The state of “convergence” in America’s newsrooms

Researchers at Rutgers and Arizona State universities surveyed hundreds of broadcast and print newsrooms about their convergence efforts in 2008. According to an article in the Convergence Newsletter, they found that about half of respondents had some sort of “cross-platform partnership.”

What’s more interesting are the researchers findings regarding efforts and attitudes toward newsroom Web sites.

News outlets are going it alone in their Web efforts, even when that encroaches on another medium’s traditional turf. Almost 89 percent of the newspaper respondents said video – traditionally television’s bailiwick – was produced for their sites by print and Web staffs with no broadcast involvement. Eighty-two percent of the newspapers using newscasts on their sites report producing them with no broadcast involvement. Ninety percent of the TV respondents who said they used text stories from other than wire services on their Web sites wrote them without newspaper involvement.

In addition, the researchers found more evidence that newspapers are trying hard to take the “video advantage” away from television stations.

Almost 66 percent of the newspaper respondents said photographers for their newspaper shot video, more than 60 percent said reporters shot video, and 41 percent reported their papers employed videographers.  

What’s potentially more troublesome for the future of broadcast outlets is what the research uncovered about attitudes toward “working for the Web.”

Most respondents said they did work for both publication platforms. Print journalists, however, were nearly 10 times more likely than broadcast respondents to support the most pro-Web vision of journalistic work, which held that “essentially the whole staff is focused on the Web first.” 

Can someone tell us why?

Skills training is not enough

One of our core principles here at Advancing the Story is that you have to think differently about journalism if you’re going to succeed in a multimedia world.  Nikki Usher of USC’s Annenberg School of Journalism obviously agrees. Writing in the Online Journalism Review, Usher argues that skills training is not enough for digital journalists. In fact, she suggests that many news organizations that are providing training are going about it all wrong.

Teaching journalists how to use digital tools without addressing their mindset is not productive, she says, citing the case of a newsroom executive who learned that the hard way.

This executive, after putting staff through training pilots, realized that multimedia literacy and a basic understanding of what it meant to work in a Web environment was what people needed – before they could go about learning the hardware.

So what training in multimedia thinking does she recommend? In brief, she says journalists need to:

  • Learn how the Web and multimedia goals will work within their own organizations.
  • Believe that they can contribute to the multimedia vision of their organization.
  • Make new connections across the organization to people who can help them think about how to make their work relevant to multiplatform content.
  • Understand that they no longer control the distribution of the content they produce.
  • Reposition themselves as leaders of a new conversation about the content they produce.

Newsrooms need to learn an important lesson too, Usher says.  “Silos, departmental rivalries, and departments that don’t communicate with each other cannot exist if multimedia initiatives are to succeed.”

None of this is to suggest that skills “boot camps” have no value. On the contrary, Usher says, “they do help journalists learn to see the potential of what these new tools can bring to the work they do.” But expecting skills training to transform your newsroom is an exercise in futility, if you don’t change the thinking first.

Six tips for convergence

How is newsroom convergence like a shotgun wedding?  Just ask the folks at Kent State University, where the campus newspaper, radio and TV stations share one newsroom and Web site.  The story behind the story is now online–a humorous and engaging look by professor Fred Endres at how the “wedding” was planned and carried out.

The hardest part–no surprise–was the “culture shift” of getting everyone into a multimedia mindset.  There were plenty of others bumps along the way, and the newsroom remains a work in progress, not yet fully converged.  But KSU’s experience offers valuable lessons for any organization planning a converged or collaborative newsroom.

  • Begin planning early. Kent State planned for more than a year before putting a stick of furniture in place.
  • Make the space open and flexible. It will increase communication and collaboration.
  • Provide multimedia tools, software and hardware tools to practice multimedia journalism.
  • Let staff [or students]  lead the way to convergence. It is their newsroom, and they need to be invested in the plan and the goal.
  • Commit resources – time, money, people — to a collaborative Web site, and try to make that Web site the core of the newsroom.
  • Set realistic goals. If you have a core group…who truly want to make it work, you’ve got a good shot at doing so.

As for equipment, the KSU team advises, “buy wise but don’t buy cheap.”  Among the gear they’re using: the  Canon ZR-930 mini-DV camera, the HD Canon HV30, and Audio Technica microphones (803 lav and 8004 handheld).

Software, on the other hand, can be both cheap and good. Most folks already know about Audacity, the free audio editing program.  But instead of Photoshop, KSU suggests Gimp, a free download. Need a field Teleprompter for script reads? Try the free CuePrompter.

Kudos to Kent State for sharing their lessons learned.  If you’ve gone down the same road and have other suggestions to add, please add a comment.

What information do you trust?

