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A New Face for Newspaper Convergence?



Even though it was mostly a statement of priorities other newspapers had adopted years ago, Miami Herald editor Tom Fiedler's memo last week on his newspaper's new commitment to providing material to its web site was notable for its directness.

"Every job in the newsroom -- EVERY JOB -- is going to be redefined to include a Web responsiblity and, if appropriate, radio," read the memo, which noted they hosted 250,000 unique visitors in March, and saw online revenue rise past expectations by $2.2-million. "It means using the Web site to its fullest poetential for text, audio and is not an appendage of the newsroom; it's a fundamental product of the newsroom."

It is often tough to know what managers mean when they issue statements like this -- a colleague recalled seeing a statement like this at the Philadelphia Inquirer just before they laid off half their Web staff.

Still, I think this statement, besides outlining an attitude they should have had long ago, highlights a trend I've noticed in newspapers -- the new face of convergence, which lives on the Web.

Less than 10 years ago, convergence was the hot trend in media, pushed by companies which owned print, broadcast and online outlets and hoped to find value by pushing them to work together. The Tampa Tribune/WFLA-Ch. 8/ is an obvious and nationally-known example, but there's also the Sarasota Herald-Tribune/SNN6 cable newschannel/ matchup and Central Florida News 13/Daytona Beach News Journal near Orlando.

In the past, convergence meant two separate news outlets rooted in different media types working together: TV stations and newspapers learning to share information and work product, for example. But these days, convergence more often means one media outlet dabbling in all the other types on the Web, where video streaming, audio podcast downloads, text stories and Web logs are not only possible, but expected from any news outlet.

"I don’t think the companies that have invested in typical convergence initiatives have been able to show a return on investment," Andrew Nachison, director of The Media Center think tank at the American Press Institute, told me for a story I recently wrote for the RTNDA Communicator magazine. "The combination of a declining print business with a declining broadcast business has not generated growth. Meanwhile other forms of digital media have exploded…and that’s where the audience is."

FCC head Kevin Martin has been speechifying on his plans for relaxing rules barring newspapers from owning TV stations and vice versa, saying such cross-ownership can help reduce costs and spread news content across platforms. But what the covergence mania of a few years ago taught us, is that costs don't go down for news outlets which do convergence right -- there just aren't many people who are eqally good in all platforms, and most stories aren't equally suited to all platforms, either.

Instead, newspaper companies are learning how to do radio by podcasting, and learning TV news by offering video downloads. TV stations are learning print storytelling by producing text versions of their broadcast stories and everyone is learning the web by shoveling it all onto their web sites. The advantage: companies which don't own many platforms don't have to create an intimate connection with a company they don't control, and costs can be controlled better.

I'm in agreement with Nachison when he says "the combination of a declining print business with a declining broadcast business has not generated growth." We see this in companies such as Knight Ridder, Tribune and Gannett announcing disappointing 1st quarter ad revenue figures as declining print dollars more than offset growing broadcast dollars boosted by election-year spending.

So, pay no attention to the companies touting convergence which often own every component of their partnership. In the new on-demand cyberspace universe, convergence on the web is where all the action is.

Sunday Morning Apartheid Remains in Place

Watching Tim Russert lead a blue-ribbon panel on Faith in America yesterday -- an interesting Easter-inspired topic, I might add -- I was struck by an interesting fact. Every panelist on the show but one -- a Muslim scholar -- was white.

Nevermind that the black church has become a prime target of GOP recruiters looking to siphon votes from the Democratic party. Nevermind that a black minister, T.D. Jakes, leads one of the nation's largest churches -- the 30,000-member Potter's House in Dallas -- has pioneered in the mega-church movement and has been described by Time magazine as possibly "the next Billy Graham?"

The exclusion reinforces a report released last year by the National Urban League Policy Institute, which looked at five major cable and broadcast network Sunday morning talk shows from January 2004 to December 2005. Despite an earlier, less extensive report showing a lack of diversity, 61 percent of programs featured no black guests at all and 80 percent featured no interviews with black subjects.

The study shows a wide range black voices are regularly excluded from coverage of issues in which they play a part -- from an examination of Ronald Reagan's legacy to the use of the Seante fillibuster and changes on the Supreme Court. One person, National Public Radio's Juan Williams, notched 40 percent of all appearances, by serving as a regular member of the roundtable panel on Fox News Sunday. Two others, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, accounted for another 25 percent of appearances.

Yes, these shows are insular in general, don't notch lots of ratings and feature lots of blather from political figures. But, like the newspaper editorial pages, these are also places where the nation's leaders gather to talk to each other. And being excluded from that conversation can often keep your priorities from becoming part of the national conversation.

FCC Court Challenge May Redefine Indecency Fight

The four big networks and Hearst Argyle Television have banded together to challenge the recent FCC fines over indecency, and what's at stake may be more than the more than $4-million leavied this year -- but the very idea of regulating indecent content in the modern media age.

As the New York Times pointed out today, networks are sure to make the point that it doesn't make sense to fine networks for indecent content at a time when the average American has more access to more media than ever before. Similar arguments about ownership rulings led courts to throw out the FCC's rules limiting what media outlets companies could own -- many years later, the commision is still struggling to develop new ones.

The FCC's latest push to curb indecency may wind up puishing the courts to take away its power to regulate TV content at all. Poetic justice, some may say...

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:36pm]


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