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«De-converging the newsroom : Strategies for newsroom change and their influence on journalism practice Klaske Tameling and Marcel Broersma ...»

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International Communication



De-converging the newsroom : Strategies for newsroom change and their

influence on journalism practice

Klaske Tameling and Marcel Broersma

International Communication Gazette 2013 75: 19

DOI: 10.1177/1748048512461760

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Downloaded from gaz.sagepub.com at University of Groningen on January 24, 2013 Article the International Communication Gazette De-converging the 75(1) 19–34 ª The Author(s) 2013

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sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav for newsroom change DOI: 10.1177/1748048512461760 gaz.sagepub.com and their influence on journalism practice Klaske Tameling University of Groningen, The Netherlands Marcel Broersma University of Groningen, The Netherlands Abstract This article introduces the concept of de-convergence to analyse recent changes in the newsroom at the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant. While the concept of convergence or multimedia journalism has been introduced worldwide, de Volkskrant decided to separate their print and online newsroom. In this de-converged model the traditional print journalist has made a comeback, no longer charged with multimedia tasks. De Volkskrant initially anticipated the digital age by developing a cross-media strategy in which an integrated newsroom would serve multiple platforms. However, the lack of a solid business model and cultural resistance of reporters hindered these ambitions. By creating a new digital newsroom for all the web titles the chain owns, it is argued that convergence on a vertical level (within a brand) has given way to horizontal convergence (within the publishing house). The article analyses the factors which influenced decision-making and how these forms of (de)convergence affect journalism practice and the newspaper brand. Findings are based on an in-depth ethnographic study.

Keywords Convergence, cross-media journalism, journalism practice, journalism studies, newspaper business, newsroom ethnography, newsroom organization, online journalism

Corresponding author:

Marcel Broersma, Groningen Centre for Media and Journalism Studies, University of Groningen, PO Box 716, 9700 AS, Groningen, The Netherlands.

Email: m.j.broersma@rug.nl

–  –  –

Newspapers are struggling with their online strategies. They want to embrace the opportunities offered by the internet and digitization, but have to balance the certainties of their present business model with the uncertainties of a digital future. In the past decade, key questions have been how to integrate websites as new platforms in daily practice and how to handle convergence and multimedia journalism (Boczkowski, 2004; Deuze, 2004; Fioretti and Russ-Mohl, 2009; Kolodzy, 2006; Lawson-Borders, 2006; Quinn, 2005; Quinn and Filak, 2005; Singer, 2004). Newspaper journalists suddenly had to serve a new medium with a different rhythm and news cycle, a distinct writing style and format, and a deviating set of norms. They had to anticipate different expectations of audiences than they were used to. Moreover, digital technology allowed papers to expand their scope and to integrate video and audio in written news stories.

Some newspaper companies even expanded into multimedia enterprises. They acquired radio and television stations to truly work cross-platform (Dailey et al., 2005; Dupagne and Garrison, 2006; Garcıa Aviles et al., 2009).

´ ´ At the turn of the 21st century, many scholars and news outlets around the globe had high expectations of the benefits that new technologies would bring. In the cross-media newsroom of the future, journalists of different platforms would be strategically cooperating and sharing content. Theoretically, a convergent and cross-media news organization can continuously target diverse audiences through different platforms with complementary and non-repetitious information. As such it can result in both better journalism and a lucrative business (Fioretti and Russ-Mohl, 2009; Lawson-Borders, 2006;

Meier, 2007; Quinn, 2005; Singer, 2004). Conversely, research has also shown that convergence can be used as a strategy for cost reduction, and as such it can be a threat to quality journalism. Changes in production routines and the organization of the newsroom can result in a lowering of quality standards when fewer journalists have to think and work for multiple platforms and have less time to produce more stories (Fioretti and Russ-Mohl, 2009; Huang et al., 2004, 2006; Lawson-Borders, 2006; Meier, 2007; Quinn, 2005; Singer, 2004; Thurman and Lupton, 2008).

