A diverse group of more than 200 journalists, entrepreneurs, techies, nonprofit organizers, artists, activists and others gathered last week at UW with the grand mission of re-imagining the news ecology of the Pacific Northwest. This Journalism That Matters “unconference” focused on journalism’s relationship with the community.
I was delighted and relieved that this was not a pity party about the good old days of journalism. The participants were open to change and were there to figure out the future, not to pine for the past. Sure, when you get dozens of laid-off people in a room, there are going to be some depressing chats about filing for unemployment, but overall, the mood was amazingly optimistic and upbeat. “The snark level is very low,” remarked one woman.
For me, the biggest benefit was meeting people who are involved in a variety of interesting startups and experiments. I learned about Xconomy, a news site that covers tech industries in three cities, and TheNewHive.com, an innovative social networking site set to launch by the summer. I learned about InvestigateWest’s business model and the need for a better online system to share content among community radio stations.
It wasn’t possible to be a part of all of the sessions and chats going on, but based on my observations, several themes emerged:
- Passion. “At this time of transformation, we all need to connect with our feelings and care, and put that caring into our work,” artist Chris Jordan told the audience during an opening night speech. “… It’s time to take the templates off and speak authentic human being to authentic human being.” This idea of showing passion in our work – and showing love for the communities we cover – came up repeatedly.
- Community. We quickly learned that generations define communities differently. For younger people, our communities are online, not necessarily based on geography.
- Collaboration. On Saturday, I tweeted that the word of the day was “collaboratory.” By Sunday, a group was working on plans for a JTMPNW collaboratory, a learning lab for entrepreneurial projects and nourishing connections, and tying the idea to the creation of a civic commons.
- Engagement. Journalists need to stop talking to their audience and instead engage in a conversation with them.
- Media literacy. In an information-packed world in which everyone is a journalist, the public needs better training about evaluating news sources and information for accuracy and credibility.
- Hyperlocal. Several discussions focused on the need for collaboration between hyperlocal neighborhood bloggers and mass media. On the final day, a large group worked on building a roadmap for mass media and hyperlocal journalists to work together and find financial sustainability.
- Government coverage. Many participants were concerned about the effect that cutbacks at traditional media outlets have had on state and local government coverage. But we also learned about new projects to solve this problem. One attendee, Trevor Griffey, is starting a nonprofit site called Olympia Newswire to cover this year’s legislative session and revitalize statehouse reporting.
- Business models. Creating new business models was, of course, a big part of the conversation. “It doesn’t have to be one model. It can be lots of small revenue streams,” I overheard someone say. Those revenue streams include memberships, foundations, grants, advertising, holding events, subscriptions and so on.
Although business models were always part of the discussion, I would have liked to see more concrete sessions about funding. For future conferences, I’d suggest bringing in more people from the business, advertising and tech startup sectors to provide expertise on new business models. Along those lines, I would have also liked to see presentations by journalistic startups that are succeeding and growing. Maybe you can’t create a new business model for journalism in four days, but you can create the germ of an idea and get the ball rolling.
During a period of group reflection, one of the organizers, Peggy Holman, shared her fear that once we have we have the business model figured out, innovation and experimentation will stop. I worry that she’s right. So we when we do figure out the business models (and there will be several), we must keep innovating. Complacency and resistance to change are part of what got the news business into this mess.
I’m excited to watch and participate in the projects that will come out of this “unconference.” Past JTM events have played a role in formulating innovative ideas, such as the Common Language Project, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization now based at UW. If there’s one thing we all learned, it’s that the opportunities for collaboration and experimentation are endless in our new news ecology.
For more info
JTM did a great job using social media and aggregating that information. You can read notes from the various sessions on the JTM wiki, catch up on the tweets, view photos and watch videos. If you’re interested in joining this conversation and attending future events, join the LinkedIn group.
Image Credits: Photo courtesy of Harold Shinsato.