March 13, 2007
Finding More Nuanced Ways to Discuss Convergence in Journalism

Last Friday, I wrote a post on Augie Grant's piece in the February edition of The Convergence Newsletter, which focused on the need for understanding the history of how journalism adapted to and with new technologies in order to understand the present and future of "convergence" in journalism.

The March edition of the newsletter features a thought-provoking piece by George Daniels at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, who writes about the trend of "unconverging," news entities that were converged pulling apart, and having students in the classroom who had worked in converged spaces and had detailed reasons why it does not work.

The short essay is worth a read for anyone interested in "convergence" in journalism and particularly in journalism education. Daniels writes:

These students had their own war stories to tell. Most of them had worked at newspapers with broadcast partners. Some of them had been called on by their editors to appear on TV to answer "three questions" about their newspaper stories. One of the students had an exclusive story that he was encouraged to share with a TV partner. As a former local TV news producer, I was the lone electronic journalist reminding my students of the "benefits" of convergence - at least in the minds of those who championed it in recent years. I call this "un-convergence" classroom discussion in February 2007 a watershed moment in my own convergence teaching because for the first time, I had reached a point where students were coming into our classroom having done convergence reporting.

Coming up in a J-school program where we had senior-level classes discussing and dissecting what "convergence" means, I understand these challenges well. Back in July, I wrote:

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.

My fear has long been that the main problem is the imprecision of our language so far around this buzzword of "convergence." I think that the idea of the "converged" newsroom is not necessarily the endpoint of convergence, and the idea of the journalist who should be able to do all aspects of the job is certainly not what I think the goal is. On the other hand, telling a story using multiple media forms, working with others when a relationship leads to better coverage, etc., enhances the way a story is covered. As I wrote back in August, "The problem isn't convergence. It's our inability to find preceision in our language to define what convergence is in the journalism setting."

I think the conversation that Daniels class had is key for understanding that J-schools and the journalism industry has to continue to reconfigure they way they understand this "convergence culture" we live in and realize that the catch-all buzzword "convergence" does not do justice to the myriad changes happening in our culture due to technological innovations and new social patterns. I think that the specific complaints that these students issued may very well be accurate, at least to some degree, but we can't "throw the baby out with the bathwater" or put our heads in the sand. Conversations like the one Daniels' class had is at least a step in the right direction.