Tag Archives: convergence

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 – TBO.com – 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 TBO.com newsrooms. The third floor is home to the Tribune newsroom and TBO.com 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 TBO.com:

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 TBO.com, 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, TBO.com 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).

References

Breckenridge, P. (2000, winter). Wanted: A 21st century journalist. Drop the arrogance. Be interactive. Have technological savvy. Nieman Reports [Online version].Retrieved from http://nieman.harvard.edu/reports/article/101780/Wanted-a-21st-Century-Journalist.aspx

Covington, R. (2006, winter). Myths and realities of convergence. Nieman Reports [Online version]. Retrieved from http://www.nieman.harvard.edu/reportsitem.aspx?id=100299

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 http://newsosaur.blogspot.com/2010/09/next-big-thing-tv-newspaper-staff.html

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 http://www.nieman.harvard.edu/reportsitem.aspx?id=100289

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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 Dictionary.com, “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 Dictionary.com. 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.

References

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 http://www.nieman.harvard.edu/reportsitem.aspx?id=102425

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