Houston Public Media embraces different forms of convergence

Houston Public Media has launched a converged website that rolls up two radio stations and a TV station into one single brand and under a new non-profit board called the Houston Public Media Foundation.

It’s a unique case study in media convergence, a strategy that has had shaky success in the newspaper world. Ever since the Tampa Tribune partnered and moved in with a local NBC affiliate in 1999, many media observers have projected the inevitability of media convergence. Inevitable perhaps, but not easily achieved. (In 2012, the company that owned the Tribune and the NBC affiliate put the newspaper up for sale, opting to focus on broadcasting amid declining newspaper revenues.)

Convergence isn’t just moving in together. It takes different forms whether you are talking about management, news production, promotion and content delivery. Rich Gordon’s summary of convergence forms in 2003 is still relevant and gives us a way to analyze how media organizations approach the complexities of media mergers, cooperative agreements and digital transformation.

So to walk you through what Houston Public Media as been going through from the convergence lens (referring to Gordon’s descriptions of each type):

  • 2011: Radio and TV CEOs are phased out to make way for one chief in charge of public media (structural/organizational convergence)
  • 2013: Elimination of more staff and a new focus on a “multi-platform” arts coverage team (tactical convergence)
  • 2014: New merged website and brand under Houston Public Media (presentation/distribution convergence)

For most media organizations, convergence is a way to find cost efficiency, to do more with less. (It’s questionable whether that actually plays out.) The question will be whether this move helps or hinders HPM’s ability to raise funds, since each entity handled that independently. With this latest move, HPM’s management seems confident that one global brand will help all of its properties during its fundraising drives. It will be interesting to see how its members respond.

Making it harder to cheat

Overhearing a discussion about cheating on classwork the other day, I had this thought: Good teachers really ought to make it harder for students to cheat in any way they can. They should be constantly trying to out-smart their students, because the students are trying to out-smart them. They work in groups, collaborate and exploit existing resources quite well in order to make up for not studying and actually understanding the material. Students develop these skills quite nicely, which is an education in itself, but they suffer by not actually learning what teachers want them to learn.

In the context of a high school English class, I have these suggestions, which I would argue both thwart cheaters and encourage true student engagement.

  1. Sparknotes and Cliffnotes have made it all too easy to cheat by reading summary material instead of the actual source. Does Sparknotes have an entry for “Hunger Games“? I couldn’t find one. So cut back on the Shakespeare and pick a book or two from the young-adult bestseller list. Teach a text students will actually want to read and they might actually read it.
  2.  Analyze a film from the last century. Even some of the old greats — Citizen Kane — would be better than another go at “Othello”. Plot is plot. Character development is character development. Irony is irony. Critical thinking is critical thinking, right?
  3. Tell the students to read editorials from the local newspaper and critique them. Encourage them to write a letter to the editor on a local issue.
  4. If you do read classics (which of course, should be done), find modern versions of it to play in class, even if not direct remakes, but similar plot lines. Realize that Shakespeare was the soap opera writer of his day. Or, find modern films or TV shows that allude to the classics and quiz students on what was alluded.
Anyway, I’m not trained in education, but it seems that there could be more done on the teaching side to combat cheating. And in some courses that might mean veering from the traditional track and taking students into unexpected territory, where they have no choice but to learn.