Developing a vision for converged student media

Earlier I posted the text from a presentation I gave to the 2009 Convention of the Broadcast Education Association. I mentioned in that post that I gave two presentations, but I hadn’t posted the text of the second one yet. This second presentation, which I gave on the morning of the last day of the convention, wasn’t nearly as well attended as my first presentation. I think many people had caught early flights out of Las Vegas, or perhaps some were sleeping in after a night out on the town. So for what it’s worth, here is the text of my talk on developing a vision for converged student media.

Monroe Einstein Large

Do you recognize the person in this photograph? If you said Marilyn Monroe, take a closer look. [For those reading this on a computer screen right now, it might help to see the effect of this hybrid image by changing your distance from the screen. You can also see the effect by looking at the hybrid image at different sizes. Does the image on the right look like Marilyn Monroe? For more on this and other hybrid images, visit Aude Oliva’s Hybrid Image Gallery.]

Monroe Enstein smallMonroe Enstein smallMonroe Enstein small

This photo illustrates something about vision. And at the same time, it says something about convergence. So it provides a good starting point for my talk today about developing a vision for convergence in student media. In the next few minutes, I’d like to share with you two general principles that I think this photo illustrates about the problems and opportunities for developing a vision for converged student media. And then I’d like to conclude by sharing just a few ideas from my own experience of advising multiple media.

This first general principle I think this photo illustrates is that vision is highly dependent on one’s range of vision. I’ve been a faculty advisor to various student media outlets for almost 30 years now, so I’d have to say I have a pretty long-term range of vision. And no doubt my perspective on student media is going to be at least somewhat different than the perspective of my students. I’d like to hope we can have a shared vision, but I have to admit that most of my students have a much more shorter-range vision. That is, they find it difficult to see very far beyond a couple of years, probably because they won’t be around in a couple of years. Well, hopefully they’ll be around somewhere, but if we’re doing our jobs, they’ll graduate. Their time with student media is finite. Faculty advisors keep coming back for more. So while I might be able to see things from a sufficient distance to see Marilyn Monroe in this picture, students tend to have a more close-up, short time frame view, and might be stuck staring at Albert Einstein. Personally, I think Marilyn is a bit easier on the eyes.

So developing a vision for student media really requires both the longer-term maturity of vision that a seasoned faculty advisor can bring, and the shorter-term immediacy of vision that enthusiastic students bring. And while I tend to think the faculty advisors role in developing a vision is important, I also think the students role is important. In fact I think it’s more important.

I didn’t always think this way. When I was younger and just getting started advising student media, I thought I knew more than the students, and that my knowledge made my vision more important. I thought my role was to direct student media, to manage things, to define the vision. But soon I discovered that students typically have their own view of how things should be. And sometimes, their vision turned out to be pretty good. I still think I know more than my students, at least about the things I know a lot about. But I also know that I don’t know everything, and I’m OK with that. I would much rather be working with my students in developing a shared vision, than working against my students in imposing my vision. So to sum up my first general principle: when developing a vision for student media, work with your students to see things from both a long range and a short range perspective.

I think this double-vision photo also reveals something about convergence. You know we’ve been talking about convergence for a long time. I was looking through my old BEA programs, and saw the theme of the 1997 BEA Convention, twelve years ago, was “Reinventing electronic media: Multimedia in the new millennium.” Well, we’ve been in this new millennium for almost a decade now. And while on one level some convergence seems to have taken place, there is one thing about convergence that’s hard to deny. We still have separate media. We still have radio. We still have TV. We still have newspapers, at least we have a few. And we still have the web. And while they might work together, they are still pretty much separate.

Sure, some student media web sites give the impression of convergence. In fact, the other day I was at a session where a student and his advisor from Wartburg College was showing off a really nicely done convergence site. But even though this website, which they call “the Wartburg Circuit,” looks great and brings together all of the different student media on campus for a unified web presence, they still have a radio station, a TV station, and a newspaper. It’s just that now they have another thing.

This isn’t so much true convergence, then, as a presentation of convergence, much like this picture here. This isn’t a picture of Albert Monroe or Marilyn Einstein. It’s two pictures, smushed together, and whether you see Albert or Marilyn depends a lot on your perspective. But it’s rather hard to see both as a converged thing. Rather, your eyes tend to want to see one or the other.

