January 19, 2007
The Convergence Manifesto II: The Journalism Industry

This is the second part of a piece that originally appeared in the 01 September 2006 edition of the Convergence Culture Consortium's Weekly Update, an internal newsletter for affiliated researchers and corporate members of C3.

Let's take an industry that I have written about extensively in the past few months: journalism. Convergence has become a major point of discussion for news sources and J-schools alike. I have worked for several years as a professional journalist and know these arguments from both ends.

The naysayers--and there are plenty--see the idea of convergence in journalism (particularly telling a story in multiple media forms) as being the uberjournalist, the corporate dream in which one journalist is hired to write a story for print and for broadcast and for the Web and for the radio and take the pictures and on and on. In other words, there is a belief that journalism produces a jack of all trades but a master of none, to borrow a common idiom.

That's not what convergence is. For those who believe that the concept is a corporate-driven capitalist ploy, they are looking at a much too narrow slice of convergence.

Are there news operations which have tried to use convergence in this way, to cut their personnel and force extra work on employees? Of course. Is there a fundamental difference between broadcasting and print journalism? Of course.

And, in cases where the bottom line supercedes quality journalism, the critics are right. But that doesn't mean you should throw the baby out with the bath water (the idioms just keep coming).

I've heard many professionals say that convergence in journalism, done correctly, saves no money; in fact, may cost more. But it capitalizes on informing the viewer in the best way possible.

Hitting the main facts and showing the visuals on video, elaborating in print, providing tons more ancillary content with the potential for user-generated content online, etc. In other words, each medium emphasizes the angle of the story that it is best at, so that the entire package becomes much more valuable when working in tandem.

But this hits the core of what all the critics are missing. Convergence, at its best, is not just focused on increasing the bottom lines but rather providing a more comprehensive and higher-quality product for the consumer.

The hope is that, with a better product and with a cross-platform storytelling process that respects the user and gives him or her what she wants, it will increase the bottom line as a result. And convergence at its best requires good storytelling.



I think what people need to consider is that the bottom lines are always the bottom lines. Irrespective of media evolution, they haven't changed in thousands of years.

- Competitive profit-driven collectives need to keep expanding to survive. They invariably expand at expense to other individual or collective efforts.

- People need access to reasonably impartial, proportional, verifiable, independent information to make informed decisions.

- "Corporate" (in the current sense) and "independent" are almost always wholly incompatible.

- Convergence, viewed through the "bottom-line" lens, by definition trivializes independence.

We can dress it up any way we like, argue pragmatism, try to bandaid it along, claim we need to work within the system, etc. But in the end and especially when it comes to bottom-line convergence media, I think we're inviting further "blandization" through commodification. In an attempt to scoop everything into a single bucket, how *aren't* we inviting a poor compromise to simply proliferate?

On January 21, 2007 at 3:14 PM, Ted Hovet said:

My understanding of Sam's project in these posts is not so much a defense of convergence, but a definition of how it functions (or might function) in the current cultural/media environment. In this sense the issue has nothing to do with "dressing up" or defending, but analyzing and understanding. To pit some monolithic entities like "corporate" and "independent" against each other seems to overlook nuanced interactions and overlaps that strike me as inevitable. I wonder, then, if there has ever been a point in history in which convergence has *not* existed in some way, at least at the moment that any kind of creation (however "independently" made) circulates and becomes available to a wider public. Matt, could you point to some "convergence free" models?


Interesting points, Matt, and I appreciate your stopping by to make them. I do agree with Ted, though, in that I don't find the categories "independent" and "corporate" as mutually exclusive as you do, including in the journalism industry.

I think journalism conglomerates have been worse than those in other media sectors at understanding the balance between reader and writer in an era when those divisions are breaking down, but the old corporate dinosaurs holding to next quarter's bottom-line for their investors are seeing the ice age slowly creep up on them. It doesn't mean that "convergence" spells the end of corporate conglomerates, but I also don't agree that "convergence" favors bland journalism. A very narrow definition of the term does, but convergence is a phenomenon that I feel is neutral, neither good nor bad overall, but what people do with it can have positive and negative consequences.

I'm arguing that, with an increased level of cross-media, there is the potential for better news gathering and news sharing, just as there is the potential for corporate shortcuts. Rather than dismiss the way things are going, without question, as being inevitably bland, we need to think about all the ways that the current media environment can reinvigorate news rather than further destroy it.