Post-Convergence Journalism

STUDENT MEDIA AS A RESEARCH TOOL: How a small program can participate in the age of International, Post-Convergence Journalism.

Robert R. Mercer
Cypress College
Cypress, CA, U.S.A.


Convergence journalism is dying with every newspaper that closes, every TV station that presents late-night advertisements in prime time, and every radio station that is automated.

Even before the idea of convergence has been fully adopted in the United States, American media have entered a post-convergence era.

Plus, with most new media on the World Wide Web, all media is international and all students should train in international journalism.

This new age of journalism is in search of a name: “Journalism Innovation,” “Integrated Journalism?” “just Journalism.”

Cypress College has participated in convergence journalism since 1998. Any media program can contribute to media innovation no matter where the college or university is located or how big its enrollment.


When Cypress College began practicing convergence journalism 10 years ago, a cold war raged among mass media in America.

Newspapers, television and radio hunkered in their silos launching verbal missiles at the competing media. Newspapers dominated the press clubs in most cities and newspaper reporters would tell anyone of newspapers’ moral superiority. And they could prove it: TV trucks lined up in front of the offices of afternoon newspapers waiting for the 12:30 p.m. press run. They rushed these editions back to the TV stations so producers would know the news of the day.

But even in the 1980s and 1990s, newspapers were dying. Early symptoms of newspapers’ ill health appeared in New Mexico in 1933 when the Albuquerque Journal and the Albuquerque Tribune signed a joint operating agreement. The two competing newspapers saved money—and stayed in business—by sharing advertising and presses. The afternoon newspaper, The Tribune, finally closed in 2008.

In 1970, the American Congress passed the Newspaper Preservation Act promoting these monopolies. The Joint Operating Agreements the act permitted combined the business operations of two newspapers, but left the newsrooms free to report in their own way and express their own opinions independently. This guaranteed American voters could hear two competing political voices.

But JOAs could not stop the dying. By the early 1990s, the death of an evening newspaper was common. Morning newspapers wrote the deaths were a sign of the morning newspapers’ superior positioning in the market, not a virus that would one day infect them, also. With less competition, the morning newspapers appeared strong.

However, other journalists sensed a problem. The cost of journalism was too high. It was suggested a media chain should combine all its newspapers and broadcast stations under one management and use one team of journalists to produce content for all outlets?

Cypress College was a struggling newspaper program with very low enrollment that wanted to offer students media experience beyond print. The program rewrote its curriculum in 1998 using the convergence idea and began practicing convergence journalism in August 1999.

When asked to define convergence journalism at Cypress College, the program said convergence was: “All students working in all media at the same time in the same newsroom.” A single group of students published a weekly newspaper, produced a weekly cable television news show, and put the text, photos and videos on CyChron.Com.

Cypress College sent 27 journalism students to Prague in 2005 for study abroad. Deprived of a newsroom, the students wrote, photographed, videotaped and published everything on CyChron.Com as the students traveled about the continent. The students proved “backpack journalism” was not just an idea, but also a better way to report.

Cypress College became a web-first journalism program January 2006. All student journalism was published to the web first. The newspaper searched CyChron.Com for copy to fill its pages. The video webcast wrote its scripts from the stories posted to CyChron.Com. To the frustration of the adviser, reporters still thought in terms of newspaper deadlines. They did no real reporting until the day the newspaper went to the press.

CyChron.Com traffic increased from less than 100 pages views a day to 450 page views per day in the next year. In the same period, recycled copies of the newspaper began to outnumber distributed copies. The staff’s epiphany came in the spring 2008. The frustrated editor declared, “Do you know we just spent more time laying out this newspaper than collecting the news in it?”

Clearly, to the students newsprint had become an inefficient distribution system.

The students asked to abandon the printed newspaper and redouble their efforts editing CyChron.Com. For a print product, they started a monthly, feature magazine, Divergence.

Today, CyChron.Com IS The Cypress Chronicle. About 600 people visit it each day—240 people on Christmas Day! The magazine reaches more readers than the newspaper did and yields more advertising income. Online ads are growing too. But The Cypress Chronicle reader also watches C-Scope, the student’s webcast video magazine, and listens to Cypress College Radio, a 24/7/365 audio stream featuring international music from Europe and the Americas and interviews with musicians from around the world.

But The Cypress Chronicle is no longer a “convergence journalism” experience. Without a newspaper, without a cable television newscast, without any traditional media in the mix, the program has definitely moved into the post-convergence era. A group of convergence scholars meeting at the University of South Carolina in October calls it the age of “Journalism Innovation.” A former Tulsa Tribune Newspaper editor calls it “Integrated Journalism.” The University of Nevada-Reno is dropping all traditional media majors. The dean told this writer March 27, 2009, the university will just teach “Journalism.”

