The Incredible Synthesis of Modern Media
Daniel P. Kelly
University of North Carolina at Pembroke
October 7, 2007

The process of media evolution is taking place right in front of every person on the planet and they need to only look at themselves as its driving force. This nearly unstoppable movement is called convergence, which involves different kinds of media – video, text, radio, and the Internet – to meld together to form a singular method of mass communication. What this would entail is that of looking for news, information, and entertainment would be drastically simplified to one unified media source.

Unfortunately, it's a geologically slow process as the current population is only experiencing a first taste in what convergence can eventually offer. The Internet provides a suitable platform for the resolution of media as it is able to make exceptional use of traditional forms of communication like text, video, and sound. However, the Internet is only a piece of the contemporary convergence puzzle.

The traditional forms of media are just now trying to breach their protective shells to try radical methods of sending information to a mass audience. The distinct realms of newspapers, television, radio, and the Internet are just now starting to seep into each other and blur their boundaries by the slightest of margins. In a modern world, those distinctions that once ruled the media industry are becoming more detrimental than in previous years. Unequivocally, this trend provides numerous benefits to an increasingly fragmented audience and to struggling media outlets.

The time that any single person has to devote to media has changed drastically over the past half century from perhaps a few television channels and a local newspaper to hundreds of television channels, national and local papers, the Internet, satellite radio and countless others. Marcel Fenez states, "In a converged media economy, the scarce resource is consumer time and attention (1)."

This is the necessity of convergence for the individual media consumer. An eclectic approach to mass communication is necessary to provide every piece of essential information in a succinct format.

In many ways, convergence is a consumer-driven phenomenon. The population's newly divided attention has caused a shift in media strategy to deliver news, information and entertainment where it is most convenient for any single person. This change is clearly articulated by Randy Covington in Myths and Realities of Convergence that:
Newspaper circulation in the United States is falling at a rate of roughly five percent a year, and viewership of television news is in decline, while new media outlets and fresh formats for telling news are growing explosively. Internet penetration in the United States approaches 80 percent, and high-speed broadband accessibility is becoming commonplace. (54)
So, this has caused standard forms of media to re-evaluate what opportunities they are possibly missing by distributing messages in their traditional forms. Those opportunities are being clearly missed among a younger crowd, which have the lowest readership due most likely to their perpetually "wired" nature. This trend is also being reflected in the general population as a report by BIGresearch found that in the market of Columbus, Ohio that half of the consumers used multiple media concurrently (Quinn 34). This proposition is frightening for traditional media, as they struggle for the attention of someone who is actively ingesting their content. Clearly, these statistics show that the individual appetite for media has grown considerably yet the traditional forms are quickly looking more like the kids' menu than a suitable entrée. Why settle for the grayed chicken fingers provided by local paper when the option for an Alaskan King crab buffet is readily available on any local computer. More people are coming to this realization every day regardless of their affinity to King crab.

For media consumers, convergence also provides the news value of timeliness – receiving news and information in a suitably quick manner – at an entirely new level than previously imagined. Instead of waiting for the nightly newscast or the next day's paper, cell phones and computers can be updated with breaking news instantly.

This is especially important in the realm of journalism, as timeliness is one of seven sacred news values that form the foundation of the industry. This is due only to the demands of the collective public to have events quickly translated, summarized, and disseminated to them in a timely manner.

The Internet has only made the public more expectant of media to make news a liquid, perpetual process rather than bound to dated schedule in the creation of news All of these aspects give media consumers an incredible amount of power and allows for a greater degree of control over their individual media intake. For the longest time, consumers were trapped between waiting for news either through the morning newspaper, 24-hour news networks, and the nightly news. Even popular forms of television are still set on strict schedules that demand viewers bend their timetables simply to watch an enjoyable program. None of these are tailored to any individual person, which is the exact strength of converged media.

With the Internet, the ability to have "on-demand" information and entertainment is becoming more possible every single day. There are numerous news websites – affiliated and not affiliated with traditional news sources – that provide updates at all hours so there are no gaps in the news cycle.

Also, users of the site can easily distinguish between what information is relevant to them simply by scanning the headlines for the various articles. In this case, a well-written headline is even more useful in converged than traditional media. Scanning the headlines of The New York Times website is far more graceful than with the actual newspaper, which is bulky on its lightest days. People are also able to use Google to rent TV shows and basketball games, instead of being restricted to watching them during normal time slots (Oser 2). So, people are able to set their own schedule now and fit media into their lives as they deem necessary and not feel like they have to slog through a newspaper or lose sleep watching a news episode of a television show.

Convergence is a radical development but many people are likely to still see a wealth of traditional media and think that the idea is being blown out of proportion. They would be right in many respects, as society is still a ways off from a singular streaming source of media and entertainment. What is true is that society is only starting to see the very beginnings of convergence in a very rough and patchwork state. A better understanding of the business provides an explanation as to why change has happened at all.

