The False Promise of Media Convergence: A Manifesto

The three chapters on media convergence we read this week by Grant, Kodzy, and Kraeplin and Criado were intriguing, but they gave me a headache. It took me a while to realize it, but they also made me sad.

Despite discussion of all the bells and whistles and multi-media presentations and links and blogs and commentary and choices and smart phones and print-audio-video-news-entertainment-sports on demand that make up media convergence, two things seemed to be missing:

  • How does serious news attract readers, listeners, or viewers in the midst of this cacophony of media voices?
  • Who is going to pay the journalists and support staff needed to produce news of substance that conceivably could make a difference in our lives?

I understand that we really don’t know the answers to these questions, but it does seem we should be talking about them.

There was scant mention of working reporters’ ideas and attitudes about media convergence in these three chapters, except for this from Kolodzy:

More often than not, journalists distrust convergence. They view it as a marketing ploy, a way to promote the news as a “product,” emphasizing the business rather than the journalism in the news industry. They also view it as a management ploy, a way to get fewer journalists to do more work with fewer resources [emphasis added]. (2009, p. 32)

Most of the media representatives cited in these three chapters are from management: they are editors or news directors, not the reporters who gather and present the stories.

The hamster wheel

Media convergence is great for media companies: They combine resources and expand their audiences. For reporters, convergence is likely to mean more work; besides writing or broadcasting their stories, they now have to blog, tweet, Facebook, etc.

And, by opening up newsgathering and commentary to readers/viewers/listeners through interactive products such as blogs, media companies can increase their content without adding staff.

Starkman (2010) calls the “do-more-with-less meme” sweeping the media industry the “Hamster Wheel.” Journalists are producing more stories, more copy, more audio, more video than ever before, he says.

Story counts are up, but the stories are trivial. Newsgathering is driven by the need for an ever-updated website, a lot of Facebook posts, and tweets galore. If the media platforms aren’t constantly changing, then nothing much must be happening.

There’s less and less time for journalists to spend on in-depth reporting, because they have to produce more and shorter stories. The point is to generate more page views of the website. Investigative and in-depth pieces take time and don’t lend themselves to a quick turnaround, so they are not as desirable. That means potential investigative pieces aren’t being done.

A Luddite who loves new media

I realize that I sound like a Troglodyte, an 19th century Luddite ready to take my ancient pica pole and attack the nearest new media platform. But I love the new media.

Luddites attacking machinery in 19th century England.

When I write my weekly reading reaction, I have to resist the seductive lure of my Facebook page, Twitter account, and RSS feed on Google Reader. If I don’t keep checking, I might miss something. And if I do peek at my Facebook page, I invariably end up commenting on a post or replying to a friend’s comment.

Now I have this blog, which allows me to publish my insightful analyses of each week’s readings in “New Media: Theories and Applications.”

And it doesn’t end there: I can set up categories of blogs, so that I can inflict my perceptive observations and thoughtful commentary on a theoretically infinite number of readers/listeners/viewers.

And that’s the problem. There’s an infinite supply of something Stephen Colbert might call “newsiness”: It’s not really news, but it’s “news-like.” Knowing or understanding it won’t make a difference in anyone’s life, but it can entertain and distract.

In the distant past of the 1980s, I was a copyeditor at the Midland (Texas) Reporter-Telegram. On the days when I was in charge of laying out Page One, I would discuss what stories should go on the front page with the paper’s editor and city editor. There was always a tension between having the “hard” news that readers needed to know, vs. “soft” news that was entertaining or enjoyable.

The hard news items were mostly wars, disasters, and politics; the soft news items were celebrity profiles, lifestyle features, and uplifting articles. We used our judgment as editors to decide what readers needed to know. That may sound condescending, but we saw it as a public service.

What is missing in all of this media convergence is a similar level of judgment. It’s fine for a media outlet to have feedback from its audience, but should it let the audience determine what it covers? Will the audience be allowed to vote some news categories off the island?

Hard news serves a purpose

Hard news can make people uncomfortable, and people don’t like to be uncomfortable.

But, as we’ve discussed in class, people don’t change their attitudes and beliefs until holding those attitudes and beliefs makes them more uncomfortable than rejecting them. If media no longer make people uncomfortable and therefore open to change, what other institution in society is going to take on that role?

