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«Researching Media Convergence and Crossmedia News Production Mapping the Field IVAR JOHN ERDAL Abstract Digitization of production has facilitated ...»

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Nordicom Review 28 (2007) 2, pp. 51-61

Researching Media Convergence

and Crossmedia News Production

Mapping the Field



Digitization of production has facilitated changes in the organization and practices of

journalism. Technological convergence, media convergence and organizational convergence have helped change the way in which news is made.

A substantial amount of research has been done on news production in general, and television news in particular. However, little research has been done specifically on the production context in a digital, integrated broadcasting environment, taking into account new technology and its relationship to changes in institutional context, production processes and the resulting texts.

The present article discusses some challenges that face research into media organization, challenges that are a result of these developments. The discussion is structured around two main developments: changing professional practices and genre development.

The article will also look at where this line of research fits into the larger picture of media studies, and discuss the relationship to existing research in the field.

Key Words: convergence, crossmedia, news production, journalism, media organizations, broadcasting, methodology Introduction Digitization of production in media organizations has facilitated changes in the organization and practices of journalism. Technological convergence, media convergence and organizational convergence have changed the way in which news is made. This article discusses some challenges that face research into media organizations, challenges that are a result of these developments. What new questions have to be asked? The discussion is structured around two main developments: changing professional practices and genre development. The article will also look at where this line of research fits into the larger picture of media studies, and discuss the relationship to existing research in the field.

Over the past decade or so, fundamental changes have taken place in broadcast newsrooms. Seen from the outside, the news output of many broadcasters has expanded rapidly since the early 1990s, and covers a wide range of media platforms from television and radio to tele-text1, web and mobile phones. Subsequently, broadcasters have undergone changes in the organization and practices of production. This is perhaps most evident with regard to production for multiple platforms in an integrated media organization. To various degrees production for television and radio has been integrated with production for digital media. Radio and television reporters who used to exist in separate worlds, are now working together, cooperating across media boundaries. The number of reporters who are able to work for both television and radio is increasing. The platforms of radio and television have been converging in terms of production processes, and later web and other platforms such as mobile phones have been added. What specific research issues arise from this development? Related to changing professional practices, questions of how reporters relate to crossmedia strategies in their daily newswork, need to be answered. How is production for multiple media platforms conceptualized within the organization? How are news items made for and published across different media platforms? The last question is also related to genre development, as is the way in which journalists relate to news genre on different media platforms, and whether we see genre development in the form of convergence or genre hybrids.

The basis of this development is digitization of production systems, which enables content to travel across media boundaries. Television footage and radio soundbites can be published on the Web, and television sound is frequently used on radio. This development is often described using the all-encompassing term ’convergence’, which covers a wide range of technological, social and cultural processes. Media researchers often describe convergence as a ‘melting together’ of information systems, telecommunications and media technologies, on the one hand, and social and cultural convergence, on the other. While the concept of convergence has been central in discussions of digital media developments, it is important to understand how convergence often goes hand in hand with ‘divergence’. Actors, markets and technologies melt together and lay the foundation for divergence in relation to articulation and use of various media formats.

As noted by Jenkins (2006:10), de Sola Pool (1983) was perhaps the first to recognize convergence as a ”force of change” in the media industries, in what he describes as the ”convergence of modes” (ibid:23).

The twin terms of convergence/divergence are useful for describing general developments following digitization. For the purposes of close analysis of production processes, however, I will argue that we need to look more closely at what this relationship entails. As a starting point, I will use crossmedia as a key concept. Here, crossmedia communication refers to a process whereby more than one media platform is engaged at the same time in communicating related content. Related both to convergence and divergence, I will use crossmedia production to refer to production of content for more than one media platform within the same producer or organization.

By definition, crossmedia as a concept involves two or more media platforms. In media studies, important contributions have been made on multiplatform concepts, where more platforms are engaged in the communication process in an integrated way (Syvertsen and Ytreberg, 2006). One example of this is Pop Idol, a concept that uses television as its main platform, integrated with the (mobile) phone platform for audience feedback, and with the web platform. ’Sms-television’ is another multiplatform concept that uses mobile media content (sms messages, mms pictures) in a television broadcast (Enli, 2005). Currently, work is also being done on theory and practice in crossmedia production in media organizations (Bechmann Petersen and Rasmussen, forthcoming).

The form of crossmedia studied in this paper, crossmedia news production, is less integrated. Here, we are talking about production of content for more than one media platform at the same time within the same organization. Several platforms are involved.

Not necessarily in a completely integrated way, but most often integrated to some extent. Usually, the production involves different kinds of cooperation. This may range from information sharing between journalists and desks in different platforms, via reporters producing for more than one platform, to various forms of reproduction of content for different platforms. In more advanced forms of integration and cooperation, the platforms serve different purposes in the news coverage as a whole, implying a move towards the definition of a multiplatform concept (Erdal, forthcoming).

I will argue that there is a research gap in media studies concerning media production in digital, ‘crossmedia’ environments. Some research has been done on crossmedia work in print media organizations (e.g. Boczkowski, 2004; Dupagne and Garrison, 2006). Regarding broadcast media, however, the lack of research is substantial, despite important contributions from, e.g., Cottle (1999), Duhe et al. (2004), Huang et al. (2006) and Bechmann Petersen (forthcoming). In the following sections, I will discuss some of the challenges of studying ‘convergence journalism’. Before dealing with the question of genre in relation to crossmedia production, we will look more closely at some changes in journalistic practice that follow organizational and media convergence.

