox 51 to partner with Longview News-Journal. KETK Website. Retrieved from

Converging from media to medium: What’s happening to good journalism?

Ten years ago, Media General embarked on a grand experiment. It created the Tampa News Center, which combined the news operations of The Tampa Tribune newspaper, the NBC-affiliated WFLA-TV, and the Tampa Bay Online – – into one news organization. Media General spent $40 million on the 120,000-square-foot, four-story News Center, which houses all three news outlets. It was designed to encourage interaction and coordination among staff of the three media. Here’s how Dupagne and Garrison (2009) describe it:

The first floor (and, by extension, part of the second floor) houses two large WFLA production studios. The second floor provides space to both the WFLA and newsrooms. The third floor is home to the Tribune newsroom and executive offices. The fourth floor houses the WFLA executive offices. A central piece of the building is an atrium, which rises through the second and third floors. Lying in the middle of the atrium on the second floor is the so-called “superdesk,” a circular multimedia assignment desk where editors of the three news organizations work side-by-side. … The atrium is often an area bubbling with activity where employees interact and even pass on videotapes. (p. 188)

(I guess the Tribune newspaper either doesn’t have executives or they don’t have offices, because there’s no mention of them.)


View of the "superdesk" in the atrium of the Tampa Media Center


I think the layout of the News Center says a lot about the priorities of Media General: the TV studios are on the first floor and the TV and Internet newsrooms are on the second floor, while the paper’s newsroom is on the third floor. The TV station’s executive offices are above the fray on the fourth floor. The entire news operation is controlled by the “superdesk,” located on the second floor, close to the newsrooms of the TV station and Internet operations. In contrast, while Tribune newsroom staff can lean over the railing on the third floor and look down to see what’s happening on the superdesk, they have to go down one floor to have a direct conversation with the multimedia editors. I think placing the Tribune’s newsroom on a different floor from the TV and Internet newsrooms is a tipoff that Media General values the TV and Internet operations more than it does the newspaper. I was a newspaper editor and reporter for 20 years, and the location of various personnel and departments in a newsroom tend to reflect the newspaper’s power structure.

Three kinds of convergence

Dupagne and Garrison (2009) begin by defining three types of media convergence: technical, economic, and regulatory. “[T]he term ‘technical convergence’ is ‘the coming together of all forms of mediated communications in an electronic, digital form, driven by computers’ (Pavlik, 1996, p. 132; see also Blackman, 1998; Vallath, 2000)” (p.184-185). Economic convergence emphasizes a single business that operates multiple, integrated media platforms. And regulatory convergence is the melding of industry laws that previously regulated separate industries. The authors conducted their research of the Tampa News Center in June 2003, about three years after its creation.

While Dupagne and Garrison mention the fears of some critics that “a convergent newsroom would damage the editorial independence of news operations, reduce the amount of original content, and augment employee workloads without proper compensation” (p. 189), the gushingly positive tone of their article shows how enamored they are with the presumed benefits of convergence. In the best of all possible worlds, a converged newsroom would combine “the depth of newspaper coverage, the immediacy of television and the interactivity of the Web (Media General, 2003c, p. 4; see also Gabettas, 2000)” (2009, p. 188). It’s too bad we don’t live in the best of all possible worlds.

For their research, Dupagne and Garrison used a combination of documents and in-depth interviews to address three research questions:

  1. How do employees at the News Center define media convergence?
  2. What changes have journalists experienced on their jobs and in the newsroom since the creation of the News Center?
  3. What skills do news staff members need to function optimally in the convergent environment?

TV news benefits the most

The authors conclude that “shared resources benefit all interviewed journalists in the Media General News Center in Tampa, but the real winner seems to be the television news operation” (Dupagne & Garrison, 2009, p. 197). That fits in with my assertion that Media General values the TV and Internet operations more than the newspaper operations. And, sure enough, the journalists experienced changes in their jobs: “Most changes related to additional duties or responsibilities beyond those already stipulated in a single-platform environment ” [emphasis added]. (Dupagne & Garrison, 2009, p. 198). While their core work hasn’t really changed, the journalists are doing more work than they did before convergence.


The Linotype machine operator used a keyboard to set lines of type in hot lead to create page-sized plates that were used on the press.


This will not surprise anyone familiar with the news business: even back in the good old days when newspapers had big profit margins, owners and publishers were continually looking for ways to use new technology to replace employees and cut labor costs. That was the driving force behind the shift from hot metal typesetting, which required linotype operators, to “cold type,” produced by computers and phototypesetting machines. The next innovation was pagination, where computers are used to design and lay out pages that are sent directly to the machines that make the


Employees in the "back shop" trimmed the columns of type that made up articles in the paper, waxed the columns, and placed them on "flats," which were mockups of each newspaper page.


metal page-sized plates that go on the press. Pagination did away with the people in the back shop who used to cut and paste typeset stories on cardboard flats that were photographed and transformed into the page-sized negatives then used to make the metal plates.

Finally, Dupagne and Garrison (2009) found that, while 21st century journalists will have to be able to produce stories in multimedia formats, “good communication, reporting, and writing skills remain the bedrock of the news profession” (p. 198). Let’s hope so.

