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.