According to a new survey, online news is widely considered just as credible as newspapers and TV news.  In some countries, including the United States, it’s seen as even more trustworthy.  But the survey found that blogs, as opposed to online news sites, are almost universally distrusted.

The study, by the research and marketing group TNS, asked more than 27,000 people in 16 countries to rate a variety of information sources on a scale of 1 (don’t trust at all) to 10 (trust completely). The US was one of just three countries where online news was more trusted than television: 38% for online vs 33% for TV news and 34% for newspapers. The other two countries? France and Italy.

Those numbers may be disappointing, but blogs get much more negative reviews.  Only one person in 10 in the US and around the world said they trust what they read on blogs.  TNS vice president Don Ryan calls that “heartening.”

Online blogs clearly have no real accountability.  Although they may be a great source of entertainment and a useful source of information and reviews they are clearly highly subjective.  The move of traditional news media into the online space has ensured that the trust of traditional media has spread into to online-only sources too.

Still, the news media are far from being the most trusted source in the United States.  According to the survey, that distinction belongs to recommendations from friends, which 48% said they trusted.

A separate study also released this week looked only at where Americans turn for news.  The results: local TV remains the main source of news for most Americans, followed by cable, local newspapers and network TV.

According to the Gallup survey, for the first time since 1995, significantly more Americans say they turn to cable news networks daily than say they turn to nightly network news programs. Cable news was one of only two sources to show a substantial increase in audience.  The other one is no surprise: Internet news showed the biggest jump with 31% of Americans now saying it’s a daily news source. That’s up almost 50% since 2006.

But the audience for most other news sources, including NPR and national newspapers, is holding steady.  At the risk of sounding Pollyannaish, that’s pretty good news in these grim economic times.

TV & Web are a popular pair

According to Reuters, new research from Nielsen finds that 31% of online activity occurs while the user is watching television.

The findings help explain why TV viewing is on the rise at the same time new media is also growing.

The report does not break down the types of Internet activity engaged in by TV viewers or what types of programming they might be watching while online, but that information might prove very valuable for newsrooms as they look for ways to engage the audience online while keeping them watching traditional news programming.

Saving the news

Uh-oh. It looks like we’ve finally done it; we’ve given people too much news and information.

In an article for the Columbia Journalism Review, author Bree Nordensen writes about frustrated news consumers who have so much data coming at them every day, that many simply choose to ignore it all. She cites research commissioned by the Associated Press that found people suffering from “news fatigue.” With so much information available from so many sources, these news consumers feel helpless and unable to process it all. In reaction, the study found, they stopped trying to stay informed.

Another study by Northwestern University’s Media Management Center found young people avoiding online news of the 2008 election “because they feel too much information is coming at them all at once and too many different things are competing for their attention.”

The study participants said they wanted news organizations to display less content in order to highlight the essential information. “Young people want the site design to signal to them what’s really important . . . instead of being confronted by a bewildering array of choices,” write the researchers in their final report, From “Too Much” to “Just Right”: Engaging Millennials in Election News on the Web.

So, what’s the solution? Nordensen offers this advice:

The greatest hope for a healthy news media rests as much on their ability to filter and interpret information as it does on their ability to gather and disseminate it. If they make snippets and sound bites the priority, they will fail. Attention—our most precious resource—is in increasingly short supply. To win the war for our attention, news organizations must make themselves indispensable by producing journalism that helps make sense of the flood of information that inundates us all.

This article is a great read for anyone involved in journalism today. The article goes on to offer strategies and solutions to help newsrooms begin to save themselves, something too often missing from this kind of reporting. Ironically, a downside to the article, as is referenced in several of the comments, is that it’s probably too long for some readers. I guess victims of information overload are everywhere.

Wanted: “Journalism plus”

Anyone looking for a job in journalism needs to know what employers want.  The short answer is, they want it all.  They’re looking for journalists who can process information and write clearly, and who also have high-level technical skills.  And that’s not all.

Jim Brady, executive editor of Washington says skills like Flash and video editing are nice to have, but they’re useless if you don’t understand the changing media landscape.  In a conversation with Alfred Hermida (posted on MediaShift), Brady says he expects new hires to understand how people are consuming media.  The first thing he asks in a job interview: assess the changes in media in the last five years and where do you see it going?

Len Brody, CEO of, told Hermida that journalists not only need to know about those changes, they must be prepared to take advantage of them.  “Your marketing capabilities are going to be as important as your writing capabilities,” he says.  That means understanding search engine optimization, tagging, and how to discover news within social networks, Brody says.

Robert Scoble of Fast Company TV agrees.  “You have to write in a style that gets you into Google, FriendFeed, Twitter,” he says. In today’s world, Scoble says, employers want “journalism plus.”

This weekend, I’ll be at a journalism seminar at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, sponsored by the New York State Associated Press Broadcasters Association.  I’ll keep my ears open for other suggestions.