The Media General experiment: Ten years later

So that was the situation in 2003. But what is the situation now, in 2010, when several major newspapers, such as The Rocky Mountain News, have folded and others, such as The Christian Science Monitor, no longer publish a print edition and exist only on the Web? I was curious, so I did an extensive Internet search. Here’s what’s Alan Mutter, a former newspaper editor and reporter and current new media entrepreneur, has to say about the effects of convergence on today’s Tampa Tribune, WFLA, and

While hybrid newsrooms undoubtedly save money on everything from reporters to real estate, the journalistic improvements promised by Media General a decade ago are not evident at the combined news operation of the Tampa Tribune and WFLA, an NBC affiliate.

As advertised when the Florida newsrooms merged, print reporters indeed learned to work on camera and TV personalities began to contribute to the newspaper. But those efforts, which are presented today for the world to behold at, are, in a word, underwhelming.


The Media General News Center in Tampa


Instead of combining the assets of the newspaper and TV station in a single, dynamic website, is primarily a compendium of cheesy police news and out-of-market AP stories. If you follow the breadcrumbs on the website to the separate pages for the TV station and newspaper, you get nothing more than the sort of shovelware that populates the website of a mediocre broadcaster or publisher in a mid-sized market.

… Neither the newspaper, the TV station nor the website has an iPhone app, although the competing ABC and Fox affiliates in the market do.

The weak execution is understandable in light of the steep cuts Media General has made in staffing at the Tampa properties since they first were combined. Half of the 1,326 people working at the newspaper, TV station and website were cut in 2008 and subsequent layoffs and reorganizations have claimed more positions since then.

The gruel at this newsroom of the future is way too thin to woo discerning readers and advertisers. (2010, para. 11-16).

Not exactly a resounding recommendation for this widely cited experiment in convergence. Dupagne and Garrison (2009) reported that the number of News Center employees was basically the same in June 2005 as it had been in March 2000. So the number of employees has been reduced by more than half in the past five years.

This doesn’t mean that convergence never works, just that it’s not the savior of journalism that it seemed to be a decade ago. Convergence isn’t going away. In his blog post, Mutter (2010) speculates that the next big thing will be mergers between TV stations and newspapers. Given the example of the Tampa News Center, he’s not hopeful about the outcome. I think the success or failure of convergence comes down to a question of profit and resources: if a news organization has the profit to pay for the resources needed to operate a truly converged newsroom, then it will produce quality journalism. Without the necessary resources, it won’t. This is not rocket science. The difficult part is figuring out a business model that will produce the profit needed to support a converged newsroom – or any kind of newsroom, for that matter.

Such an environment is not likely to produce good journalism.

… [J]udging by the industry’s performance to date, … the news business willcontinue to marginalize journalism, as yesterday’s newsrooms transformthemselves into tomorrow’s market-driven, multimedia information utilities.(Wasserman, 2006, para. 4).


Breckenridge, P. (2000, winter). Wanted: A 21st century journalist. Drop the arrogance. Be interactive. Have technological savvy. Nieman Reports [Online version].Retrieved from

Covington, R. (2006, winter). Myths and realities of convergence. Nieman Reports [Online version]. Retrieved from

Dupagne, M. & Garrison, B. (2009). The meaning and influence of convergence: A qualitative case study of newsroom work at the Tampa News Center. In A.E. Grant & J.S. Wilkinson (Eds.), Understanding media convergence: The state of the field, pp. 182-203. New York: Oxford University Press.

Mutter, A.D. (2010, Sept. 1). Next big thing? TV-newspaper staff mergers. Reflections ofa Newsosaur [Web blog]. Retrieved from

Wasserman, E. (2006 winter). Looking past the rush into convergence: As technologydrives big newsroom changes, what will happen to journalism? Nieman Reports [Online version]. Retrieved from

Get thee behind me, New Media! I can resist you for half a day

For my New Media class this fall at UT Tyler, I had to go without using any new media — my iPhone, laptop, TV, radio, Internet, etc. — for at least half a day. Below is the first page of the three-page-long handwritten journal I kept of the experience.


First page of the journal I wrote during my new media "fast."


Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010
My house

9:15 a.m. A morning without new media and related electronic gadgets. I hadn’t planned to do this today, but  the electric company is trimming trees in our neighborhood, so the electricity went off at 9:15 a.m. I figured it was a sign, and I couldn’t do anything involving electronics without power, so I embarked on my new media-less adventure.


Oncor trucks doing something to the electric poles in our Tyler neighborhood on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010.


10:15 a.m. Sometime in the past few minutes the power came back on. I didn’t have any lights on in the room I’d been working in, so I don’t know exactly when it came on. I took the no-electricity opportunity to clean up maybe one-


View of my study from my recliner


twentieth of the clutter crowding my study. Several months ago, I moved a bunch of file boxes, stacks of books, and other assorted things around while I was searching for something (which I did NOT find). I’d never put the boxes and piles of stuff back, and they blocked me from using my small recliner. It’s in a corner, next to a tabletop fountain and a window, and is a good place to read. Plus, the light from the window would allow me to read without electricity. So I spent about an hour moving things around and carting some bags of clothes and other stuff out to my van so I can take them to Goodwill. I was just about ready to sit down and read when the electricity came back on.