Cypress College this year began training its students as international journalists. The adviser to the program is a Fulbright Scholar. He taught at the Lutsk Liberal Arts University in fall 2007. In spring 2008, the Cypress journalism department won a five-year grant to develop an international journalism program. In Fall 2008, the adviser presented eight synchronous lectures from California to Lutsk students using Skype video conferencing. The course, Introduction to Convergence Journalism, prepared another cohort of second-year students to work in new media. These students and students from the 2007 class are now being paired with Cypress College students to form reporting teams. They are publishing on CyChron.Com. The goal is to create three teams to cover world youth issues.

CyChron.Com is being redesigned to have a separate International Student website attached to CyChron.Com. And it is hoped the adviser will lecture again in Fall 2009 to a Lutsk class via teleconferencing.


New media research is integrated into the Cypress College curriculum. All new media is created by students: CyChron.Com; C-Scope, Divergence and Cypress College Radio. Students are required to research the legal, regulatory, financial and journalistic issues before launching new media. Today they are experimenting with social networking for news distribution.

As a result, Cypress College is not creating models and then forcing students to adapt. Unlike traditional media that represents decades, even centuries of standardization, each new medium is organic. It represents the work-attitudes of the current generation of journalism students. It reflects how the newest generation of audience members wants to receive their mediated messages.

How the new journalist will do his/her job is subject to great debates.

Critics originally said convergence journalism produced an inferior newspaper and an inferior television newscast. Critics said no one person can master all the skills found in a newspaper staff, let alone all the skills needed for both print and broadcast and then internet. The latter was true.

However, Cypress College never thought everyone could master every skill. It showed everyone could become a “jack of all trades, and a master of one.” Any journalist should be able to write a simple (inverted) pyramid story, take a photograph, and shoot video. Students individually have excelled as cable TV producers, newspaper editors, etc.

New media as developed by Cypress College students has more the feel of radio. The story “goes live” when the event occurs or the investigative piece is finished. The traditional idea of a deadline is much flexible. Divergence, the print magazine, goes to bed the last Thursday of the month. Unlike a newspaper due out the next morning, there is always time to do the job correctly. And C-Scope, the video magazine, is posted to YouTube.Com when it is done—correctly.

Appointment media, that is traditional media for which the reader or viewer must be present on the hour to receive it, is not a part of new media.

While Cypress College began practicing convergence in 1999, it was not until 2001 Cypress College realized it had something unique in higher education. Among California journalism programs, it was the first to adopt digital photography; the first to send newspaper files to the printer electronically. On 9/11/2001, it was the first to post streaming video on a web site. It was the first to have a streaming “radio station” on the web. It was the first to go web-first; and…the first to abandon the printed newspaper.

Students, challenged to view all technology as a tool to be adopted immediately, spot trends well in advance of traditionally advised student mass media.

Today, many journalism programs use most of the tools Cypress College used first. However, only Cypress College, among its California peers, has moved beyond convergence into the post-convergence media world.

Cypress College is a participant in the University of South Carolina annual fall convergence conference. Our students presented at the conference in 2002 on their use of convergence. The adviser presented in fall 2008 on “Exporting Convergence to Post-Soviet States,” outlining the plans to move into international journalism by partnering with peer campuses in Ukraine.


Cypress College never set out to use its student newsroom as a research tool. It just wanted to offer students a chance to work in multimedia. However, almost every trend spotted by our students is now common in California journalism programs. But these programs still struggle to achieve convergence among their traditional media outlets on campus.

None have abandoned traditional media and entered the post convergence world of journalism innovation as outlined at the 2008 Convergence Conference in the University of South Carolina’s Newsplex.

Where does Cypress College go next in curriculum development? We will go where the students lead us.

Our goal is not to teach students the rules of traditional media, but how to write the rules of new, innovative, integrated media—or just plain journalism—that will serve the world in which they will live.


The Cypress College experience is not a statistically valid research model. As a community college, the faculty is not rewarded for academic research. We are a teaching college. However, the program adviser believes Cypress College represents a serious pilot program available for research academics to study while creating peer-reviewed studies. It welcomes international research partners.

Areas of potential research include:

• Student-lead curriculum development
• Generational-specific media development
• Integrated Journalism practices
• Building innovation into journalism research
• Building innovation into journalism instruction

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