The Tampa Model of Convergence
Level One: Daily Tips and Information
The most common form of convergence cooperation is probably the least obvious to our viewers, readers, and users: We do a lot of talking. Managers talk to managers. Beat reporters are encouraged to talk with their counterparts on the other platforms. Each platform holds several editorial meetings every day, and at least one of those meetings is designed specifically for convergence.
The day begins with WFLA-TV's 9 a.m. editorial meeting. Tribune assistant multimedia editor Ken Knight attends that and just about every editorial meeting on every platform all day. At 10:15 a.m., the Tribune holds its first editorial meeting, and it devotes the first 15 minutes of that specifically to the exchange of convergence coverage ideas. WFLA-TV executive producer Susan DeFraties attends that meeting every day.
Ken continues to represent and coordinate cross-platform interests in other editorial meetings throughout the day, working closely with Susan and with the Tribune's senior editor for multimedia, Pat Minarcin. It's their job to continually seek out and patrol for convergence coverage opportunities throughout the day and week.
One of the basic truths about convergence is that not every story or tip that excites one platform is suitable for another. Sometimes a good newspaper story is just that -- a good newspaper story, not suitable for TV.
The reverse is also true. We cooperate best where our coverage interests overlap. Such areas of overlap include investigative news, consumer news, spot or breaking news, medical reporting, and others. Our news philosophies are similar, but not identical. We all believe in such basics as asking tough questions, giving voice to the voiceless, covering the diversity of our communities, and reaching out to those communities through public service.
Our standards of journalism overlap, but there are differences. Depending on the subject matter, a story containing just one soundbite would not give the TV station much pause, but the Tribune generally insists on multiple sourcing for all stories.
Convergence etiquette within our building dictates that if one platform rejects a story pitch from the other, no one is allowed to demand a justification, express hurt feelings, or sulk.
Cooperation may take many forms. A minor form would be a story on one platform credited or attributed to the other. On our WFLA-TV 11 p.m. news, viewers often see an anchor read a story with a Tribune logo, beginning with words to the effect of, "The Tampa Tribune will report in the morning that…" A major form of cooperation would include carefully coordinated co-publication of an enterprise story. More on that in a moment.
Level Two: Spot News
Spot news is one area where converged news coverage really shines. In spot news, the TV station often goes on the air immediately. When a fire broke out in Tampa's Ybor City district, the Tribune and WFLA-TV flooded the field with crews. Multimedia assignment desk editors traded information on where each partner had crews; the TV station's live coverage was supported not only by the station's own crews, but also by Tribune reporters and photographers, who called the station by cell phone. While this was going on, the Tribune archive and research office, which has a workstation on the multimedia desk, was able to track down the ownership of the burning building. WFLA got that information on the air immediately, far ahead of its competition.
A short time later Tribune reporter Dave Simanoff, relying on background information already on hand, went live to give detailed information about the property now in flames -- property that, as it turned out, was connected to a key redevelopment project in one of Tampa's prime tourist districts. This is an important point: TV news, especially when it comes to the coverage of spot news, is often criticized for shallow, cursory, scratch-the-surface reporting. In this case convergence allowed the News Center to immediately provide context and perspective to the community in a way not often associated with broadcast spot news reporting.
The recent crash of a small plane into a downtown Tampa bank building provides another example. TBO.com's Jim Collins witnessed the crash and reported live from the News Center almost immediately. Tribune business writer Dave Simanoff had records on file about the building's tenants; he delivered this information to WFLA-TV viewers live. The Tribune archive desk quickly traced the owner of the plane via the tail number and Tribune reporters and editors helped wrangle witness interviews for WFLA-TV.
Cooperation is expected, but voluntary. The editors on the assignment desk trade information. They even trade suggestions about where to send crews. But no single person is in charge of all three platforms -- even in a spot news crisis.
Level Three: Photography
From time to time, the three platforms share resources, and by far the area where this happens the most is photography. Most WFLA-TV photojournalists carry digital still cameras. Many Tribune photographers carry small digital video cameras. We often cover for one another, most often in cases where our needs are simple. There's no sense in both the TV station and the newspaper sending separate photographers to a ribbon-cutting, if all the paper needs is a single shot and all the TV station needs is 25 seconds of video. We try to coordinate to maximize efficiency.
Level Four: Enterprise Reporting
Convergence manifests itself most powerfully through enterprise reporting.
One of the best examples of that is an investigation WFLA-TV reporter Mark Douglas conducted into corrosion inside the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. The bridge was supposed to stand for 100 years, but in fact some of the central support cables are failing from corrosion after only 10 years of service.
