Predictors of Convergence Curricula in Journalism and Mass Communication Programs

Article excerpt

This study is an attempt to understand the mechanism driving programs of journalism and mass communication to converge media sequences. The study also describes the extent and variation of these changes. Findings from a national survey show that a majority of programs are at least experimenting with convergence, though most are also maintaining specialized tracks in some form. Findings also suggest that faculty perceptions of industry changes explain movement away from a sole reliance on separate tracks, but small program size and lack of accreditation are more important in explaining the decision to merge sequences.

Recent research suggests many journalism and mass communication programs are taking steps toward convergence in their journalism curricula.1 These steps vary in nature from tentative tinkering with courses to full-scale merging of journalism and broadcasting sequences. Presumably such changes are spurred by a perceived need to reshape skills in the rising labor force so they reflect changing needs of journalism organizations. Yet the industry has been exploring convergence in only a tentative way, apart from a handful of high-profile cases.2

What is moving programs toward convergence if the market does not presently demand this movement? This study seeks to answer this question. In so doing, the study explores the mechanism driving curriculum change. Concepts from the sociology of organizations are used to develop predictors of change, including external factors from the economic and professional environment and internal factors such as structure and faculty characteristics. Specifically, the study analyzes (I) variation from traditional "mediumspecific" curricula to curricula that train students across media platforms, (2) variation in attitudes among administrators and faculty about convergence, and (3) possible causes of these variations. Findings suggest that faculty perceptions of industry changes explain movement away from a sole reliance on separate tracks, but small program size and lack of accreditation are more important in explaining the decision to merge sequences.

Convergence in the Industry

The concept of media convergence dates back several decades. In the mid1970s, convergence referred to the coming together of telecommunications and computer technology.3 De Sola Pool in the early 1980s spoke of "convergence of delivery mechanisms for news and information,"4 while Fidler said media convergence was the coming together of diverse technologies and forms of media.5 Convergence has also been defined fairly narrowly as the integration of broadband systems with other industries.6 In an undergraduate text on converging media, Pavlik and Mclntosh define convergence more broadly as the "coming together of computing, telecommunications, and media in a digital environment."7 In all these definitions, the concept of convergence involves a "coming together," "boundary blurring,"" or merging, which can take place at different levels. Media corporations merge assets; technologies and technological processes merge; local media operations merge staffs, production processes, and information; and news stories on the Web can merge modes of symbolic expression.9

For the present study, convergence is defined as a merging of specialized knowledge areas associated with organizational work for particular media platforms. At issue in this study is teaching these merged knowledge areas to future workers. This definition of convergence implies a merging at the operational level-e.g., a local TV station and a newspaper integrating work routines, work roles, and production processes. It does not assume technological merging (TV and newspaper technologies can still be separate), or even a merging at the corporate level.

Few local TV stations or newspapers are presently engaging in substantial convergence efforts. In one recent study, only 7.5% of TV staff and 3.1% of newspaper staff surveyed reported being required to take part in efforts to converge operations. …