This study was prompted by the questions of how newspapers have anticipated the digitization of news in the past decade, how this affected news production and how journalists perceive these changes. To analyse convergence and cross-media strategies in-depth, we conducted a three-month ethnographic study at the Dutch national newspaper de Volkskrant. This quality paper was a trendsetter when it came to promoting convergence and cross-media journalism in the Netherlands. In 2006, an integrated cross-media newsroom was implemented in which news was distributed from a central desk to various outlets: the paper, various websites, mobile applications, an online video platform and – as was planned – a radio station as well (Mooij, 2011). However, in 2011, its publisher changed its strategy. They decided that print and online had distinctive dynamics and as such created separate newsrooms for both. The first focuses on producing the daily newspaper, while the latter produces content for the sites of all four Dutch newspapers the publishing chain owns. As a result, the newspaper and the websites are produced in splendid isolation by either print or online journalists who possess specific expertise and a distinct mindset (Tameling and Broersma, 2012).

In this article, we introduce the concept of de-convergence to analyse this current trend in the newsroom at de Volkskrant. In addition, we distinguish in our analysis Downloaded from gaz.sagepub.com at University of Groningen on January 24, 2013 Tameling and Broersma 21 between what we call horizontal and vertical convergence. Vertical convergence takes place when a news organization integrates news production for multiple platforms in one newsroom to create a strong multimedia brand, like de Volkskrant initially did. Horizontal convergence means that a media company organizes news production in newsrooms catered to one specific platform (i.e. a newspaper, television, radio, a website, apps, etc.), but does so for multiple brands. This happens when, for example, a newsroom produces content for various print titles, or different websites are produced in one online newsroom, as at de Volkskrant.

By means of this specific case study, our study aims to reveal how strategies for a digital future affect journalism practice at newspapers. At the policy level, economic and efficiency reasons heavily influence decision-making about (de-)convergence.

Journalistic reasons are, or become, subsidiary. Conversely, the actual implementation in the newsroom is mainly coloured by cultural issues. Therefore, in this article, we first ask why de Volkskrant, like many other newspapers worldwide, decided to focus on convergence and cross-media reporting. Consequently, we focus on the reasons behind the new strategy of de-convergence and the actual implementation of this policy. We then move on to the actual implementation of both the integrated and the de-converged model, and discuss how this was perceived by the editorial staff. Finally, we analyse how daily practices of journalists are impacted by de-convergence.

Our findings are based on a comprehensive analysis of the policy for newsroom change at de Volkskrant and a three-month, full-time ethnographic study. From February to May 2011 more than 400 hours in total were spent in the paper’s print newsroom in Amsterdam, its political newsroom in the Hague and its online newsroom in Rotterdam.

News processes were observed and meetings such as plenary meetings and daily editorial meetings were attended. Furthermore, internal policy documents were collected, as were emails, memos and other relevant written sources. Besides daily informal talks with journalists, 37 qualitative semi-structured in-depth interviews of about an hour each were conducted that covered all levels of the news organization, from top management to reporters.1 The research had full cooperation from the management of the paper and access to the newsroom, meetings and documents was allowed without restrictions.

Convergence and cross-media journalism: Fuzzy concepts Since the mid-1990s, many scholars as well as observers from within the news industry have suggested that the newsroom of the future would be an integrated one (Deuze, 2004). Digitization, the rise of the internet and the increasing decline in circulation stimulated the search for new audiences and pointed towards the integration of various media platforms. A first strand of research developed models to map the different stages a news organization had to pass to become fully convergent. Although scholars recognized that there was ‘no specific catch-all formula or model that fits every organisation’ (Lawson-Borders, 2006: 167), the basic assumption was that only when this ‘final’ stage has been reached, would newsroom innovation be deemed successful.