Traditional forms of media have been around for decades and their numerous successes have hardened their dissemination strategies. Due to their domination of individual markets, traditional media are profitable ventures on the whole due mostly to their large amount of advertising. And so, this cycle was dutifully maintained for a majority of the last century as radio, television and newspapers found their own safe havens and guarded them fiercely. The Internet disturbed this equilibrium as it has quickly swiped the attention of the entire world away from traditional forms of media to their computer monitors. Now, audience statistics simply don't add up for a traditional form of media as the collective attention becomes more divided and difficult to predict. It is in this environment that intelligent media professionals realized their growing antiquity, stood up, and took the first baby steps of convergence.

These initial steps are the cross training of media professionals and the merging of traditional media.

That means that individuals in each profession are learning to become more versatile by acquiring more skills in other forms of mass communication. An example would be a reporter doing a podcast, reporting on camera, and writing an article for the next day's newspaper all from the same news event. This change has created cooperation out of rivalry as usually competing forms of media are now working together to help fill the gaps present in each form of presentation. In other cases, it means putting every form of media essentially under one roof.

This was the particular case for the Nordjyske newspaper in Northern Denmark, which was quickly losing readership and an overall lack of morale. Editor-in-chief Ulrick Haggerup decided that in order to avoid the fate of other Danish newspapers – tanking financially – that convergence was the only rescuer. Haggerup himself says, "in fact, this was and is a survival strategy while also providing a more satisfying and fun life for reporters (18)." What was once solely a newspaper for northern Denmark, became Nordjyske Media that had a website, a 24-hour cable show, and two printed publications. Haggerup also stressed that the focus wasn't cutting costs but providing great news content to the public in a form that suited them (Haggerup 18).

This is precisely the approach that media outlets should take in providing news and entertainment to the public. It may currently be too drastic a step to scrap every traditional form of media and focus entirely on providing media over the Internet, as many consumers are still attached to those forms. A cleverly divided approach focused on providing good content and not just advertising space simultaneously satisfies every media consumer. A newer breed of media professional is also required that is willing to look at convergence as a toolbox with each form of media as useful in its proper usage. Haggerup links the evolution of newspapers to Darwin's theory of evolution in that, "It won't be the biggest news organization, nor the newspaper that now has the highest circulation or has the editors and reporters earning the highest salary. It will be the news entity that learns how to adapt fast to the changing media habits of those it serves...(19)"

Convergence is an incredible benefit of living in a technological world in how it is gradually providing the tools to access news, entertainment, and general information to give individuals a new level of freedom. Media organizations are starting to see where the eyes of the general public are heading and are shedding their former selves to become more presentable to a technologically adept audience. This will remarkably improve the communication between the media and the public. There is a lessened chance in a disconnect occurring between the two because they can communicate on the same platform – the Internet – simultaneously and essentially create a running dialogue on both the content and distribution of media. While the traditional media still hold their purpose, it is certainly in a lessened role to the possibilities that online and on-demand media provide. The great epiphany of convergence is that the media are followers and are wholly dependant on the public in order to survive as successful businesses. Demands of media to provide instant information are difficult to meet, but that is the factor that the Internet has added to the world of information. Honestly, the developments are beneficial to both sides as the public gets exactly what they want while media are being spurred to innovate instead of grasping their outdated conventions of dissemination. Convergence is a harsh morning light for people dreaming of simpler ideas in media, but eventually, everyone has to pry their own eyes open to an invigorating sunrise.

Works Cited

Covington, Randy. "Myths and Realities of Convergence." Nieman Reports 60.4 (Winter 2006): 54-56. Communication & Mass Media Complete. EBSCO. 1 October 2007.

Fenez, Marcel. "Converging towards total control by consumers." Media Asia (27 Jan. 2006): 21-21. Communication & Mass Media Complete. EBSCO. 1 October 2007.

Gage, Ralph. "Navigating the Road to Convergence." Nieman Reports 60 (2006): 19-22. Communication & Mass Media Complete. EBSCOhost. 26 Apr 2007.

Haggerup, Ulrik. "Media Convergence: ‘Just Do It." Nieman Reports 60 (2006): 16-19. Communication & Mass Media Complete. EBSCOhost. 26 Apr 2007.

Oser, Kris, and Abbey Klaassen. "New media to spend big--on 'foe' old media." Advertising Age 77.3 (16 Jan. 2006): 3-25. Communication & Mass Media Complete. EBSCO. 1 October 2007.

Quinn, Stephen. "Convergence's fundamental question." Journalism Studies 6.1 (Feb. 2005): 29-38. Communication & Mass Media Complete. EBSCO. 1 October 2007.

Article © 2007 Daniel P. Kelly   –   Page © 2008 Dr. Anthony Curtis, Mass Communication Dept., University of North Carolina at Pembroke    e-mail    home page