Darwin, one of our four cats. The others are Heidi, Moseby, and Wallace.


10:35 a.m. I’m starting to read Huang’s “The Causes of Youths’ Low News Consumption and Strategies for Making Youths Happy News Consumers,” published in the International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies in 2009. “Happy news consumers”? That’s an interesting phrase. It must mean that they are or would be happy with the news choices that they have — NOT that the news makes them happy. [My hand is getting cramped from all this writing. It’s been MONTHS since I wrote this much by hand. My fancy Cross rollerball pen is heavy.]


Cleo wants to know why I'm not playing with her.


11:20 a.m. Reading is going slowly because Cleo, our rat terrier, wants attention. She keeps poking her nose in my lap, upsetting my lap desk with the journal paper and my yellow highlighter and pencil for notes in the margins. So I take time to play with her, pet her, and be smothered in licks. A man is talking outside in one of the neighbor’s yards. Someone is doing yard work. Cleo and Oscar, our springer spaniel, whine and bark when they hear the man.

My right hand was so sore from clutching my pen that I took my mittens that can be warmed in the microwave, warmed them up, then stuck my hand in them.


Cleo and Oscar


That helped a lot. The arthritis in my right hand is worse because I am on my laptop at least four or five hours almost every day. I grip the mouse too tightly for hours; then my hand is stiff and sore. During a conversation at the Health Science Center yesterday, I discovered that it’s the older doctors — the ones my age and older — who still use a mouse with the netbooks all the health-care professionals use now that we’ve gone to electronic medical records. All the younger doctors, the residents, and others use the touchpad on the netbook. Yet another generational divide in use of new media.

11:35 a.m. No more leaf-blowing going on next door, so I can hear the battery-powered clock on the wall ticking away. And the tabletop fountain is gurgling.

11:45 a.m. Getting sleepy, so I get up and go make hot chocolate in the kitchen. I also nuke the warmable inserts for my mittens so that I can warm my right hand again. It’s still a bit store, but better. I have read a grand total of four pages of “Making Youths Happy News Consumers.” I’ve fallen under the Slow Reading Spell again.


The tabletop fountain in my study


11:49 a.m. Mmmm. Fancy hot chocolate with hazelnut flavoring. The day is cool and bright and I’m not sitting in front of a computer screen typing or clicking away. Life is good.


Hazy view of the four o'clocks outside our dining room windows


11:57 a.m. Staring out our dining room windows at our sun-dappled tangle of four o’clocks. The shadows shift with the wind. Staring into nothing — day dreaming — woolgathering. I haven’t done this so freely in a while.

2:10 p.m. In the past couple of hours I finished reading “Making Youths Happy News Consumers,” while soaking my right hand in Epson salts and hot water. I took a shower and ate lunch. The first digital media device I used was my Nikon D40 SLR; I took photos of the view from my chair in my study where I was reading, and from the dining room table. Then I took a photo of the big electric company truck that has spent the day moving up and down the street.

Journalism: The journey continues despite the potholes and perils of new media

Journalism. Journey. Two very similar words.

“Journalism” comes from “journal,” which is, according to, “1. a daily record of occurrences, experiences, or observations. … 2. a newspaper, especially a daily one.” “Journal” in turn originated during the mid-14th century; it came down through French from the Latin diurnalis, meaning daily, Wikipedia says.

Journey” is “1. a traveling from one place to another, usually taking a rather long time; trip. … 2. a distance, course, or area traveled or suitable for traveling,” according to It is derived from the Latin diurnata, which means a day’s time.

So both journalism and journey come from the same Latin root, which seems appropriate. Good journalism takes the audience on a journey through the story. The journalist who crafts the story is essentially a mapmaker, laying out the route so that readers/listeners/viewers can follow it through to its destination. Good journalists draw clear maps with understandable directions, so that readers/listeners/viewers can follow the path and avoid hacking a new trail through thickets of unnecessary and confusing words or images.

This week’s readings are all about the journey that the field of journalism is taking through the still alien landscape of new media. None of us on the journey really knows where we are going, though more and more journalists – and those invested in turning a profit from journalism in the new media age – are offering maps of their own design. Some of the paths on the map look promising, but the destination remains unclear.

Every place has a story

Clark (2010) got me thinking about this, with her pitch for “location-aware” storytelling. She says:

Maps are powerful tools. In fact I’ve come to believe that the best journalism is like a map. It shows where you are in relation to others; it provides a sense of topography and can show the best path forward. Whatever the purpose is of a particular piece of journalism – breaking a story, investigating corruption, giving voice to the voiceless – when the job is done well, a new place in this world emerges or new understanding of a familiar one is gained. Effective storytelling helps citizens and communities discover where they are (sometimes by examining who they are). From there, they can better decide where they want to go. (para. 9)

She makes a compelling case for crafting stories that, using new media and location software, have lots of information about a place embedded in them. Clark describes “harnessing the fleeting but powerful investment that people have in a place when they are physically in it” (para. 24) through geotagging software and communication tools such as Twitter, Foursquare, and Gowalla. But rather than being overwhelmed by digital data about a particular place, journalists can filter and present relevant data and stories.

