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Convergence is a buzzword in which Comparative Media Studies is heavily invested, and we are spending a significant amount of time this term examining what effects that convergence is having on newsgathering and journalism in America.
These research questions are driven, in part, by a three-part series of the MIT Communication Forum entitled "Will Newspapers Survive?"
The series began with a panel of three professional journalists who came at these questions from different angles, in a panel subtitled "The Emergence of Citizens' Media," on Tuesday, Sept. 19.
Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam, Wisconsin State Journal editor Ellen Foley and Dan Gillmor, former columnist for the San Jose Mercury News and now founder and director of the Center for Citizen Media and author of We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, For the People all brought their unique perspectives to bear on this question.
Gillmor, a strong advocate for citizen journalism and journalists' interaction with the blogosphere, emphasized that citizen journalism does not seek to replace professional journalism but rather to make it more accurate and balanced.
"Traditional media is filled with really smart people who are getting scared enough to do interesting stuff," Gillmor said. "Newspapers should want to be the town square and get everyone involved."
Beam, familiar to many in attendance through his work as a columnist here in Boston, said he does think that newspapers need to consider alternate revenue streams but said he has his doubts about the wisdom of crowds.
"I'm something of a skeptic of citizens' media, but I've always been interested in my readers," he said.
Foley explained how her newspaper has accepted aspects of a converged newsroom and citizen journalism into its practices, including letting viewers vote on a story to go on the front page every day, providing a space for reader blogs and installing a webcam in the newsroom.
"We are a broad-based medium and we create a conversation that is very beneficial to our community," she said.
While Foley expressed her interest in seeing journalism expand into new media spaces, she disagreed with Gillmor's perception that "the cash cow is dead" regarding the rise of smaller Web-based businesses taking significant business from traditional news organizations.
"I don't think it's happening at the pace Dan thinks," she said. "Newspapers get it, and we're creating content that is Web-only."
I have written a commentary about my subsequent interaction with Ellen Foley on the Convergence Culture Consortium Web site.