What have you learned about newsroom convergence?

For an internal report, I'm interviewing various people at work in an attempt to identify what we've learned from our efforts to combine print and online staffs into unified content teams.

But I'm also interested in hearing tales from outside the company, so here are a few questions. You can reply anonymously if you want, or just send me a private email at steve(at)yelvington(dot)com.

* What are the 3 biggest mistakes made in your newsroom in the convergence process? How would you avoid them, if you could do it all over again?

* What are 3 things done right in your process?

* What are your 3 biggest ongoing frustrations?

* Do you feel like you have the skills you need to deal with the changes?

* Is this convergence a help, or a hindrance, to innovation? Why?

* What other innovation barriers do you see?


Came across this post via beatblogger's Twitter page, thought I'd give it a shot. Nice idea. Here are my thoughts... 1) What are the 3 biggest mistakes made in your newsroom in the convergence process? How would you avoid them, if you could do it all over again? The biggest change I would make would be how the newsroom fundamentally approached the idea of "convergence". Looking back, convergence was viewed as the "future", but as an addition to what they were already doing, not as a replacement, or even an advancement. The thought was that we could bring this new-fangled convergence idea and adapt to fit our own needs, and I just don't think that's the right view. Another mistake has been the allocation of resources. Even with ad revenue for the print edition dropping like crazy, the print side still gets top billing and the majority of attention. I don't think it makes sense to continue devoting the bulk of resources (time, people, money) into what an increasingly obsolete product. That's not to say we should do away with the paper entirely, because I do believe there is a place (and a need) for it. However, it should not be the focus of 90% of the newsroom's staff and resources. Thirdly, there probably could have been better education of the current news staff on using new technologies. In our newsroom, the idea was to bring in one or two new employees with convergence skills (audio/video talents, experience in social networking, etc.), and while this was a good start, it's turned into those employees being the de-facto "convergence team". Anything dealing with any type of media outside of paper and ink is pushed to those few employees. Some of the traditional journalists have stepped up to help with the load, and that does help, but it would have been nice if management applied a little more pressure to current staff to get on board and learn the new technologies needed. 2) What are 3 things done right in your process? - A willingness to try new things by those that have the power to do so (even if they don't fully understand how that new thing should be used). We have started using Twitter to push our headlines out to readers, which I think is a great idea. However, we're using it ONLY to push new headlines out, rather than spark a two-way discussion with readers, reducing Twitter to an RSS feed. Regardless, it is nice when those in power are willing to give these new tools a shot. - Using audio and video to tell different sides/angles of the story. Even if only a few of our journalists have the skills to shoot or edit, the ones that don't have started thinking in those terms and bringing story ideas to those that can. - Moving (slowly) towards more interaction between the reader and writer. We will be launching a new social media portal soon, and we already have tools in place for readers to submit story comments and photos. 3) What are your 3 biggest ongoing frustrations? - Not understanding that social media goes both ways. Using Twitter and allowing readers to comment on stories and blogs is nice, but we need to establish that our journalists must respond back to those comments and contribute to the discussion. - Current employees, for the most part, not embracing opportunities to learn how to use multimedia. - Reporters and editors that view the online department as secondary, even to the point where there would be an unwillingness to publish something online for fear of "scooping tomorrow's paper". This has gone away recently, but it shows there is still a believe that the paper comes first, and everything else must be done to support the paper. 4) Do you feel like you have the skills you need to deal with the changes? I do feel I have the necessary skills. The biggest one needed is patience, but it's important to be a good teacher and have a thorough knowledge of the different types of tools. You only get one chance at a first impression, and that holds true here, too. If you can't explain it quickly and completely to a journalist attempting to learn the new skill, I've learned they begin to doubt the usefulness of that tool. 5) Is this convergence a help, or a hindrance, to innovation? Why? In the long run, convergence is helping, but in the short run it cause plenty of dissent in the newsroom. I remember a conversation with a photographer where I was saying that in an ideal newsroom, each reporter and photographer would also have at least some skills in shooting video and collecting audio. His response was "that's why we have the online department". The two sides are viewed as independent of one another, and rarely does a print guy do multimedia, or an online guy publish something in the paper. 6) What other innovation barriers do you see? The biggest danger is losing ad revenue, especially if the focus of the newsroom shifts towards online and digital publishing and away from the print product. Less revenue means less resources, which makes it less likely for innovation to produce anything of value. The newspaper industry desperately needs a new business model for developing online content. I disagree with those that say paid content is the way to go and would rather see newspapers do online production the right way, rather just a republication of the print product, but it's clear that old model is broken, and I don't see how we can go back to it. I recently started my own blog on a lot of these topics myself, you can check it out at http://moderndayjournalist.blogspot.com/.

I've been particularly interested in so-called cross-media convergence, those print-TV partnerships that were so hot just a few years ago. Two recent research studies have come to the same conclusion: the bloom is off that rose. The ingrained distrust between newspaper and television journalists always made cross-media convergence difficult. But now the Web has basically made it unnecessary. Summaries available here: http://www.newslab.org/research/partnerships.htm and here: http://www.jour.sc.edu/news/convergence/v6no5.html#keiththornton

The question is: Can online ad revenue (assuming a greatly diminished print product distribution) support the same news operations (field reporters, investigative reporters, writers, columnists, editors, editorial dept. etc.). I don't think so. If we want real in-depth reporting/editorial content (NOT car crashes and local scandals) there must be a viable (numbers, sales, advertising) print product.