So developing a vision for converged student media is, like this picture, a bit of parlor trick. For just like our eyes find it hard to focus on different images at the same time, so too do our eyes find it hard to lock onto a clear vision of what converged media would look like. If anything, the vision that does emerge is, like this picture, a smushing together of things that are easier to focus on separately. So to sum up my second general principle: convergence probably won’t replace individual media, but it can provide opportunities for a combined presentation of media.

So let me conclude today by suggesting just a few things from my own experience about developing a vision for converged student media. Please take them for what they’re worth… a few ideas based on my experience in advising multiple media at West Chester University.

First, a little background so you know where I’m coming from. Part of the reason I was hired at West Chester was because they needed someone to help them launch a campus radio station, which I did. We got our FM construction permit during my first year and built the thing and got it running during my second. After four years of advising the radio station, the students asked me to advise the TV station, too. And a couple years later, they asked me to advise the newspaper. For a while, I was advising all three. But you know, that’s hard work for an old geezer. I was desperate for some kind of convergence on a practical level, if for no other reason than to preserve my sanity.

So I tried to influence the radio station, the TV station and the newspaper to meet together and work together and produce content that crossed media boundaries. At first students were excited about doing so. But then they realized that convergence, true convergence, is a lot harder than they thought. Pretty soon questions of turf came into the picture. And questions of equality and fairness. And questions of money. And yes, questions about whether one faculty member should advise three different media groups. If it was just one truly converged media group, maybe that would be OK. But we couldn’t. Or we wouldn’t. No matter how hard we tried to converge, some things, primarily related to the technologies we used, kept us apart.

But we did discover, together, that convergence came most naturally on the web. And that’s my first suggestion when looking to develop a vision for converged student media: look to the web. All three student media groups have content we put on web sites. So it makes sense to combine at least some of our web efforts and cross promote each other on our web sites. The vision of converged student media that is gradually emerging is largely one of multiple student media working together to create a more unified web presentation.

Here’s another idea: use the web to share content among student media. Start with a good online content management system. I like Drupal, because it’s open source and easily customized, but WordPress is mighty fine for some applications. Store your various media assets in a shared web database, something that all of your media groups can take advantage of. By encouraging students to share content with each other, they begin to focus less on the differences that separate the media and more on the content that they have in common. And it also helps students discover the emerging qualities of the most shareable content, that is, how to be more platform agnostic in creating media content. That’s an important lesson, but one that is more easily discovered through practice than through imposing a contrived vision of convergence.

My last suggestion, and one that I hope doesn’t upset anyone here at BEA, is to bring students from multiple media groups to the College Media Convention, which is held in the fall each year. This year it’s in Austin, Texas. If you’ve never been to a College Media Convention, you should go, and you should bring your students, and if you can, bring students from all of your media groups on campus. I used to bring students to BEA years ago. In fact, I tried to start a student division of BEA years ago. And a few of my colleagues still do. But BEA really isn’t a convention for students. The College Media Convention is. There are far more students in attendance than there are faculty, and that’s one reason why I’ve grown to love the College Media Convention. Co-sponsored by College Media Advisors, Associated College Press and Collegiate Broadcasting, Incorporated, this annual mega-conference is a great opportunity for students, and it’s a great way to build bridges between media groups on campus. There’s nothing like getting TV, radio and newspaper kids to share crowded hotel rooms, go to sessions with each other, and yes, maybe even party a little together. A lot of vision for convergence can emerge once you leave all the questions of turf back on campus and spend a few days together at a really well done convention, where students can quickly develop a broader perspective on convergence.

Well those are a few ideas for developing a vision for converged student media. If they sound rather modest, it’s because they are. Some of you may have noticed that I said earlier, “for a while I was advising all three media groups.” I’m not anymore, and to be honest, it’s a bit of a relief. Even faculty advisors have to have a life. I’m still not sure convergence is the wave of the future. But I do think we will continue to find ways to do a little smushing together, just like in this picture. Although the more I look at this picture, the more I think Marilyn needs to shave. Scarry.