Changing Professional Practices When looking at later developments in the services of both public service and other broadcasting institutions, the very notion of broadcasting itself becomes difficult to handle. Digitization and convergence make it increasingly difficult to distinguish between what is broadcasting and what is not (see, e.g., Scannell, 2005). As well as being more diverse in terms of content and audiences, news content now also comes in a variety of forms, delivered by online technologies in addition to traditional print and broadcasting media with enhanced, 24-hour capabilities. The field of news production has become more complex and differentiated.

According to Cottle (2003:16), few studies pursue this differentiatedness regarding news forms and journalistic practices into the production environments, and explore how news production ’contexts’ and news ’texts’ can be productively approached as mutually interpenetrating, and not as analytically separate elements. Some studies have tried to do this (Helland, 1993; Cottle, 1999; Clausen, 2001). Cottle (1999) studied the role of new technology in news production at the BBC’s newscentre in Bristol. Looking at the introduction and impact of news technologies on journalistic practices and news output, he claims that digitization, new communication technologies and technological convergence are factors contributing to a ”radical reconfiguration of broadcast newsrooms and changing professional practices” (ibid.:21).

Digital technologies and the possibilities for convergence these represent, have changed the landscape of broadcast news production. These changes have again opened the arena for ’multiskilled’2 or ’deskilled’ journalists, according to advocates and critics respectively (Cottle, 2003:16; Quinn, 2004:111). Some of these perspectives are also found in Bromley (1997). His historical account of the development of journalism in the UK, from the press to broadcasting, also deals with the term ’multiskilling’. While Bromley shows that this is not a new phenomenon – correspondents usually work for both radio and television, and small media like local newspapers have a tradition of multiskilling – he argues that digital newsrooms facilitate crossmedia work (ibid.:341).

One seemingly simple, but actually complicated question, is: What is convergence in the area of news production? Is it one, fully integrated, news desk, or should we also include other forms or degrees of integration and cooperation? According to Duhe et al.

(2004), nine out of ten American television newsrooms are practising ’some type of convergence’. However, less than half of the respondents defined convergence as having one fully integrated newsroom. Cottle (2004:32) finds that the introduction of new technologies led to changes in the newsroom space itself, a spatial reconfiguration that significantly affected the working environment. On this point, he is supported by Boczkowski (2004:177), who argues that ”materiality matters in online newsrooms”.

Newsrooms are sociomaterial spaces in which technical considerations affect who gets to tell the story, what kinds of stories are told, how they are told, and to what audience they are addressed. In order to improve our understanding of the relationship between changing news technologies, journalist practices and news output, Cottle (1999:26) calls for theoretically grounded, detailed empirical studies of particular news organizations.

Taking their point of departure in television, Waldahl et al. (2002) claim that conventions of (television) news production, as well as influence across media institutions and platforms, play an important role in how news content is selected and presented. This points to processes of change regarding social practices (ibid.:31). In my view, this becomes even more recognizable in a crossmedia environment, which increases the complexity of interrelationships between news media, e.g., throughout a newsday.

This line of inquiry, however, rests on a long tradition of research on media production in general, and news production in particular. Broadcast media, especially television, have been the object of extensive research within media studies, starting from the early works of Williams (1974) and Ellis (1982) on televisual form and genre development, and Brunsdon and Morley’s (1978) analysis of news reception combined with textual analysis in their Nationwide study. Research into public service broadcasting has traditionally had a strong basis in normative ideals about public service media as just that, a public arena or ‘offentlichkeit’ (e.g., Curran, 1991), while the empirical tradition focuses on actual practice (e.g., Blumler, 1993).

A tendency in 1990s’ media research has been to focus on actual, institutional practices (e.g., Helland, 1993; Søndergaard, 1994; Syvertsen, 1997; Sand and Helland, 1998; Ytreberg, 1999, Küng-Shankleman, 2000; Born, 2004). The origins of research into media institutions are typically traced to the 1960s, the time of sociologically based media research, when there was a marked interest in effects, and in how people used the media. Syvertsen (1999) identifies a movement of interest from ‘effect’ via ‘message’ to the ‘sender’ of the linear communication model. Researchers interested in uncovering what caused the effects, started looking at “the organisational sources and ‘causes’ of these features” (McQuail 1994, quoted in Syvertsen, 1999:23).

In the Nordic countries, Syvertsen (1997) and Søndergaard (1994) have contributed major works on public service broadcasting and the transition to deregulated media markets and competition. Syvertsen (1997) analyses the strategies and programming policies of the NRK and TV 2, following her comparative historical study of the NRK and the BBC (Syvertsen, 1992). Focusing on institutional processes of change, Søndergaard (1994) follows DR into the age of deregulation and competition, looking at the break-up of the monopoly and subsequent changes in programming policy and DR’s position as a public service institution.

While an institutional approach has the advantage of getting close to the processes shaping text production, studies of text production have not had a central position in Norwegian media research. Research into media policy and institutional approaches have been combined to a limited degree with textual analysis (Ytreberg, 2000). From another angle, Waldahl et al.’s (2002) study of developments in Norwegian news broadcasting in the 1990s relies on close reading of news texts.

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