The Convergence Newsletter

From Newsplex at the University of South Carolina

Vol. VI No. 12 (November 2009)

Bridging the convergence divide

By Matt McColl, Editor

Given the speed with which digital media have become part of our lives and the accompanying publicity, it’s easy to understand how we might forget that such convergence is not necessarily widespread throughout all social strata.

A Knight Foundation-funded program headquartered at Newsplex, BGTIME, looks to bridge some of that divide when it comes to senior citizens. R.J. Kraft explains how BGTIME is using students to help older members of the community with technology -- the ultimate result being a richer civic dialogue for all.

Augie Grant also has a recap of the Convergence and Society Conference co-sponsored by the University of South Carolina and hosted by the University Nevada, Reno the first week of November. After two days of presentations, he concludes that social media are affecting journalism as much as the current economy is, only in a good way.

We here at The Convergence Newsletter welcome articles and feedback from all our readers. You can e-mail us at and you can comment on all articles at The Convergence Newsletter blog,

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Featured Articles

BGTIME: Building a community Web site from the Ground Up

Conference highlights challenges, opportunities in convergence


Quick Glance Calendar(details)

Dec. 4-5: AEJMC 2009 Winter Meeting, Jacksonville, Fla.

March 11-13: AEJMC Southeast Colloquium 2010 Chapel Hill, N.C.

April 22 – 25: 68th MPSA Political Science Conference, Chicago

May 6 -7: 4th International Conference on eDemocracy, Danube University, Krems, Austria

June 21-25: 2010 Newsplex Summer Seminars, Columbia, S.C.


---------------Feature Articles

BGTIME: Building a community Web site from the ground up

By: R.J. Kraft, USC School of Journalism and Mass Communications

In the digital age, community Web sites have been growing all over the Internet. In South Carolina, an experiment in using the Web to build community is using students to help senior citizens lend their voice (or in this case their mouse and keyboard) to civic engagement., or Bridging Generations through Technology, Information, Media and Engagement, is an initiative of the Central Carolina Community Foundation, one of 21 winners of the nationwide Knight Community Information Challenge. [1]

Rooms in two Columbia-area retirement communities and a senior center have been outfitted with computers, printers, desks, modems, and software. Students from the University of South Carolina and Benedict College are trained in Newsplex, the University of South Carolina’s multimedia news laboratory, and then assigned to work with senior citizens at those locations.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is providing $383,332 over two years. The local foundation has contributed $200,000. With additional outside funding and in-kind donations from partners, the program has more than $1 million. The USC College of Mass Communication and Information Studies, Benedict College, Newsplex, The State Media Co. and South Carolina ETV are partners.

Early this year, USC and Benedict began recruiting 12 students from each school who would, in turn, begin working with 48 seniors by the end of the summer. The students’ Newsplex training dealt with new new-media techniques such as building Web sites, recording podcasts, using hand held video cameras, using Visual Communicator to produce slideshows, putting music in the background of videos, and producing good audio.

To give the students a greater understanding of those they would be working with, a University of South Carolina Medical School representative introduced them to what it is like to be a senior with arthritis, memory loss or movement limitations.

The BGTIME Web site debuted quietly over the summer. Early stories focused on South Carolina’s need for visionary leadership and about genetically modified food, but one of the challenges was getting seniors to start writing consistently. Many initially focused on the computer training. While the students could and did teach the fundamentals of using the computer, the main goal always had been to use that knowledge to produce content.

A question or topic of the week was added. These topics have included how seniors are handling retirement, their thoughts on the ongoing health care debate, and where they were when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. This helped to generate more content while allowing the seniors to see their work online.

That, in turn, helped encourage the seniors to complete long-range assignments such as an interview with a 108-year-old woman. (The woman died a few weeks after the interview took place.) This type of content has helped to generate unique visits.

The State, Columbia’s daily newspaper, has begun promoting BGTIME in an effort to drive traffic and comments as well as create awareness for the site to help recruit more contributors. For the first few months,the site was like the tree falling in the forest that no one heard. There was some content, but only a handful of people and organizations knew the site existed. With The State’s involvement, word has spread, and now there is more and better content.

Deadlines can be a challenge. As one senior citizen said, “I left deadlines behind when I retired.” On group assignments, there is usually a week to get the work done. On longer assignments, the deadline is worked out based on information from the student mentor.

Perhaps the most important thing students have learned is patience. Senior citizens have amazing stories and experiences, but it can be a bit of a challenge to get those stories in a publishable form. Sometimes, it takes just a little bit of trust; other times it takes some common ground.