BEA 2009: Ethical Dilemmas in Student Media

I just got back from the 2009 convention of the Broadcast Education Association, where I made two presentations. The first presentation was entitled “Ethic Dilemmas in Student Media: When Money Talks, Ethics Walk.” In this presentation, I tell the story of KWJC, a radio station I used to advise at William Jewell College. This paper was well received, and I got some great feedback, so I may polish it up and submit it for publication somewhere (probably in Feedback, a BEA journal where this sort of piece is most appropriate). But for what it’s worth, here is the script of my presentation as given at BEA 2009…

Ethical Dilemmas in Student Media:
When Money Talks, Ethics Walk

Today I’d like to tell you a story. A true story. A cautionary tale of money trumping ethics. If the story sounds a bit personal, well, it is. You see, I was a part of this story, or at least part of its history.

It begins long before I became part of it. About 40 years ago, the late Dr. Georgia Bowman, head of the speech department at William Jewell College, decided to start a student-operated radio station. It launched with a humble 10 watts of power, just enough to cover the Kansas City suburb of Liberty, Missouri.

In 1984, I was hired as a new faculty member at William Jewell. Among my duties was the role of faculty advisor to this station. And during the next decade, we made a number of improvements to the station. But perhaps most importantly, this station, KWJC, provided a solid foundation for a broadcast curriculum that educated hundreds, maybe even thousands of students over the decades.

I left William Jewell in 1997 to start another adventure in my life, and another student radio station, at West Chester University. But I left with fond memories, and high hopes for KWJC. I was confident that I had left a finely-tuned student radio station. It was, after all, the inspiration for one of my most widely cited articles on student radio, the “Enhancing the Electronic Sandbox” piece in Feedback.

So it was with great pride that I heard this station I left behind was honored by the Princeton Review in 2004 as one of this nation’s top student radio stations. The faculty advisors and students who followed me continued to build and polish KWJC, and I was glad their hard work was being recognized.

But in February 2006, the storyline for KWJC took an abrupt twist. The faculty advisor at that time, a young broadcasting professor named Todd Wirth, got an e-mail from the dean requesting a meeting to discuss the radio station. Not knowing what to think, but hoping for the best, Todd went. It was a meeting that would change his life.

For it quickly became clear that the meeting was not about discussion at all, but to inform Todd that KWJC would soon cease to be a student radio station. You see, the college had decided to accept a lucrative offer. In return for a sum of money, my sources tell me it was $90,000, William Jewell College would suspend student operation of KWJC. After nearly 40 years of excellence in student radio, there would be no more at William Jewell. In fact, there would be no more curriculum in broadcasting. And by the way, Todd’s contract would not be renewed.

I still remember speaking with Todd here in Las Vegas at BEA 2006. I found it shocking what he shared with me about what happened. I felt bad for him, of course. And I felt a personal sense of loss. But even more, I felt bad for all the alumni of the station, all those students whose lives had been touched by KWJC. Some of whom I’ve seen here on the NAB show floors.

Yes, I felt bad. But soon, I felt mad, as I’ve learned more about this situation. The organization that convinced William Jewell to get out of student radio is called the Educational Media Foundation. The EMF has precious little to do with education. EMF is the legal name of the operators of two powerful national religious broadcasting networks known as K-Love and Air-One. And I’ve since learned that this was not the first time EMF convinced a college to essentially hold a license for their benefit.

Western Baptist College in Salem, Oregon wanted to start a student radio station back in the 90s. Because of financial problems, they almost didn’t get KWBX off the ground. But then the EMF brought their checkbook. Today, the college, now called Corban University, holds a broadcast license. But like KWJC, KWBX is hardly a student radio station. It’s just there to give the Air-1 network a signal in Salem.

And in Kansas City, Air-1’s signal blankets the metro area quite nicely. For shortly after EMF took over KWJC’s airwaves, the station was awarded a construction permit to increase its power to 7,000 watts. Yes, Air-1 has a dandy signal in KC, and it doesn’t even have to bother with all the responsibilities of holding a license. For the license is still held by William Jewell. In fact, it was the college’s status that helped give it the nod in a competitive FCC hearing for its construction permit. And who was William Jewell competing against on behalf of the EMF? Why, it was Community Broadcasting, which is the legal name for Bott Broadcasting, another powerful religious broadcaster.

