August 3, 2006
Convergence and Transmedia in the News Industry

In the August edition of The Convergence Newsletter, the e-mail newsletter dedicated to issues of convergence in the journalism industry that I wrote about here last month, David Hazinski writes a lengthy and provokative piece on what he sees to be the overreliance on convergence in the journalism industry.

Hazinski, who is not only the head of the broadcast news tract of Grady College at the University of Georgia but who is also a principal at Intelligent Media Consultants, starts his piece with an anecdote about discussing convergence with a high-ranking CNN executive who said that the word made him sick and was "yesterday's trend."

Of course, we here at C3 would argue to the death about convergence being yesterday's news. And I would especially argue it with someone at CNN, one of our corporate partners through Turner Broadcasting.

But the problem is how the word is used. As I made my way through Hazinski's piece, I realized that his focus was not really on what we call convergence--which has a transmedia focus that doesn't see everything converge into one black box. Instead, he's still stuck in this mode of thinking of convergence solely as this "uberjournalist" perspective that we discussed in J-school, where one journalist would be expected to perform in every media form.

Hazinski begs journalism programs around the country to stop trying to teach journalists to report in all media forms which "will result in them having little market value." Instead, he says that "it would be like training a doctor to know a lot about different kinds of health but not equip him or her with the skills to cure anyone." And I agree with him. This is precisely not what journalism programs should do. But that doesn't mean convergence doesn't work, merely that it can't be defined so narrowly.

I wrote a post last month about my experiences back at WKU:

Convergence as a principle was seen as the domain of the uberjournalist, an economic threat by the continuous conglomeration of the mass media to force fewer and fewer reporters to do more and more things by developing the ability to write a story for publication, post extra content online, do a radio broadcast about it, speak on television about it, carry a camera with them, etc...basically, it would eliminate the need for individual professions.

While the department was in turmoil at times trying to discuss this and ill feelings sometimes popped up, it was exactly the kind of discussion that journalism professors--and especially students need to be having--considering these are real issues. Convergence is just a buzzword, somewhat meaningless, as buzzwords tend to be, other than providing a lightning rod for discussion. But the issues that surrounded this word provoked important discussions and fears.

The fears were primarily among students finishing their training in a particular discipline, that their training would make them unqualified in a few years because they were specifically print journalists and hadn't honed their skills in other news delivery forms. Faculty fears ranged from having to work with other tracks which were viewed as inferior, being forced to dramatically alter content and, most of all, a fear that trying to create students who would be jacks-of-all-trades would make them masters of none.

Hazinski is right when says that the problem is that industry folks want to define convergence as "putting together print, broadcast and Web operations into one newsgathering engine." But it is not. Convergence is quite the opposite. Convergence means understanding what the meaning of each medium is and telling the story to the best of that medium's ability. When experts in each platform work together, the entire package will present the most informative product possible for its readers/viewers/listeners. But that does require some working knowledge of what people in other journalism professions do, even if it doesn't mean that you should become an expert in every field.

In that previous piece, I concluded with these points:

The problem is simply that convergence, as a buzzword, is too broad. As the word is sometimes legitimately used to mean the jack-of-all-trades journalists that would look awfully good on a spreadsheet of human resources expenses, I understand why so many professors were intractable in their opposition to even discussing convergence as a department. On the other hand, as I've written about before, the best thing that could happen to academia is breaking a few of those barriers that artificially divide disciplines and people--and this extends to the journalism world as well.

Convergence culture, in the larger sense that we study, isn't about watering down content but rather expanding it. And, for journalism, convergence done well leads to a better informed public and a news world where each medium is used to its full potential. The trouble is that many things done in the name of convergence are, in reality, against the very principles of what we are calling convergence culture. And, until the society adopts a more sophisticated language to discuss these issues, debates like the one we had at WKU are going to continue.

As Hazinski says, multi-tasking does have its limits. But I disagree with his premise that multi-tasking is a cornerstone of convergence. Maybe that is true in some people's definition of it. Knowing and understanding each platform, even while being an expert in one particular one of them, is not a "one-man band" approach to reporting the news.

And that returns to the principle that I have written about several times on this site, such as here or here or here: the importance of transmedia in any journalistic definition of journalism. A transmedia approach does not create an uberjournalist but instead cooperation. It doesn't lower quality but instead creates a better package for consumers. It takes into account Aayush Iyer's point--that each medium should stick to what it's good at.

The problem isn't convergence. It's our inability to find precision in our language to define what convergence is in the journalism setting.

By the way, this edition of The Convergence Newsletter also contains interesting updates about the state of convergence and new media forms in the journalism industries of Chile and South Africa that are worth a read as well.


