April 5, 2007
Transmedia Journalism: A Story-Based Approach to Convergence

For more than a year now, I've written about taking a transmedia approach to journalism and how that approach can be best accomplished. I'm not talking in this sense about giving conglomerates the chance to squeeze more blood from the stone, to get three times as much work from half as many journalists, or else the myth of the uberjournalist, where one person should be sent into the field to take the pictures, do the story, get video, and then come back to write the story, publish the photographs, put the video up on the Web, appear on the TV station, and so on. Instead, what I mean is finding the best platform possible to tell the story in, to use each medium to its strengths.

As I wrote back in that July post linked to above, "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."

The latest issue of The Convergence Newsletter features a piece by Randy Covington that originally ran in the Winter 2006 issue of Nieman Reports. The essay, entitled Myths and Realities of Convergence, focuses on just these questions. Covington, who is the director of the famed Newsplex at the University of South Carolina, writes this piece to dispel some of the convergence myths out there.

I've previously suggested that one major way to change the opinion of journalism educators and professionals is to quit using the word convergence so much, since it unfortunately has taken on negative connotations in a journalism sense and has become meaningless by being used to describe a variety of activities, not online transmedia journalism but the other corporate cost-cutting measures that I describe above. In that August post, I wrote, "The problem isn't convergence. It's our inability to find precision in our language to define what convergence is in the journalism setting."

Covington writes that "the Newsplex philosophy, boiled down to a sentence, is that news organizations will be best served if they focus on stories--not delivery platforms." In a world where distilling ideas down to a sentence gives them the most resonance, the modern sound byte society, I think this phrase is pretty well-served as the philosophy of how to tell a transmedia news story in general.

The purpose of a transmedia news story is to inform the readers in the best way possible, and using a combination of media forms to do so makes sense in a world where such partnerships across content platforms is becoming more plausible and where Internet publishing provides the means by which one can put together a package of text, audio, video, and pictures into an overarching coverage package.

That's not to say that a lot of shabby ideas have been and are being conducted in the name of "convergence" in the journalism world, but this transmedia approach to reporting is not about the technology, or the platform, or the cost-cutting measures--it's about the story and how best to report that story. Discussing a transmedia approach to news separates the benefits of reporting stories across platforms from the corporate realities these activities are mired in, and it can help us avoid throwing out that cliched baby with the bathwater.