Indeed, if you look at the organizations that have dominated applications for noncommercial educational FM radio stations in the last few years, you’ll notice that they’re not really noncommercial, and they’re not really educational. They are religious broadcasters, mostly protestant, evangelical, and fundamentalist.

Last week I did a licensee search in the FCC’s CDBS database. Bott’s Community Broadcasting group has 165 facility IDs in that database. Way-FM has 204. Bible Broadcasting 237. Family Stations 454. The American Family Association has 555. But no one comes close to the Educational Media Foundation. With 1,516 facility IDs, the EMF is clearly the Clear Channel of noncommercial education radio. No organization has been more active in aggressively building not one but two nationwide religious radio networks.

Now some might say this is just good business. Stations turn over all the time. Broadcasting in America is, if nothing else, a business. And money talks, it’s hard to deny that. But when money talks, should ethics walk? Especially in that special class of broadcasting called noncommercial educational? And even more especially in that very special class of noncommercial educational known as student radio? So before I conclude my remarks, let me suggest just a few ethical questions raised by the story I’ve shared with you today.

First, is it ethical for the EMF to pay a college to hold a license for a station that they program? KWJC’s license is still held by William Jewell College, even though they have very little to do with the station’s operation. I’m no lawyer, so it may be technically legal, I suppose, but is this really ethical?

Second, is it ethical for the EMF to essentially use this college and its broadcast license to gain an advantage over their competition in an FCC hearing? Yes, the EMF probably wouldn’t be interested in KWJC if they weren’t in a position to increase their power. But is it ethical to cut a deal with the college to help ensure that power increase, especially when it benefits the EMF far more than it benefits the college?

Third, is it ethical for a college to accept money in return for closing the doors on something that was a part of campus life for nearly four decades? Why would a college shut down an award-winning student radio station, one that was attracting students to the college? Why would you suddenly drop a broadcasting curriculum, forcing many students to leave the college to finish their degrees elsewhere? Why would you end the contract of a promising professor, one who has published in BEA journals…all for some money? Is that really ethical?

And finally, is it ethical for the FCC to routinely grant noncommercial educational licenses to a small number of highly profitable businesses? Consider the Educational Media Foundation. This is a business that took in almost a third of a billion dollars last year in revenue. And this is not unusual. Religious broadcasters make a lot of money selling airtime.

If you think it’s illegal for a noncommercial educational station to sell airtime, think again. It’s technically not illegal for these stations to sell airtime, it’s just illegal to sell airtime to for-profit companies. And there’s the loophole that religious broadcasters have used to bring in the bucks. They sell plenty of airtime to ministries, many of which are also highly profitable businesses. As long as they only sell to organizations that can legally claim non-profit status, noncommercial educational stations can sell 60 minutes out of every hour if they want to. It’s legal, but is it ethical? And is it ethical for the FCC to continue to grant noncommercial educational licenses to organizations they know will sell air time in this way?

For some, these may be difficult ethical questions. But not for me. It really wasn’t ethical what happened to KWJC. And it really isn’t ethical what’s been going on in the noncommercial band. No, it’s not ethical. But it is about money. And when money talks, ethics walk.

Let me end with another true story, and I promise to keep it short. A few years ago, Lake Charles, Louisiana, earned the distinction of being the largest city in the US that couldn’t receive a signal from National Public Radio. That’s because the two translator stations that had been supplying the city for many years with NPR programming were forced off the air in favor of full-power FM stations operated by a religious broadcaster, American Family Radio.

That was a wake-up call for public radio, and part of the inspiration for Public Radio Capital, an organization to help pubcasters fight for signals in the crowded FM band. So far, PRC has helped many stations preserve and expand their signals in the face of growing competition, primarily from religious broadcasters.

But what about student radio stations? Who’s going to fight for them? For my colleagues in student media, I hope the answer is you. I’m not sure if we can be successful. But I am sure we need to try. We need to be asking whether what is happening to the noncommercial educational FM band is ethical. And we need to keep asking…while we still have the chance.

