Barriers to convergence

This post is my contribution to the inaugural Carnival of Journalism: I’m so thankful for the motivation to get this idea out of my head at last. Find out more about the carnival

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Last week I sat in on a presentation to a World Editors Forum study group. They came to the Department to hear about how our relationship with Johnston Press worked – industry and education working together in what I suppose is called Knowledge transfer.

They got the opportunity to have dinner with Tim Bowdler the (now outgoing) Chief exec of JP. I got a reminder of a phrase I hadn’t heard in a while.

Gather Once – Publish Many

This was a phrase that JP used in their first digital strategy document and it became a bit of a motto – a mantra for a monomedia organization going multi-platform.

Hearing this put some perspective on the issue of convergence.

It’s something thats been at the forefront of my thinking recently. To be honest its been one of those really annoying things I couldn’t get out of my head and in to a post. The picture above is just one of the many pages of working out in my moleskine. And thats where the thoughts stayed until I heard that phrase.

There is a real issue with convergence in newsrooms. How do we do it? Why doesn’t it work? And thinking about that phrase finally slotted a few things in to place for me.

I think I know why integrating digital in to the way we work is so difficult for some; almost impossible for others. I think its because most organizations have slipped in to the mentality of

Gather once. Many publish

It’s a commonly accepted approach that an essential part of making digital work is that you free our content to as many people as you can – your community. They will help spread your content and develop it. Great in principle.

Of course the practice is that the process and so the content hasn’t changed to reflect that. That mantra has been split. Gather once applies to the newsroom. Many publish is left to the community. The process, the gather if you like, is still geared towards the artifact. A single page. There are two problems with that.

The first is that content generated in this way is not fit for (digital)purpose. The journalist spends a huge amount of time refining and editing the content for the page – it’s what we do. It’s the leanest, focused content it can be. Whilst that’s great for reading it’s rubbish for developing. You can’t put back in what you’ve taken out.

The second problem is that the point of convergence moves outside the organsiation. That means that the experience and knowledge doesn’t develop inside the newsroom. Convergence becomes difficult because the culture hasn’t changed.

Nowhere is this more obvious in multimedia. Whilst many publishers have made little or no effort to embrace multimedia. Those that have generally keep it separate from the rest of the process. This seems to be in stark contrast to the way that these same organisations think the audience will behave. Apart from being naive its actually pretty condescending.

To make convergence work we need to make newsrooms behave in the way we are expecting the audience to work. We need to bring convergent behavior back in the newsroom, away from the point of publication. That means reporters need to take stills cameras out with them every time they leave the office. They should be recording every interview with a digital dictaphone. That doesn’t mean that they should be doing anything with that content. They should be making that content available, where appropriate, in the same way we know they should be using Delicious or a blog.

I think we need to change the mantra inside the industry to

Gather everything: Share

We need to do that well before we even think about where its going to go.

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