We informed the Tribune of the story in one of our regular convergence meetings. The newspaper asked if our TV reporter would be willing to write a newspaper version. We agreed. When converging an enterprise story, the rule is that the platform bringing the story to the table gets to decide who publishes or airs the story first. We all agreed the Tribune would publish first. That meant that the newspaper would break a story that a TV reporter had enterprised.
Mark worked closely with a Tribune editor. The Tribune graphics department generated artwork not only for the newspaper, but it also provided the foundation for the graphics in the TV version. On the day our story was scheduled for broadcast, the morning paper broke the story with the TV reporter's byline. TBO.com also posted a version of the story online.
After the paper came out, at least one talk radio station picked up the story, discussing it on air with full credit to both the Tampa Tribune and WFLA-TV. When 6 p.m. rolled around, the story was no longer exclusive. We had a better story, having had more lead time, but each of our TV competitors had a version. Our ratings spiked by 25% that day, giving us a huge win in our time slot.
This would not have happened had the newspaper not printed first. The Tribune got a nice little scoop. More importantly, our viewers, readers, and users could access the story when and where they wanted it -- in the paper, online, or on television.
This was more than just one story presented in three places; it was one story presented three different ways. We believe this amounts to a new form of journalism not seen before -- and because it's seen by more people, it has the potential for far greater impact, thereby enhancing our traditional role as a watchdog for the public.
Level Five: Franchises
In TV terms, a franchise simply is a standing commitment to air particular content at regular intervals, in a fashion similar to newspaper columns or features that have regular publication dates. WFLA-TV, TBO.com, and the Tribune cooperate on a number of such efforts.
- Tribune religion reporter Michelle Bearden appears on WFLA-TV once per week. Her segment appears the same day as her feature in the paper.
- WFLA-TV consumer reporter Victoria Lim writes a weekly column for the newspaper and appears regularly online, often with exclusive content.
- A Tribune business reporter, usually business editor Steve Kaylor, presents a Tribune-branded business segment six days a week in WFLA-TV's morning newscast.
- WFLA-TV meteorologist Steve Jerve contributes forecast information to the Tribune weather page, and TBO.com prominently features WFLA-TV weather reporting and information online.
- TBO.com features a crime database closely tied to a WFLA-TV crime franchise called Crime Tracker. The TV reports often "refer" to the tracking capabilities of the website.
Level Six: Events
Coverage of major events such as the Super Bowl, Olympics, and elections often provide excellent opportunities to showcase joint coverage. Typically, the newspaper and TV station will showcase their coverage with similar titles, refer to one another's stories when appropriate, and also promote coverage on TBO.com.
WFLA-TV did not send a crew to Salt Lake City to cover the 2002 Winter Olympics, but the Tampa Tribune did. So the TV station ran a special segment every night with Olympics highlights and stories from Tribune reporter Bill Ward, who uplinked video reports and commentary almost every day, sometimes twice a day. TBO.com tied it all together with a set of Olympics pages providing a wide range of reporting and statistics.
Level Seven: Public Service
Convergence creates a more powerful form of journalism. With greater power comes greater responsibility -- and the need for greater accountability. Each week, the three platforms solicit public feedback on journalism at the News Center. All calls go to a central phone number, and e-mails go to one address. The Tribune reader's desk routes the calls to the appropriate places and ensures that callers get a personal response of some sort. An ombudsman on the TV side assists with this process. Once a week, the newspaper prints a column responding to selected comments. The TV station does the same with a once-weekly on-air segment. TBO.com wraps it all up with a Citizens' Voice page.
We just added a very important element to Citizens' Voice. In late April, the Tribune, WFLA-TV, and TBO.com announced a ground-breaking joint statement of coverage principles, titled the "News Center Pledge." It is not a statement of ethics per se, but a statement of coverage values. The document acknowledges the partnership among the three platforms but commits to separate and independent editorial decision-making. It promises, among other things:
• Accuracy and fairness;
• To promptly correct mistakes;
• To give voice to the voiceless and cover our community in all its diversity;
• To conduct ourselves with compassion and sensitivity to privacy;
• To be a watchdog for our community and hold the powerful accountable -- including ourselves.
With this document and with Citizens' Voice, we have stated what we stand for and have provided a mechanism for the public to hold us accountable. Importantly, we've done so on a converged basis -- which we believe is a first for U.S. journalism.
We reach out to the public in other ways as well. Recently the Tribune and WFLA-TV co-sponsored a town hall meeting about the quality and responsiveness of local news. Public response and citizen involvement will also play a key role in our converged campaign coverage.