I see a world where narratives are draped on a landscape, and the news of a region is not just about what’s new. Place provides an alternative organizing principle for journalism, prompting questions about what forces – economic, political, environmental, cultural, personal – shape one spot in the world. (para. 26)

Using geotagged data and stories and new media devices such as smart phones, reporters can reconnect people to place.


The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler


I find this very intriguing. I work at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler, which is on the site of Camp Fannin, a base set up by the U.S. Army in 1942 to train infantry for World War II. After the war ended, the base was decommissioned and the federal government gave the state of Texas the base’s 1,000-bed barracks hospital and 614 acres for a tuberculosis hospital. Thousands of people with TB were treated there from the late 1940s through the 1960s. As the number of people with TB shrank because of new, more effective drugs, the state gave the hospital authority to treat other diseases of the chest.


Camp Fannin World War II Veterans Memorial


The hospital and its clinics joined The University of Texas System in 1977, and eventually became what it is now, an academic medical center with clinics, a hospital, and a biomedical research facility. So there are layers upon layers upon layers of narratives draped all over this specific piece of East Texas. It would be fascinating to point a smart phone at the Biomedical Research Center, for example, and learn that it was built in 1986, close to the site of Camp Fannin’s original barracks hospital, and that a new $11.3 million research wing was completed in 2005. You could also find out how much federal and private grant funding the center received last year, and see a profile of a particular scientist who specializes in lung disease research.

The really real versus virtual reality

My only concern is that, once again, people will be staring at their digital devices rather than observing the real world around them. So, will they really be more connected to that specific place? Yes, if they use that information to better understand the history of the place and put it in a broader context. No, if they just focus on the information coming out of their digital devices. Theoretically, a virtual reconstruction of an important moment in the history of a place could be more compelling than the place itself.

The results of Huang’s (2009) study of how youths from 15 to 30 get their news show just how compelling news presented on digital devices, particularly the Internet, can be. Surveys and interviews for the study were conducted in 2007, just as the first iPhone was being released, and most of the youths at that time found mobile digital devices such as smart phones too expensive and too complicated. Most of the youths preferred to get their news on the Internet. At least they say they are interested in news. They want to keep up with current events and they trust established news organizations. But they want to be able to access news anytime and almost anywhere. They want to control what news they access and how they access it. They don’t want day-old news from newspapers, especially when that news tends to be boring and depressing. And the TV newscast format is dated. However, with the Internet they have almost instant access to the latest news in an attractive and entertaining format.

The newspaper, as a social entity, has largely lost its roots among young people. … True convergence, based on the findings from this study, needs to be realized on the Internet. It is very likely that the “paper” part of newspapers will gradually become a nostalgic concept, and TV and radio will be assimilated into online news presentations. Enriching rich media on news websites to truly converge TV and the Internet is the future for the younger generation. (p. 118)

My sentimental journey


My morning ritual


I think the map of journalism’s journey through new media that Huang presents is plausible. Even though I grew up reading a daily newspaper, I now get so much more of the information that I need from the Internet. Maybe it’s taking this New Media class, but I already feel nostalgic reading my Tyler Morning Telegraph and Dallas Morning News every day. And I’m stopping my subscription to the print version of The Wall Street Journal because, again, I can get everything I want and need from the online version. I feel as if I’ve surrendered to the inevitable March of Progress, sad and guilty. I’ve tossed aside my trusted and well-creased paper map in favor of the latest digital GPS system. I just hope it doesn’t lead me astray.

Daniels’ (2009) study tries to determine if one converged news organization has taken the right road. He finds that convergence works well with enterprise stories and sports stories, because the print and TV media use their different resources effectively. But the arrangement doesn’t work as well with breaking news. Other non-converged news organizations seem to do as well on those stories. So the journey to full convergence continues, with the knowledge that it can work.


Briggs, M. (2009). Building a digital audience for news. In Journalism Next, pp. 310-334. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.

Clark, K. (2010, Summer). Journalism on the map: A case for location-aware storytelling. Nieman Reports [Online version]. Retrieved from

Daniels, G.L. (2009).On linkages and levels: Using theory to assess the effect of
converged structures on new products. In A.E. Grant & J.S. Wilkinson (Eds.),
Understanding media convergence: The state of the field, pp. 164-181. New
York: Oxford University Press.

Huang, E. (2009). The Causes of Youths’ Low News Consumption and Strategies for Making Youths Happy News Consumers. [Article]. Convergence: The Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 15(1), 105-122. doi: 10.1177/1354856508097021

Money, money, money, money: How much is the global commodification of culture costing us?

The chorus of the “The Money Song” from the Broadway musical Cabaret sums up the “cents” of this week’s readings:

Money makes the world go round
The world go round, the world go round
Money makes the world go round
It makes the world go round

A mark, a yen, a buck or a pound
A buck or a pound, a buck or a pound
Is all that makes the world go round
That clinking, clanking sound
Can make the world go round

Money, money, money, money
Money, money, money, money
Money, money, money, money, money (Kander, 1966)

Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles and Joel Grey as Master of Ceremonies in "Cabaret."

Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles and Joel Grey as Master of Ceremonies in "Cabaret."

In contemporary American civilization, everything is a commodity. The only value is economic: What is it worth in dollars and cents? Can it be produced, circulated, and consumed? And it’s not enough to enjoy our commodified culture here in the United States; we produce it for export worldwide so that everyone on Earth can consume it, whether they want to or not. And it’s the advent of new media – the Internet, smart cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, etc. – that has enabled us to do this.

Graham (2000) argues that these new media have created a world where “the spheres of production, circulation, and consumption” overlap (p. 133).

[S]ince the ascendancy of digital ICTs [information and communication technologies], the monetary system of exchange appears to have taken on an autonomous trajectory and existence; it appears to have become an end in itself. … It derives its conception as a system of “wealth creation” purely by the authority of the experts who concoct the abstractions upon which this global financial system thrives. … This massive and parasitic system of speculation includes trade in the most abstract of commodities, such as “credit derivatives, call warrants, roubles, and baht.” … But financial “commodities” have no intrinsic use-value whatsoever. They generate value only as long as they are continuously exchanged. (p. 134).

Graham could be describing the financial meltdown of 2008, which began when trading in similar ephemeral financial commodities ground to a halt because they lost their “use-value” in the minds of investors around the world. He continues:

Today, the “globalized” financial system of exchange values quite overtly mediates social perceptions of the relationships between space, time, power, and persons. … [P]eople’s perceptions, rather than concrete “things,” appear to be the primary objects of production in developed countries today. This is made possible by the advanced technological facility for people to commodify increasingly intimate aspects of social life, combined with the intrinsically human nature and functions of language and thought. (p. 134-135)

Thought has become a commodity, with language the way it is promoted.

Systemic capital has steadily increased its pervasiveness, and “free time” has become more and more a “shadowy continuation of labour [sic],” a complex space of economically productive “pseudo-activities.” In hypercapitalism, economically “productive” activities can now consume the entire waking life of people. (p. 136).

‘Exchange value’ vs. ‘use value’

So, they’ve got us right about where they want us. Everything we do is “economically productive,” though probably not for us. We’re consuming things, whether concrete or abstract, and things are commodities, meaning we have to exchange something of economic value for them: money or its equivalent. Or as Pink Floyd bassist Roger Water (1973) puts it in “Money“:

Money, get away
Get a good job with more pay
And you’re O.K.

Money, it’s a gas
Grab that cash with both hands
And make a stash

New car, caviar, four star daydream
Think I’ll buy me a football team

Money get back
I’m all right Jack
Keep your hands off my stack (Waters, 1973)

Graham (2000) discusses Karl Marx’s views of production and consumption, especially Marx’s concept that a commodity has an “exchange value” – what the commodity is worth in the marketplace – that is separate from its “use value” – what the commodity can be used for. If everything is a commodity, its usefulness is mediated by its marketplace value. “And that is what has happened: hypercapitalist production processes have commodified and industrialized almost every conceivable aspect of human social life, including life, birth, death, sex and thought” (p. 138).

Poster for the 1975 film, "Jaws."

It’s apt that I’m writing this on Halloween, because I find this scarier than all the fear generated by “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Jaws,” “Poltergeist,” and “Alien.” I’m much more afraid of the consequences of the commodification of everything than I am of a demonically possessed great white shark invading a haunted suburban development along with its sidekick, an unearthly reptilian with rows of razor-sharp teeth embedded in an extendable jaw.

Access to privileged knowledge

While new media have shaken up the existing order of things throughout history, today’s new media allow knowledge commodities to be produced, consumed, distributed, and exchanged almost instantaneously on a global scale, according to Graham (2000). And, just as in times past, this doesn’t herald the advent of an egalitarian Utopia, where knowledge and information is available to all. “The logic of a system historically based on more and less valuable and valid knowledges presupposes an intrinsic assumption of inequality between social contexts of knowledge production, and so between individual persons: it presupposes an economy of access to privileged knowledge” (p. 149).

According to Graham (2000), the illusion of value trumps utility: what is important is what something is worth in the marketplace, not whether it has any usefulness. “The role of value has become inverted, and social utility now appears to be mediated by a mute, brutal and illusory value system which is increasingly alienated from its source” (p. 152). This explains much about our society, from the obsession with Paris Hilton and other vapid celebrities who are famous for being famous, to the popularity of Fox News, with its hyperventilating commentators who market fear to build ratings.

In Crick’s (2009) poorly copy-edited article – it was obvious that it was spell-checked but there were too many typos for someone to have read it carefully for errors – he argues that we have to move beyond “corporate liberalism” in our discussion of how news will be produced and delivered in a way that will support democracy in this new media age. He cites Thomas Streeter’s definition of corporate liberalism as “the belief that democracy thrives in an unregulated sphere of ‘business entrepreneurialism’ guided by ‘a safely liberal vision of private profit-oriented individuals in an open, competitive marketplace’” (p. 482).