On October 31, 2006 at 10:04 AM, David Hazinski said:


I think it's interesting that it took weeks for the link to become active to your response to my piece on emergence rather then convergence. I finally got to read it. Damned technology!

I am impressed with both your response and Doug's to what I wrote. Both pieces are very well thought out. Ironically, I think all of us are on somewhat of the same page even if we are approaching it from different angles.

I, for instance, agree with your assertions that journalists need to know how the other media operates in order to work with it, even if "working with it" includes only creating content that specialists would repurpose. Journalism schools need to embrace that. I have actually just proposed that my college at the University of Georgia completely rewrite its curriculum without regard to departments, teaching assignments, etc., concentrating on a two tiered approach where students would learn a basic set of skills that would include basics like writing, communcations law, and critical thinking but they would also learn layout, graphics, composition, shooting and editing video etc., before they went on to a professional focus area. We'll see where that goes, but there has been more initial embracing of the idea then opposition, which frankly surprised me.

I think the real key to our future, however, is what I focused on: acquisition. I stand by that. We now have hundreds more news outlets then we had 20 years ago, but I'll bet we actually have fewer people out gathering news. (I've never seen any research into this.) We are also using the same news editorial budgeting process we have always used, the "gatekeeper" function, applied to print or a newscast. The result is massive redundancy and the finessing of a small amount of content. It's justifiably turning audiences off. We have concentrated as industries on processing...bringing in big name stars in TV or lots of "opinion" in both TV and print... because it's cheap. It isn't working.

I would argue the next 'cheap' trend, "citizen journalism" is also not going to work. It's basically rumor and comment, which does have followers but won't have long term legs.

The real key to survival is more and better content. We have more places to put it. We now have the means to deliver it to discreet audiences. We have audiences who don't have the time to surf endlessly to look for it themselves.

This might come through a training process for "citizen journalists" or a verification or editing process. Or it could come through emergence. The means and money to increase content is there for mainline journalists if it is diverted from legacy systems. My company has launched a half dozen successful TV networks based on this premise. And the means to process this content is now cheaper and easier to use. But we need more stories: more well written, well researched, viable, verifiable, conversational or visual STORIES. The essence of journalism.

In my view, we should be attacking this acquisition issue head on, creating skunk works like yours and USC's to find ways to get more stories and make them interesting.

I would continue to argue that the issues surrounding the "one person orchestra" are, in fact, some of THE most important issues.

Thanks again for your comments.


David, I'm glad you stuck it out to read the piece and write this great response! And I have to thank you for writing a piece that provoked this continued debate and discussion, one that I think it is imperative for the journalism industry to be having right now. On the other hand, sorry for the technical difficulties, both on our end and on the USC end from the Convergence Newsletter link.

I think you are right that, while we may be using different language or coming from different angles on this issue of convergence, that we have some of the same goals in mind. And I'm glad to see more programs, such as your proposals, seeking to look at convergence in a nuanced way. I think the imprecesion in language that I talked about in this piece leads to a subsequent imprecesion of execution that causes the fallacy of the uberjournalist to become, all too often, a reality, often by business-minded executives who think of serving the stockholders instead of the readers (based on a recent piece I wrote here on the blog about these two very different publics).

I am perhaps much less cynical of citizen journalism than you are, but I am also looking at it from a different perspective. I think there are people on the ground whose firsthand reports are crucial, just as I think that citizens who cover the small town hall meetings and planning and zoning commissions and the like that the newspaper or local news station doesn't can serve a great purpose by having a place to write about and inform the public about what happened in that meeting. These first-hand reports and breaking news is where citizen journalism will flourish.

What scares me is when professional news organizations start deciding that the coverage of citizen journalists starts to lessen their own duties. Citizen journalists do not replace professional journalists. They help improve the veracity and breadth of journalism coverage, but they do not replace professionals. They merely augment the system.

A few points you make here are important. Newspapers can benefit tremendously from citizen journalists and their reports, and it would be in their best interests to correspondingly offer the chances for training and insight to these amateur newsgathers, to embrace them with the opportunity to offer greater skills in news gathering. The other is that trusted news sources are well served to become content aggregators as well, using their reputation for accuracy and fairness and balance to help readers sift through content, particularly citizen journalism content from that region.

In the end, I think that your discussion of the "one person orchestra" is always very important and just don't want the baby to be thrown out with the bathwater when it comes to all the positives new technologies and new modes of thinking have to offer.

Again, and I know that this is a very academic thing to say, but I believe we are best served by developing a more nuanced language with which to discuss these issues, so that we can establish this "uberjournalist" trend for what it is and help to discredit it.