From a research study by J. Sonia Huang and Don Heider
(University of Texas)
Nobody ever suggested that convergence would be easy. Television
and online news are different beasts and many newsrooms are still
trying to figure out how they can best work together. This new research
suggests that some newsroom systems and policies actually make convergence
more difficult than it might be otherwise.
The researchers spent most of November 2005 at News 8 Austin, the
Time Warner Cable news channel in Austin, Texas. They observed both
the television and online news operations, and conducted 38 in-depth
interviews with everyone from the general manager to the Web producers.
The study found that News 8's TV and Web operations were not well
integrated for several reasons:
- Web producers did not participate in editorial meetings. Unlike
the TV producers, the Web producers felt they had no authority
to suggest stories or approaches. One possible reason for the
divide is that Web producers at News 8 reported to the IT manager,
not the news director.
- Reporters often were required to rewrite their stories for the
Web, but many of them had no print background and found converting
their scripts to be a tedious task. As one reporter put it, "A
lot of time I have to go back and look and think about it. Go
back to double check. I wouldn’t say our end result is always
- Reporters who already shoot and edit stories for News 8 resented
what they saw as extra work without compensation. "We were
just told that now it’s a new responsibility of ours,"
one reporter said. "They are basically getting an extra person
out of all of us. It’s more work for us." Because of
their work load, reporters generally saw filing for the Web as
their lowest priority. "Sometimes it’s very inefficient,"
a reporter said. "And sometimes what happened is things won’t
get on the web quickly, because we have to do so many other things
- Most online content was repurposed from the cable newsroom.
A content analysis of the Web site found only 10 percent was "online
only," and most of that was not news but interactive community
services such as online polls, a neighborhood calendar, or photo
galleries. Also, the small Web staff was not able to update stories
throughout the day and some stories weren't posted until the next
day because the online staff had gone home.
- News8austin.com is supported by advertising and at the time
of the study was not making a profit. The researchers suggest
that's because the sales department treated the online news service
as an ancillary product. They would sell it only when advertisers
were interested in placing ads on their cable channels. In other
words, the sales people were not aware that news8austin.com had
its own audience and they had no idea how to sell it.
The researchers suggest that convergence would go more smoothly
if stations would integrate their Web producers into the newsroom;
if reporters were given some financial incentive to do extra work
or if their daily work load were adjusted to give them time to file
for the Web; and if the sales staff better understood the value
of the online product. Their conclusions may seem obvious, but they're
worth considering as stations wrestle with the complexities of convergence
and the difficulty of making money online.
Sonia Huang is a doctoral student at the University of Texas.
Don Heider was an associate professor at UT when this research
submitted to AEJMC in August, 2006. He is now Dean, School of Communication
Loyola University, Chicago.