Convergence: what it means to us as creators and publishers of media

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Convergence – what does it really mean and how will it affect new versus old media paradigms?

I’ll be on a panel discussing that very question later this week when the Society for New Communciations meets in Las Vegas. I’ll outline my remarks here with an eye toward explaining how that rather fuzzy concept will affect us as people who create media and want to make a living by doing so.

In the course of my remarks I will assmble some useful links for media creators, teachers and entrepreneurs. But first let me tell you how I think about convergence:

  • as creators we have to become fluent in more than one medium; writers must think audio-visually and audio-visual communicators have to improve their story-telling abilities by adding databases and graphics to ther repertoires; and everybody needs to learn animation;
  • as publishers we have to become conversant with new means of presenting information, and engaging audiences; selling is being revolutionized; so is commerce; to be a publisher in the age of convergence means more than the colllision of media types; it may mean the collision of purposes, so that when our viewers click on ad ad, we may take the transaction all the way through to fullfilment.

 That’s a mouthful. Let me backtrack and lay the groundwork.

The Wikipedia entry on “convergence” suggests that the  verymeaning of term is subject to debate. Wikipedia says:

“as a communication theory, media convergence aims to bring together all forms of media into one single device.”  

The rival way of thinking about convergence suggests that:

“Media convergence is the ability for an increasingly diverse range of content to be delivered through a range of media channels. Unlike the traditional delivery of TV programs through TV, we can now receive TV programs on both a TV but also a mobile phone, a computer, an Ipod etc. Convergence is not the reduction of devices but the expansion of channels to content combinations.”

Here is a link to the introduction of a debate, held circa 2004 at Stanford University’s Human Computer Interactions lab:

In the case of this debate, we specifically mean the convergence of television and computers, both the media and the devices.  To that end the debate will center around two main issues:”  

— Computers and Televisions will be able to display the same media:

— People will cease distinguishing between computers and television;*

I have not decided whether I think there will be a universal device. And for now it doesn’t matter. What I can already see is that incumbent media are mixing and matching, blurring the boundaries that used to separate print and broadcast. To get an overview of such activity The Media Center has created a convergence tracker that lists details of more than 100 relationships between newspapers and broadcast outlets. There are details on each relationship; do they share news, or just cross promote stories, etcetera.

Seeing all that activity suggests to me that, regardless of whether convergence leads to the evolution of a single media device, we as media creators will have to become fluent in different media types. Another thought just occurred to me; if mass media owners succeed in lifting cross-ownership caps through the Federal Communications Commission rule-making process, that will add yet another impetus to the necessity for becoming cross-skilled as media producers. (I recently blogged about new media hiring criteria; check that out if you are hiring or job hunting.)

So how do current media workers retrain? And how do educators train the next generation? Brigham Young University and the University of Southern Carolina started to answer some of those questions in a Convergence Media Conference in 2005. They kept an excellent blog. Teachers and trainers should check it out. You can still download presentations about teaching convergence journalism.

For those who are  already in media or headed that way, The Digital Commerce Center at USC has has a whole series of wonderful modules to help you understand topics such as Internet Advertising; it has resources for Small Business Assistance with a media slant; and of course a Media Convergence center complete with all sorts of information including media headhunters.

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* (The case for device convergence was argued by Brad Johanson, a graduate student and teacher’s aide to Terry Winograd, the professor of the Google guys. Here is a link to Johanson’s work on distance collaboration.)