College Media Convention – Day 2

Today was a full day for me at the College Media Convention. I spent most of the day in sessions related to software included in the new version of Adobe’s Creative Suite. I began by attending a session on one of the components of the suite I use the least: Adobe Illustrator. This vector graphics application has gone through a number of iterations during its history, and in earlier versions of the Creative Suite, Illustrator seemed to be one of the least integrated. The latest version appears to correct that issue, as Illustrator has become an integral part of Adobe’s Creative Suite 3.

Next was today’s plenary session. Unlike yesterday’s keynote speaker, today’s was rather ho-hum. You know you’re in trouble when a speaker spends the first five minutes asking the audience to “raise their hands if the think this will happen“ and ”raise their hands if they think that will happen.“ One or at most two questions like that are OK, but it gets old quick. Among other things, Sam Feist, CNN’s Political Director, spent a lot time talking about how important it was to be apolitical as a journalist. This from someone who holds the title ”Political Director“ seemed a bit odd. At times he sounded more like a public relations professional than a journalist, spending a lot of time extolling the virtues of CNN’s news policies. And although he tried hard to hide his political inclinations, he didn’t try hard to hide his distaste for Fox News Channel. I didn’t find myself disagreeing with most of Sam’s points, but I did find myself getting rather tired of his ”old school“ views of objectivity. One student tried to pin him down on whether objectivity was still possible today, a question he conveniently spun toward a critique of FNC. I really wasn’t surprised at Sam’s talk, as he works for one of the biggest names in the business. He has reason to play it safe and stick to the ”middle of the road.“ But is it any wonder why Fox, despite its obvious bias, is getting a lot better ”rating point per dollar“ return than CNN? When it comes right down to it, I think most news consumers today appreciate journalists who embrace their bias rather than try to hide it behind the increasingly thin curtain of ”objectivity.“ Even I would rather spend an hour watching Bill O’Reilly say patently stupid things than spend an hour in the ”Situation Room.“ Neither one is very good journalism, but at least the first is somewhat entertaining at times.

The rest of the day I spent attending sessions on the other components of the Creative Suite, including sessions on Flash video, Photoshop, In Design and Acrobat. I also had time to take in a session on blogging, which was quite interesting. I wish I could get more of my students at The Quad interested in blogging. Maybe someday.

After a full day of sessions, I took a group of editors from The Quad out to a place called ”The Reef“ for dinner. Although it looked a little iffy at first, it turned out to be a nice place to kick back and talk. The food was pretty good, and it was plentiful. And it gave me a chance to reconnect with some of my best students. Being on sabbatical, I kinda miss being around students, so it was nice to have the chance to interact with them again. What can I say? I guess I just like being around college kids.

National College Media Convention 2007 – Day 1

Since I’m on sabbatical leave this semester, I wasn’t originally planning on going to the National College Media Convention. But after thinking it over, I decided a couple of days before the convention that I would go after all. The convention was just a short train ride down to Washington, DC. And it would be good to see my student editors from The Quad, West Chester University’s award-winning student newspaper.

I’m glad I went. On Thursday afternoon, I enjoyed the keynote address by Rob Curley. I heard Rob three years ago when he was doing great things at the Lawrence, Kansas Journal-World. In particular, he was a pioneer in developing deep, rich content for the web, and saw early on the importance of the web for local newspapers. Last year he took a dream job as vice president for product development at Washington Post-Newsweek Interactive. In this position he has helped guide an extensive team of “convergence journalists” who create content for the Washington Post-Newsweek family of web sites, including most notably,

I’m not sure how many in the audience truly appreciated how rapidly Rob Curley rose in his profession, or how amazingly prescient his advice was a few years ago when he spoke at the College Media Convention in Nashville in 2004. But I hope that at least some of the students who heard him speak Thursday afternoon take heed of his suggestions…

