Sometimes it feels like wedding season for journalism and social media. I’ve been out with my dance card to a few unconference and large group meetings lately – it’s good to see people interested and interesting people. So what’s the point of getting out into the air and chatting? I’m sure there are many people who would see this as a jolly and for those who drink a nice piss up to boot.
Not quite. If media is social then sometimes getting physically social, putting faces to screen names and cross pollinating ideas is really important, even if we don’t answer the question du jour about the future/saving journalism. Anyone who has spent more than a few weeks online knows that it’s a place of avatars and written messages open to varied interpretation, boasting, jokes and chit chat, but all of these things can be held up to a certain extent online without really being challenged. If you have to look someone in the eye and repeat what you tweeted, that’s a different activity. A get together can spark new connections and longer conversations with less scope for misunderstanding – even if we often see the same faces in the crowd each time.
Three examples I’m bringing here from the odd tweetups and collectives are JEECamp09, Amplified and Media140. First and always, I thank the people who put these together, herding cats is a walk in the park in comparison with getting busy journos together and making them think. Kudos to you all.
So what was the end result here? For each of these I can only propose my personal reactions – each of us gets their own experience and I’m sure there will be opportunity to express otherwise. The three events had quite different flavours. Amplified I have written about before so though it’s valid I won’t repeat. It’s a great unconference for ideas and mixed disciplines. I ended up talking music and news and trust at one point and wondering at similar challenges. There’s a whole bunch of people working in so many different ways and taking very different steps that it’s hard not to come away with a new spin on your own ideas.
JEECamp09 seemed a more sombre affair to me. The opening talk drew a divide between mainstream media, those who have fallen in the cutbacks and changes for media and bloggers. It was not so nice to see a them and us proposition but it’s a matter of fact for many. The event was held in Birmingham, an old patch for my own work and I found it hard to see so many people struggling with an uncertain future. It’s good to get out of the capital though. JEECamp certainly shook me up for keeping an eye over regional mainstream media. I follow blogs from all over the world, but my MSM concerns had been London-centric and I now think that was a mistake.
The one thing missing from JEECamp09 was the mad forging ahead I had witnessed at Amped. People were certainly working hard and thinking through the bigger issues much more, but Amped seemed to celebrate running full steam into trying stuff rather than cursing the situation. I don’t think either are wrong by the way and of course it’s my perception which will be different to that of others.
Media140 I had some reservations about – it seemed a little woolly in being organised, but then it was put together with little time or personnel so now I see that it was indeed a class act to pull off in situation. Media140 was a journofest of familiar faces. I did wonder on arrival if it might be a bit like chatting to people at Tuttle about weekly updates ideas and projects. This did not turn out to be the case.
Apart from the middle aged white male fest panel – which was actually more entertaining than informative in the end, it brought about some consensus in what was happening. People on panels were asked (and frankly dealt brilliantly) with questions from the audience that would make a psychic quake. The fact that there was no answer to “Will this save news? What is the future of news?” does not mean that this gathering was not valuable. To the contrary, I came away with a broader sense of where we might be. It was never going to be a conclusion, but there is some comfort in discussing the triumphs and experiments of others. There was a surprising openness of thought for competing institutions that, although not always practical, did show a solidarity for trying to make things right. One point that stuck with me was being told that we are not taking large enough risks. It rattles about in my mind as something right, but identifying the big leap and acting on it is a tough one. What would the iPhone game changer be for journalism? It seems to be something that would really benefit from more positive gatherings within each media house, not complaining about the woes of the immediate past, but pushing doors and drawing up the more obvious problems in a clear light and using that base as a stepping stone to create something brilliant.
There – see? I’m all the inspiration when I have no idea what the answer is…ahem.
One great thing about these events is that in some way – even if the wifi is down or limited, you can attend remotely and participate from your desk, your home wherever if you have time, or read back on the highlights through blogs and online news outlets. It’s inclusive and with that many voices in the virtual room, surely we will find our way.