Lippman vs. Dewey

Crick (2009) frames his argument by analyzing a philosophical debate between journalist and political commentator Walter Lippmann and philosopher and educational reformer John Dewey that occurred in the 1920s, in the aftermath of World War I. Lippmann thought the war showed the limits of a democracy based upon the idea that citizens should be knowledgeable and informed about issues and leaders so that they can make rational decisions about public policy. Lippmann thought modern capitalist society was too complicated for that to work. Dewey thought it still was possible, with the aid of some publicly funded agencies of “social inquiry” (p. 494).

Crick applies the perspectives of the two men to today’s Internet, especially the blogosphere, concluding that – surprise! – freedom to communicate may be a “core democratic principle” but you need more to ensure democracy in today’s complex world. “[T]he blogosphere itself cannot provide answers to our problems. It is a tool only” (p. 495). Crick concludes that neither Dewey nor Lippmann gives us a blueprint for action, but they help us think outside the box, so to speak.

The financial theme also runs through the three other articles by Fisher (2009), Gahran (2010), and Moore (2010). Fisher outlines how converged newsrooms are likely to be more successful if they are organized in a way that supports convergence, and if managers receive training in how to run a converged newsroom. Good advice, but not likely to happen on a large scale. In my experience, even back in the good old days when newspapers’ profit margins topped 20 percent, newspaper management didn’t put much money into training. Now that newspapers are losing money and staffs are smaller, I just can’t see media companies hiring and training more managers. Gahran discusses how to structure stories by adding dates and links so that they have more value.

Moore talks about how pay walls – offering specific news or information for a price – aren’t productive in the long run. Instead, he describes how some news organizations are embedding information in their articles that allows them to track the articles as they spin around the Internet. Intriguing, but I don’t really see how it translates into money for publishers.

So, does money make the world go around? Or is it just a nice thing to have, as The Barenaked Ladies contend?


Crick, N. (2009). The Search for a Purveyor of News: The Dewey/Lippmann Debate in an Internet Age. [Article]. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 26(5), 480-497. doi: 10.1080/15295030903325321

Fisher, H. (2009). Developing media managers for convergence: A study of management theory and practice for managers of converged newsrooms. In A.E. Grant & J.S. Wilkinson (Eds.), Understanding media convergence: The state of the field, pp. 135-150. New York: Oxford University Press.

Gahran, A. (2010, August 19). Structure news: Make useful connections to build your news business [Web blog post].Retrieved from:

Graham, P. (2000). Hypercapitalism: A political economy of informational idealism. New Media & Society, 2(2), 131.

Kander, J. [Composer] & Ebb, F. [Lyricist]. (1966). The money song. [Recorded by J. Grey & L. Minelli]. On Cabaret. New York: ABC Records.

Moore, M. (2010, August 18). Media shift: How metadata can eliminate the need for pay walls [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Page, S. & Robertson, E. (1993). If I had a million dollars. [Recorded by The Barenaked Ladies]. On Gordon [Record]. New York: Reprise Records.

Waters, R. (1973). Money. [Recorded by Pink Floyd]. On The Dark Side of the Moon [Record]. London: Abbey Road Studios.

What is newsroom culture? And why should anyone care?

During the 20 or so years I spent working as an editor and reporter at two small daily papers in Texas, there was one ritual that seldom varied. One or more reporters and/or editors would gather around the newsroom television to watch the local evening news. The purpose was to make sure the TV stations hadn’t scooped us, that tomorrow’s paper would have all the important news that readers had seen on local TV the night before.

WNBC-TV news anchor Chuck Scarborough, right, with co-anchor Lynda Baquero at NBC Studios in Manhattan.

Well, that was the stated reason we watched the newscasts. However, it was also an opportunity for us to smugly note how many of the stories on those newscasts had been published in that day’s paper. What would the TV reporters do if they didn’t have us to get their stories for them, we’d ask. They just rip their stories from our headlines, we’d say. The irony that we were doing exactly the same thing – watching their news broadcast for any stories we might have missed – escaped us. It was (and probably is) part of the newsroom culture in newspapers to disparage TV reporters and their stations. We were just expressing our cultural solidarity by reaffirming our superiority as print journalists.

This week’s readings focus on newsroom culture and how it can advance or hinder journalists’ innovative use of the Internet and their willingness to work with journalists from other media in a convergent environment.

The Jetsons

Steensen (2009) examines the cultural forces that prevent new Web-based technology from being fully exploited in newsrooms, as well as the factors that influence the development of innovation in online newsrooms. He is concerned with “the firm grounding of theoretical abstractions in empirically based newsroom production studies, rather than the technological determinism and utopian prophesies that marked earlier new media research” (p.821). In other words, despite the amazingly rapid creation and transformation of the Internet – which was almost unknown to the general public until the 1990s – we’re not living in the media equivalent of the world of “The Jetsons.”