  • Local newspapers must own local breaking news. Newspaper staffs are typically the largest news staffs in any market, easily outdistancing the resources of local broadcast news outlets. Yet when it comes to breaking news, people often turn to broadcasters. Newspapers need to realize that the web can help them in the effort to be the authoritative voice for breaking news.
  • Newspapers should embrace platform-independent delivery. The most important part of the word newspaper is news, not paper. Most journalists today write for both print and web, and many create audio and video content as well. Newspapers can and should be the dominant sources of news content in any platform. Convergence journalism isn’t just a trend; it’s today’s reality.
  • Newspaper websites should be about dialog, not monologue. Too many newspapers ‘t just “shovel” their print content into a web template. But that’s not how the web works…at least not effective web sites. People want to be able to participate. Give readers a voice on the web. Use the web to connect with your audience.
  • Embrace change with the right mindset. There are plenty of people in the newspaper business who resist change, who pine for the “old days.” But change is inevitable, and those entering the journalism field would do well to position themselves for change. This means having both a broad skill set and an open mindset. Having a variety of talents can open a lot of doors, but having a bad attitude can close a lot more.

Although it was a very fast-paced keynote, and at times a bit overwhelming, I left feeling good about what I’ve been telling my students for years now. And it made me feel good about advising student media. Journalists really do make an important contribution to the world. I’m honored to work with students who may be someday become the next Rob Curleys of the world.

Songs of Summer

As promised, in celebration of the first day of summer, today’s “Moldy Oldies” show featured “songs of summer,” with titles and/or subjects related to sunshine, summer fun, or with some connection to this season.  In case you missed it, below is a list of the songs I played this afternoon:

  • The Who – Summer Time Blues
  • Eddy Heywood – Soft Summer Breeze
  • Richie Havens – Here Comes The Sun
  • Silver Convention – Fly, Robin, Fly
  • Nat King Cole – Those Lazy-Hazy Days of Summer
  • John Denver – Sunshine On My Shoulder
  • Jonathan Edwards – Sunshine
  • Corey Hart – Sunglasses At Night
  • Bryan Adams – Summer Of ’69
  • Chicago – Saturday In The Park
  • First Class – Beach Baby
  • Zombies – Time Of The Season
  • Bobby Hebb – Sunny
  • Boz Scaggs – Miss Sun
  • Richard Marx – Endless Summer Nights
  • Blue Cheer – Summertime Blues
  • War – Summer
  • Donovan – Sunshine Superman
  • Cream – Sunshine Of Your Love
  • The Lovin’ Spoonful – Summer In The City
  • John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John – Summer Nights
  • Mungo Jerry – In The Summertime
  • Percy Faith – Theme from A Summer Place
  • Terry Jacks – Seasons In The Sun
  • Stevie Wonder – You Are The Sunshine Of My Life
  • Animals – House Of The Rising Sun
  • 5Th Dimension – Aquarius Let The Sunshine In

Moldy Oldies show returns!

After a four-week hiatus, I’ve decided to return today for a “first day of summer” edition of the Moldy Oldies show on WCUR. It will be from 4 to 6 p.m. this afternoon (although I may decide to start a bit earlier). My focus today will be on “songs of summer,” although I will be happy to play requests as well.

If you are unfamiliar with the Moldy Oldies show, this is a program I’ve been doing for many years on WCUR. As faculty adviser to our campus radio station, I feel that it is important for me to spend some time every week “in the trenches” doing a show on the air. Besides, I enjoy playing music from an earlier generation. So on most Thursday afternoons during the school year, I’m on the air from 4 to 6 p.m. I typically play mostly classic pop music from the 1960s and 1970s, with occasional tunes from before or after these decades. I often have a guest or two each week, and regularly feature an interview segment at 5 p.m. (coordinated by my former student and now “Associate Producer” Kathy Schlegel).

I don’t know how many more shows I’ll do this summer, but I’ll try to keep things going for at least some of the time. Since I’m on sabbatical leave this fall, I hope to have guest hosts fill in for me, as I won’t be able to be on campus. Doug “Mush” Carrol has said he would do a few, and I believe Kathy will also pitch in to keep things going with the interview segment.

So if you want to enjoy some tunes from the past, listen to WCUR-FM 91.7, or online at, Thursday afternoons from 4 to 6 p.m. To call in requests, dial 610-436-2478, or send an instant message to AIM screen name wcur919.