Yesterday I woke up at 5 a.m. (on a Saturday!) to attend the first We Make The Media conference at the University of Oregon in Portland. The conference was marketed as an opportunity for people to plan and build a new community journalism enterprise for the Portland metro area. A handful of professional journalists and one semi-retired trail lawyer were the core team developing the conference.
I got there a little late, just as Steve A. Smith, former editor of the Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Wash.) was giving the keynote address. I’d worked a little with Mr. Smith when he was consulting the Daily Emerald last spring, so I knew a little bit about his philosophies for newspapers and the industry in general. (By the way, he was HUGE reason the Emerald staff striked.) Smith talked a lot about journalism and it’s future, but this gem was most interesting, and surprising to me: He said new media can’t replace professional journalism and “hobby journalism” and hyperlocal projects can’t be sustained over time. He was also dogging on the blogosphere pretty hard, basically saying they were digital ranters.
After Smith, the panelists spoke about future journalism entities. Ron Buel, Abraham Hyatt, Michelle Rafter and Steve Bass (I think that was just it – it was hard to see from the Twitter Corner) talked about co-sponsor Oregon Public Broadcasting, non-profit journalism and small team networks – basically new ways to do journalism. Their presentations transitioned into the breakout sessions, which were written on large sheets of white paper on the wall. There were six sessions planned: Small Team Networks, Revenue Models for Online, Non-profit investigative news, New Internet News Site, Local Cable News, and expanding OPB (I believe, though they might have changed by the actual event). A crowd mutiny suggested an additional BarCamp session, which I went to.
The purpose of the breakout session was to present an objective and action items back to the entire conference. The other breakouts were pretty focused but the BarCamp was wide open. We had maybe seven people talking, all of whom had their own agenda. In the end, we settled on fostering engagement by changing the media-makers mindset from just creating content to creating new technology.
After two hours, everyone reported back to the main conference room and presented their ideas. There were a lot of hypothethicals and abstracts thrown around about changing the media landscape. Conference attendees were then encouraged to come forward and present their proposals to the entire group. Ideas included a database for public records, a content neutral place for journalistst to gather and share resources, an open source news wire, a web based nonprofit news organization with professional and citizen journalists, and funding for independent investigative journalists. We were then asked to vote twice for each item, once for ‘coolness’ and once for ‘doability’. Two hands meant it was super awesome, one hand meant kind of awesome, no hands meant indifferent, and a thumbs down subtracted hands from the tally. I am not kidding.
In the end, the conference decided to move forward on the investigative journalism and news incubator ideas, though people were encouraged to meet for all ideas. The hope is something will actually come out of this conference and these ideas if the attendees can continue to work together.
By the end of the day, I was so frustrated and tired I probably got some of this information wrong. Please, if you notice a glaring error, let me know!
The day started with lots of criticism and unrest. The conference was attended by mostly white, older males who are stuck clinging to a dying medium – and sorta anti-new media. There was literally a “Twitter Corner” near the outlets, where the younger crowd (By the way, I unofficially won the youngest conference attendee award) sat and tweeted snarky comments. I would really encourage you to read the 1,000+ Tweets from the conference. It’s highly entertaining.
Larger than that, there was clear tension. People are worried about the state of the industry, for good reason, but there are people unwilling to change and adapt, which seems ironic for the industry. Parts of the day were frustrating, like the silly voting, which is probably why more than 50 percent of the people left early. The biggest benefit, at least for me, is the networking opportunity it provides. It’s inspiring to see that others are concerned about whats happening and trying to brainstorm solutions. Hopefully some action will come from the conference.