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Convergence: We're coming together, but where are we going?

By Le Templar

Newspapers, television and radio news stations and Internet outlets will be working more closely together in the future as they look for an edge over competitors and seek to generate more advertising dollars, a panel of journalists and experts agreed at a forum earlier this summer.
Media convergence has been evolving since the early 1980s with a wave of corporate consolidation and cross medium ownership. Experiments in the Phoenix area have created two competing models in the last year. On one side are the biggest players in state as The Arizona Republic and KPNX-TV (NBC-12) are combining forces at the direction of their parent company, Gannett Communications.
The other model represents a confederation of separately owned outlets that have agreed to work together. One example involves KNVX-TV (ABC-15), which has formed ties with the East Valley Tribune, KTAR 620 AM and the Business Journal of Phoenix. That relationship is anchored by Laura Jevnikar, a broadcast journalist hired by the Tribune to deliver on-air reports for Channel 15 and to write stories for the suburban newspaper.
"It's exciting to be part of a new era. In convergence, I'm a pioneer," said Jevnikar at the June 12 forum, held at Channel 15's Phoenix headquarters.
Her television supervisor is Bob Sullivan, Channel 15's news director. Sullivan said news consumers have seen striking differences in the two convergence models. He described the Republic/Channel 12 relationship as a business approach that seeks to build the brand names of each outlet through cross promotion. Republic reporters are frequently placed on television newscasts to talk about stories or events they cover, while KNVX broadcasters have been given space in the newspaper.
Sullivan said it's clear that Gannett is using the cross promotion to boost advertising sales for both outlets. Channel 15 might have similar long-range goals, Sullivan said, but its current relationships with newspaper and radio partners focus on sharing information and providing better coverage. KNVX is able to bring more stories related to the East Valley and business to its viewers, while the Tribune in particular can pick up additional news from Phoenix and western Maricopa County.
Sullivan said the relationships are in early stages, and advertising revenue hasn't been a consideration. "We're still dating. We're not married yet," Sullivan said.
But a third panel member cautioned the forum audience of about 15 people not to be fooled with any claims of altruism by convergence supporters. Joe Russomanno, an associate professor at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said all news editors are being pushed for corporate demands to maintain profits.
"The idea is to leverage content to make money," Russomanno said. "This wouldn't be happening if there wasn't a lot of money to be doing it." Russomanno said many people are worried about the future impacts of convergence on the quality of journalism. Reporters fear their workloads will increase to produce multiple versions of their stories for different outlets. Observers fear the loss of differing news voices in the community, a trend already well underway with media consolidation, Russomanno said. "Convergence can be, and often is, a four-letter word in many people's lexicon," he said.
But support for convergence has become strong enough that journalism schools are adjusting their curriculums to accommodate. The Walter Cronkite school has started talking about how to prepare its students for working in multiple mediums. But it's "impossible to predict" the final outcome, Russomanno said.
"The Confoundings of Convergence" was hosted by the Valley of the Sun chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Rocky Mountain Southwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Moderator Mark Scarp said efforts to get a representative of the Republic or KPNX-TV on the forum panel were unsuccessful.

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