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.
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.
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 http://www.knightdigitalmediacenter.org/leadership_blog/comments/20101114_serious_about_culture_change_work_the_middle/
Wesp, M. (2010, Nov. 5). KETK & Fox 51 to partner with Longview News-Journal. KETK Website. Retrieved from http://www.ketknbc.com/news/ketk-fox51-to-partner-with-longview-news-journal