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Staking a Claim in the Converged Media World

Staking a Claim in the Converged Media World
By Dr. Sybril Bennett

The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to change the media ownership rules on June 2. In short, part of the ruling would allow newspaper owners in certain media markets to purchase television stations in the same city. For example, the Gannett Corp., which owns The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville, Tenn., could purchase a television station in the city. There are congressional hearings on whether the vote should stand.
One of the primary arguments of those against the change is that unilateral ownership could limit diversity. For example, if a media owner decides not to run a particular story, thousands of viewers and readers could fall prey to corporate censorship.  Those supporting the change believe it is necessary in order to give broadcast and print operations more leverage to compete with the Internet, satellite and cable industries for audience share. Audience share translates into advertising dollars.  
Several big newspaper companies already own broadcast operations that were purchased before 1975 when the FCC created the ban on cross ownership. Today, those relationships are being described as the latest trend in the news industry called convergence. Convergent media means sharing information, resources and talent across media platforms, such as television, radio, newspapers or the Internet. In cities like Tampa, Fla., Lawrence, Kan., and even Washington, D.C., you may have seen a television reporter’s column in the local newspaper or on the Internet. Conversely, you may have heard a print reporter deliver his/her story on the radio.  
Ultimately, this arrangement may be used to save money by hiring one journalist to perform multiple duties for the same salary. It is also a way to stretch an advertising budget because of the ability for cross promotion.
At the corporate level, partnerships, mergers and/or cross-ownership could mean increased newspaper circulation and revenues. The trend may
also boost enrollment at journalism schools. Many are revamping their programs to address the need for students who can successfully perform in converged newsrooms. It all sounds great but a concern should be that the number of Black students choosing to major in journalism has been declining for years. At the same time, many veteran Black journalists are leaving news organizations in quantifiable numbers. In other words, the pipeline is losing water from both ends and the timing couldn’t be worse.  
News managers of color are few and far between, so they are not there to learn about the developing trend. And, Black students are not in the classroom in large numbers preparing for jobs in the age of New Media. It’s a disheartening reality when research clearly shows the value of having diverse voices in newsrooms.  
On the scholarly side, there is a growing body of literature on convergent media.  It is imperative that academics of color engage in research in this area. At this point, many journalists and researchers may be hesitant to jump on the convergence bandwagon. But this is the most opportune time to get involved. There are a lot of questions about whether convergence will work. Some say the industry is in a state of convergence confusion. Do not be afraid of lacking knowledge in this area. Many of the self-proclaimed experts admit no one really knows what convergent media is or what it will become in the future.
The verdict is out on whether journalists, scholars or students of color are educating themselves about the new trend. Hopefully, they are. Otherwise, in the not so distant future, they could find themselves digitally disenfranchised from the converged media world.  

— Dr. Sybril Bennett is the executive director of the New Century Journalism Program and an assistant professor of journalism at  Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.

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