Convergence is a dangerous word Convergence is a dangerous word – wrote Roger Silverstone in our first issue of the journal in 1995. Why? because it has so many different facets of meaning. Over the 15 volumes of the journal we have published research on many of them, and in this paper I am going to look back over the themes which have emerged in relation to journalism
Back in 1995 when Julia Knight and I were laying the agenda for the journal one of the topical concerns was parallel convergence. The question on many peoples lips was - would parallel convergence lead previously disparate media providers to compete in the same highly competitive media marketplace. The effect of this was unknown and speculations ranged from the rise of a media oligopoly and cultural homogenisation, to increased diversity of access though proliferation of media channels. It was clear that technological convergence though digital media would lead to high risk alliances between telephony, TV, video & computing companies and that it also facilitated interaction between audience and news maker. Who the winners and losers would be in this race for the audience was the cause of speculation within the industry.
Today we are aware that media convergence is a process not a market event. Now we are more concerned about global convergence – ‘The cultural hybridity which comes from the international circulation of media content’ as Henry Jenkins puts it (Technology Review June 2001 p. 93) - and its effect on what is global and what is local, what is public and what is private, to whom we should give access to information, and whether information can be secure. We are debating it’s effect on our notions of privacy, intellectual property, identity and play. How did we get here?
Technological and parallel convergence For journalists the twin drives of parallel and technological convergence threatened established journalistic processes and threw into question professional standards. Let me illustrate this with some examples. In 1995 Brent MacGregor looked at Television News Gathering in the Age of the Satellite. He interviewed 40 televisionnews journalists to analyze the changing faceof location based crisis news gathering in the age of globally and internationally available twenty-fourhour news services such as CNN, Sky News,the BBC World Service and Euro news. He found deep rooted concerns over the speed satellite technology brought to newsgathering and how this was overriding journalistic practices established for the older media put in place to ensure editorial control of content. A few year later we published Simon Cattle and Mark Ashton’s case study of a majormulti-media BBC news centre piloting the latestdigital news technologies. Using in-house documents, interviews and participant observation they found concernsabout the increasingly pressurizedand superficial nature of multi-skilled, multi-media news production and its impact upon news output. Cottle and Ashton dismissed technophobic and technological determinism readings and argued that news production was in fact socially and culturally shaped and embedded within corporateand professional contexts and practices. (Vol. 5, No. 3, 22-43)
In navigating these changing professional contexts the ‘solid practical advice in the tenets outlined in codes’ such as that of the Society of Professional Journalists (USA) should provide the stability journalists need to deal effectively with an inherently unstable online environment - argued Jay Black in a special issue on journalism in 1998 edited by Jane Singer. The issue explored the challenges facing journalists and journalism looking at practical applications and implications. It exposed anxieties over the control of digital information and freedom of speech on the internet.
Journalism training was not addressing this issue Michael Bromley and Heather Purdey observed in 1998. They saw ‘a systemic problem in engaging with change’ in British journalism education, constrained by the requirements of
industry oversight bodies. They argued that ‘mediamorphic’ process, old and new journalism should not only co-exist but also be co-evolving and converging within a complex adaptive system’