Next year, BGTIME will add at least 24 students and 48 more senior correspondents. It also will add two work sites: The South Carolina State Library and the State Museum. Both are close to the University of South Carolina and Benedict College. The hope is to build off the success the project is starting to have and produce something other communities can emulate.

[1] “Community Foundation Receives Grant to Expand Digital Literacy Across Generations in Columbia,, (14 January 2009)


Conference highlights challenges, opportunities in convergence

By Augie Grant, University of South Carolina

When we chose “The Changing Media Landscape” as the theme for the eighth annual Convergence and Society conference Nov. 5-6 at the University of Nevada, Reno, we did not realize the scope of the changes facing the media.

Each of the 40-plus presentations provided a measure of the challenges that journalists and journalism educators are facing. Three themes emerged: the importance of social media, the opportunities that convergent media offer to academics, and the current challenges in teaching convergent journalism.

We expected a number of papers and presentations dealing with ownership, consolidation, and financial challenges, and we were not disappointed. What we did not anticipate was the number of papers that explored the role of social media in the changing media landscape.

After two days of research presentations, my conclusion is that Twitter, social networking, and a range of user-generated content are impacting journalism as much as the changing economic climate. But rather than impede the practice of journalism, as the economic challenges have done, social media have enabled a range of new content forms that allow journalists to report stories and interact with the public in ways not considered just a decade ago. There is still the challenge of finding economic models to support social-media based journalism, but there is no question that journalism scholars are at the forefront in exploring the influence and experimenting with social media formats that may revolutionize journalism.

The second theme – applying the technologies we are studying to make us more efficient as scholars – played out in our “virtual poster session.” We combined a computer lab, Skype and PowerPoint so scholars who could not travel to Reno could still present their research interactively. The post-conference evaluations indicated this session was one of the most valuable, as participants from as far as the United Kingdom and as close as the next computer shared their work in ways that maximized interaction.

Two of three presenters in the Global Teaching session could not get to Reno, so Wimba software let all three panelists – from Singapore, United Arab Emirates, and Reno – present and discuss their work as if they were present. One presenter from another session was prevented from attending by a transit strike, but he was able to present and interact in his session using Skype. Finally, the conference “goodie” was a pen with a 1 GB USB drive, allowing all attendees to download papers and presentations before they left the conference.

The final theme relates to the teaching of convergent journalism. The closing session was a “participatory plenary” in which the 30 people who stuck around literally sat in a circle to discuss the takeaways from the conference. The primary points:

• Attendees agreed our focus in the classroom has to be on storytelling and content, with critical thinking more important than technology.

• But they also agreed skills are the first thing employers look for, so our students must be prepared to work across media, building a portfolio as they progress through their degree programs.

• There is an opportunity to prepare our students for “Phoenix jobs,” those that will emerge from the ashes of the current media challenges.

• The toughest task we face in teaching convergent journalism is changing faculty culture. One repeated idea was the opportunity to use our students as advocates in the change process.

• Some expressed concern that the way journalism is being practiced conflicts with its values. Our training has to make sure graduates can provide for themselves to a greater degree than in the past.

• The No. 1 opportunity for academics is the opportunity to frequently share our experiences, perspectives, and research with other academics. (Yes, this is a shameless plug for you to share your work through The Convergence Newsletter and next year’s Convergence and Society Conference, Oct. 14-15 in Columbia, S.C.)

Conference attendees enjoyed the hospitality of the Dean Jerry Ceppos and the Reynolds School of Journalism at UNR. Watch future issues of The Convergence Newsletter for research reports from the conference.

Also, the University of South Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communications has announced the dates for the 2010 Newsplex Summer Seminars. Two one-week workshops will be conducted: Teaching and Research in Convergent Journalism from June 7-11 and Convergence Software Bootcamp from June 21-25. Tuition for each one-week session is $750 (plus hotel, if needed). For details and registration, visit the Newsplex Summer Seminar Web site: , or contact Augie Grant (, or 803-777-4464).


---------------Conferences, Training and Calls for Papers

AEJMC 2009 Winter Meeting

Jacksonville, Fla.

Dec. 4-5


AEJMC Southeast Colloquium 2010

Chapel Hill, N.C.

March 11-13


68th MPSA Political Science Conference


April 22-25


4th International Conference on eDemocracy Danube University

Krems, Austria

May 6-7


2010 Newsplex Summer Seminars

Columbia, S.C.

June 21-25

---------------Publisher and Editorial Staff

The Convergence Newsletter is free and published by The College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina.

Executive Editor

Doug Fisher


Matt McColl



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