I find it telling that one of Kodzy’s primary examples of successful media convergence is the AOL Time Warner merger. That ended up being a fiasco, with Time Warner officially splitting from AOL within the past year. If there was any synergy from the deal, it died long ago.

Kodzy also mentions ESPN as a successful integrator of various media platforms: network, website, and magazine. But ESPN is all about sports, which is primarily entertainment. People want to be entertained; entertainment is unlikely to make them uncomfortable.

Kodzy (2009) cites a 2004 Pew Research Center survey that reported half of people under-25 saying they are “too busy” to follow the news regularly. Convergence can fix this, Kodzy implies, because it provides news in more than one platform and people can access the news when they want it.

I think this ignores the real problem that the Pew researchers uncovered: lack of interest in the news. Often when people say they are “too busy” to do something, what they really mean is that the activity is not important to them. For half of the people under 25, keeping up with the news is not important, and an easily accessible, 24 hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week constantly updated news platform is not going to change that.

Many people under 34 also prefer their news to be in a visual format. Unfortunately, hard news doesn’t always lend itself to visuals. Sometimes what is required is to read and think, rather like I’m doing in this reading reaction.

Three questions

Finally, here are three questions I have after reading chapters in Grant and Wilkinson (2009):

  1. Who benefits from convergence?
  2. Who receives the most benefits?
  3. Why does it matter?

It’s easy to romanticize the journalism of “the good old days.” Easy, but not very helpful. We have to deal with journalism and the media industry as it is.

However, that doesn’t mean we have to jump on the hamster wheel and embrace media convergence as journalism’s salvation. So far, convergence has been most successful in combining various technological platforms. Whether it will make or break journalism itself has yet to be determined.

References

Grant, A.E. (2009). Dimensions of media convergence. In A.E. Grant & J.S.Wilkinson (Eds.), Understanding media convergence: The state of the field, pp. 3-17. New York: Oxford University Press.

Kodzy, J. (2009). Convergence explained: Playing catch-up with news consumers. In A.E. Grant & J.S. Wilkinson (Eds.), Understanding media convergence: The state of the field, pp. 31-51. New York: Oxford University Press.

Kraeplin, C, & Criado, C.A. (2009). The state of convergence journalism revisited: Newspapers take the lead. In A.E. Grant & J.S. Wilkinson (Eds.), Understanding media convergence: The state of the field, pp. 18-30. New York: Oxford University Press.

Starkman, D. (2010, September-October). The hamster wheel: Why running as fast as we can is getting us nowhere. Columbia Journalism Review, online edition. Retrieved from http://www.cjr.org/cover_story/the_hamster_wheel.php?page=all

Advertisements

3 responses to “The False Promise of Media Convergence: A Manifesto

  1. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about your observations. I feel the same way, except for the fact I don’t LOVE the new media. For the most part I believe the technology is far ahead in development and we’ve forgotten to pay attention to journalism principles. There is room for both — that is the new part we have to figure out.

    On a side note, I miss in-depth reporting. I can understand this generation not having “time” to read the paper. The media claims they are only giving its public what it wants and how it wants it. But I do believe the media has some responsibility not to add to the “dumming down” of our society. We need to promote reading, understanding and interest in what goes on in the world around us today so we can be better people and better citizens.

  2. I feel conflict between what we call Media Convergence. The truth is online or in print media we must choose what to read, believe, and value. While it is important to have in-depth reporting, blogs might not be the best place for that. I think the newness of New Media itself is scary for me. Often I have to remind myself that just because something is in print, on a blog, or on a news channel doesn’t make it true. Even if it is true in some way or another I don’t have to agree with it or value it. How do we choose our news? Is it brought to us or do we seek it out? Does it have to be the old way or the new?

  3. I first have to say that wow you have taking this blogging to a whole new level. On that which i might reach on day. It looks 100 times better than mine. But now onto the actual topic at hand. I feel the same way as Tricia and Vanessa New Media is creating a few problems with the way we see the news. Most of the time it is a shallow story with little indepth reporting. At the same time we also have to be weary of what we read. These stories may not hold any credibility when we read blogs or other types of new media articles. I also think that we need to embrace both types of media. We have almost created a false dichotomy between the two medias. Really aren’t they just one in the same but they operate in a different manner? Maybe i my cake and eat it too. But we shouldn’t create a divide in our field that doesn’t have to exist. We should embrace the different types of medium and use them to achieve our goals.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s