How innovations develop

In his review of literature on innovation, Steensen (2009) argues that the way to investigate innovation is by examining “the interaction of structural influences” and the actions of individuals (Slappendale, 1996, p. 109)” (p. 823). He cites work by Boczkowski published in 2004:

(Bockzkowski) identified three factors as important in how such innovations develop – all focusing on the structural characteristics of the organizations: the closeness of the relationship between the print and online newsrooms; whether the online newsroom reproduces editorial gatekeeping or finds alternative work cultures; and whether the intended audience is represented as consumers or producers, as technically savvy or unsavvy (Boczkowski, 2004, pp. 171-172). (p. 824)

Steensen conducted an ethnographic study of, a Swedish online newspaper that launched an online feature section in 2002. He conducted four months of ethnographic observation of the newsroom – as well as extensive interviews – over a three year period. I was fascinated by his study and his insights about issues of autonomy and democratic leadership. He contends that a theory of innovation in online newspapers has to include “newsroom autonomy, work culture, the role of management, the relevance of new technology and innovative individuals” (2009, p. 821). Steensen says the factors that influence innovation are both integrated and complex, and they often depend on the actions of individuals. Each newsroom work culture is unique, and an approach to innovation that works in one newsroom may not work in another one.

Newspaper newsroom

Filak (2009) discusses newsroom culture and how it has been and continues to be an impediment to change. Eighty percent of newsrooms have a defensive culture, Filak says, citing a 2001 study by the Media Management Center at Northwestern University. “Defensive cultures resist change and eschew collaboration outside of their cultural group” (p. 118). As a thoroughly indoctrinated former member of newsroom culture, I think Filak is mostly correct: journalists tend to be defensive and so they create a defensive culture.

However, there are concrete reasons for this. Many citizens have an “us versus them” attitude about the media and its representatives. They belittle journalists – sometimes to their faces – and disparage the job that they do, while at the same time consuming articles written by the people they profess to despise. Journalists are like cops: many of them grow defensive and cynical because they deal with people every day who they know are lying to them about something. Journalists also tend to be outsiders; they see themselves as observers, not necessarily as active participants in the world around them. And then there are the people who let you know that your story has ruined their lives. Few journalists have been spared this condemnation.

Journalist as ‘confidence man’

Finally, for many journalists, there’s that uncomfortable feeling of guilt that maybe you have ruined someone’s life. In The Journalist and the Murderer (1990), Janet Malcolm strips away the platitudes that journalists hide behind, such as their stated dedication to ferreting out the truth and the public’s right to know. She bares the journalist’s soul.

Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people’s vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse. (Malcolm, 1990, p. 3)

When the article is published or the story airs, the subject of the story realizes that his story has not been told; the journalist has instead told her interpretation of the subject’s story. Malcolm contends that what really upsets the subject is the deception the journalist uses. The journalist who seemed so sympathetic and supportive while interviewing or shadowing the subject as he went about his daily life was just feigning compassion to get the story.

Filak (2009) discusses several theories that have been used to study newsroom convergence, where print and broadcast reporters and editors are trying to work together to survive and thrive in today’s complex and confusing media world. He describes social identity theory, which argues that each individual is defined by the groups that he or she belongs to or identifies with. Then he outlines three different models that can be applied to newsroom culture:

  • decategorized contact model – individuals’ awareness of their group identity fosters group-based biases;
  • common in-group identity model – previously competing factions are encouraged to create a common in-group; it’s no longer “us” versus “them”; it’s now “we.”
  • mutual intergroup differentiation model – rather than breaking down boundaries between groups, you emphasize the positive aspects of each group and promote interaction to reach a common goal.

Filak favors the mutual intergroup differentiation model because it lets individuals play “to their strengths while advancing a common goal of information gathering and storytelling” (p. 129).

Today journalists in all media are having difficulty finding their footing in the shifting sands of news delivery and consumption. How will news and information be delivered? Who will decide what is news and what information is needed? Who, if anyone, will pay for this information or for the analysis of this information? Answers to these questions remain elusive, and it’s hard to see what the “new normal” will be in this field in five or 10 years. But Steensen and Filak offer insight into how we might be able to figure it out.


Filak, V.F. (2009). Culture, conflict, convergence: A theoretical discussion of group-based identity and bias reduction in a converged newsroom. In A.E. Grant & J.S. Wilkinson (Eds.), Understanding media convergence: The state of the field, pp. 117-134. New York: Oxford University Press.

Malcolm, J. (1990). The journalist and the murderer. New York: Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, Inc.

Steensen, S. (2009). What’s stopping them? [Article]. Journalism Studies, 10(6), 821-836. doi: 10.1080/14616700902975087

Journalism: What Value Does It Have, Anyway?

Unlike the readings from last week, week seven, these articles did not require the literary equivalent of a machete to slash a way through pages and pages of impenetrable prose in order to arrive at the sacred temple of understanding. This week’s readings were relatively straightforward. Yet they still left me feeling bewildered, not knowing which way to go, in a metaphorical sense, and despairing of ever finding my way.

The more I know about the wonders and miracles of the new media and its Internet connections, the less I seem to understand. There are so many shiny bells and whistles and distractions, all clamoring for my attention. And it seems the shiniest ones with the latest technical gadgets are often the least important. For example, watch the video promoting Flipboard for iPAD. Note how the guy using Flipboard is so intent on seeing what his friends have sent him to read or view on his iPad, that he ignores them when they walk up to him.

My bewilderment began with the article by Legrand (2010) on how to make videos more interactive. Some of his suggestions are quite simple, such as allowing viewers to comment on a video and then responding to their comments. But others involve building a virtual studio in Second Life – a virtual reality site – or using wikis or a “collaborative mindmap” (???) to ask for help from potential viewers when preparing a video interview. It seems the ways to interact with your audience are limitless, but the time you can devote to mastering them is not.