The EU-funded MUDIA project (Aquino et al., 2002), for example, created a circular model wherein media organizations could eventually reach the phase of ‘full convergence’ (360 ) after passing the earlier phases of baby steps (90 ), grass-roots Downloaded from gaz.sagepub.com at University of Groningen on January 24, 2013 22 the International Communication Gazette 75(1) initiatives (180 ) and multimedia integration (270 ). The convergence continuum, presented in 2003 as an ‘instrument for measuring convergence efforts’, also presupposed that media companies should aim for full convergence through the stages

of cross-promotion, cloning, coopetition and content sharing (Dailey et al., 2005:

151). Finally, while noting that newsroom convergence is complex and cannot easily be ‘modelled’, Garcıa Aviles et al. (2009) distinguished three stages of media conver´ ´ gence: coordination of isolated platforms, cross-media and full integration. They concluded ‘that reality is still different from wishful thinking’ and that not every newsroom will reach the ‘ultimate’ stage of full integration (Garcıa Aviles et al., 2009: 301).

´ ´ Our research into the development of convergence and cross-media journalism at three Dutch media organizations shows that convergence should not be conceptualized as a more or less linear process that is focused on full integration (cf. Tameling and Broersma, 2012). On the contrary, it should be perceived as an intuitive search for the best way to implement technological opportunities, while in the meantime balancing journalistic aims and profitable business models. In this process, policies are reconsidered and new strategies are implemented, because unforeseen consequences occur and economic, cultural and organizational parameters are constantly changing. At de Volkskrant, the ‘long road to convergence’ eventually led to a return to the point of departure. Economic factors were leading in that decision. As Pew’s (2011) ‘State of the news media’ study concluded: ‘In any scenario, one issue seems paramount: Money will to a large degree determine where things are going.’ A second strand of research focuses on the implications of convergence for journalism practice – on the pitfalls and opportunities. Findings are usually based on quantitative surveys (Filak, 2004; Huang, 2006), qualitative interviews with a limited number of journalists and managers (Achtenhagen and Raviola, 2009;

Dupagne and Garrison, 2006; Thurman and Lupton, 2008) and increasingly on ethnographic research (Boczkowski, 2004; Cottle and Ashton, 1999; Erdal, 2009, 2011;

Garcıa Aviles et al., 2009; Lawson-Borders, 2006; Meier, 2007; Singer, 2004).

´ ´ These studies present a fuzzy picture of a confused profession. On the one hand, many reporters are convinced that a multitude of news consumers can and should be reached through different platforms and at different times of the day. Sharing content, sources and ideas between different platforms is perceived as very useful and efficient for journalists. Moreover, they believe that being multimedia skilled can provide them with more job possibilities. While some journalists are insecure about their ability to obtain multimedia skills, others value the challenge (Dupagne and Garrison, 2006; Fioretti and Russ-Mohl, 2009; Kolodzy, 2006; Lawson-Borders, 2006; Meier, 2007; Singer, 2004).

On the other hand, journalists and scholars stress the negative effects of convergence and cross-media journalism. They argue that companies seize the opportunity to enforce efficiency in the newsroom and cut costs (Deuze, 2004; Dupagne and Garrison, 2006; Fioretti and Russ-Mohl, 2009; Lawson-Borders, 2006; Meier, 2007; Singer, 2004). The pressure enforced by the 24-hour news cycle on the internet and the requirements to work multiplatform ‘reduce the editorial staff’s time to research, report, and even think about their work’ (Klinenberg, 2005: 55).

Pew’s (2009) ‘State of the news media’ report concluded:

Downloaded from gaz.sagepub.com at University of Groningen on January 24, 2013 Tameling and Broersma 23 Those journalists surveyed, who come largely from websites linked to legacy media, also believe the Web is changing the fundamental values of the journalism – mostly for the worse. In particular, they are worried about declining accuracy, in part due to the emphasis online that news organisations are putting on speed and breaking news.

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