And will the content that is communicated matter to anyone? So much of the focus in new media is on the channels of communication, not the content. There’s also a tendency, I think, to “dress up” the content to make it as dazzling as the channels it’s flowing through. Scandal, gossip, and titillating revelations lend themselves to bells and whistles. The danger is that the “information” or “news” may be the new media equivalent of the emperor’s new clothes: when you look at it closely, there’s nothing there.

Social movement organizations and alternative media

Photo of the 1976 Philadelphia Bicentennial Celebration, by Jim Ryan

No one talks about all the time spent perfecting how your content is presented and communicated, how it looks and sounds. We only have so much time, and time spent creating a stunning presentation is time not spent creating meaningful content.

Stein (2009) discusses how – and if – social movement organizations (SMOs) are using the Internet to communicate their messages to potential supporters and donors and to receive feedback from these audiences. In her research, conducted from February through May of 2006, Stein doesn’t mention social media, per se. Rather she focuses on how the SMOs’ use their websites to interact with their audience.

[C]ommunication scholars have suggested that the internet can serve as an important resource for social movement communication, providing movements with communication opportunities not available in the mainstream media or alternative forms of movement media. Social movements can use the internet to bypass mainstream media gatekeepers or repressive governments and communicate directly with their constituencies and the broader public. (2009, p.750)

Stein (2009) cites research that equates movement media with alternative media, in that the goal of both is social change and the undermining of the power structure.

Logo of The Rag, an underground newspaper in Austin, Texas, in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

When she mentioned alternative media, I thought of The Rag, an underground newspaper that operated in Austin in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was definitely alternative media, featuring news coverage and commentary on the Vietnamese War and the peace movement, as well as civil rights issues, student freedom issues, and the ‘60s counterculture.

And it was influential, as I know from my own experience as an Austin High School student at the time. Some college-age kids tried to sell The Rag on the Austin High campus one day and were summarily escorted off the property. It was a subversive newspaper, and the Austin power structure at the time didn’t like it. The Rag was published on cheap newsprint and the layout wasn’t very attractive; it was very old media. But its content could motivate people to action, and that is the point of social movements.

The results of Stein’s analysis of a random sampling of websites run by national social movement organizations in the United States reveals that most aren’t taking full advantage of their websites’ potential. While most do provide information about their social movement or cause, only about one-third frequently use their websites to coordinate actions and mobilize their supporters. Just one-third commonly use their websites for fundraising and resource development. And almost half frequently link to other organizations and resources that support or benefit their causes. Very few use interactive techniques or encourage dialog on their sites, or allow for creative expression from their supporters. It may be that they lack the resources needed to fully exploit Internet technology, or their goals and strategies may not fit this technology. For example, some SMOs may not feel that computer-mediated communication is the best way to build trust and reinforce the commitment of its members.

Social movement organizations and social media

This research was done in early 2006, before Twitter and before Facebook was open to the general public. I wonder how the SMOs are using social media to communicate and inspire their followers. Social media seem very well-suited to organizing people, promoting feedback and dialog, and keeping people in touch with what is going on. And a Facebook page or Twitter account doesn’t cost anything to keep up, except, once again, time.

Finally, Wilkinson (2009) attempts to outline what “our field” – journalism – is, and what unique value it brings to the world. Sadly, much of what he discusses implies that it’s not really worth all that much, and other fields are rapidly invading “our” territory. He examines four professions that are content providers and manipulators in the new media world: art and architecture, law, medicine, education, and government. These areas are developing their own “media specialists” (full disclaimer: I am a media specialist in the medical world). “Practitioners in these fields are also creating messages for mass audiences. By creating content with entertainment and information value, using digital technologies and delivery systems, we have entered a period of social and economic Darwinism” (p. 99). I fear this evolutionary struggle will result in survival of the most entertaining – in other words, the news and information decked out in the trendiest media fashions. And that is probably not a good thing.

Then Wilkinson composes two daunting lists of qualities and expertise that a journalist needs today. No one could possibly master all of these skills well enough to do the associated tasks. And, again, the focus is on the form the information takes, not the information itself. But the form is useless without the content. Wilkinson throws journalists a sop, when he says, “The tools of journalism are the critical thinking and interpersonal skills – dealing with people that journalism educators have championed since the beginning” (p. 110). The problem is that fewer and fewer people seem to understand “critical thinking.” They don’t use it to evaluate the information they receive, so how can they value it in others?


Legrand, R. (2010, Aug. 17). 10 Ways to make video a more interactive experience

[Web log post]. Retrieved from

Stein, L. (2009). Social movement web use in theory and practice: a content analysis of U.S. movement websites. [Article]. New Media & Society, 11(5), 749-771. doi: 10.1177/1461444809105350

Wilkinson, J.S. (2009). Converging communication, colliding cultures: Shifting boundaries and the meaning of “our field.” In A.E. Grant & J.S. Wilkinson (Eds.), Understanding media convergence: The state of the field, pp. 98-116. New York: Oxford University Press.