Sometimes the relationship between corporate and independent media seems like a stubborn parent-teenager relationship. Each side is certain it has all the right answers, and even more convinced that the other is utterly clueless about, well, everything. Meanwhile, resentment builds, resulting in… the silent treatment.
Many industry pragmatists have sought an intervention, the latest among them The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. When its Networked Journalism Summit convened in New York on Oct. 10, the goal, as event co-organizer David Cohn described it, was action. Short on analysis; big on future plans. That was made clear in advance to each of the roughly 180 invitees, so when they arrived for the all-day event, it was all business; and when they left, all execution.
Take conference attendee GroundReport.com. A few days ago, the citizen journalism portal launched Groups, a minipublication functionality allowing anyone to create their own free, customized digital publication. Founder Rachel Sterne arrived at the summit with the nascent idea in her back pocket. It matured in an afternoon break-out and came to fruition just one week later.
Cohn answered additional questions from OJR about the first installment:
OJR: So where did the idea for this conference come from?
David Cohn: Jeff Jarvis is the real man behind the formation of the event. He applied for a MacArthur grant and with that money he is going to organize at least three of these conferences. This was the first. The second will probably be smaller and focus on new business models.
OJR: So what was the main idea behind this first one?
Cohn: Next Steps. If this conference had been organized a few years ago, the idea probably would have been to proselytize networked journalism and to try to spread the word to new people. As things are, however, citizen journalism doesn’t need to be touted as something that news organizations need to get hip to. They already know that now. With that in mind, this conference was about next steps. What does networked journalism need in order to become more mainstream and accepted. What do news organizations need in order to really adopt this. What are the best practices and principles of networked journalism?
OJR: Did you have any particular areas of curiosity in mind when you put this together? Or was the idea just to throw a bunch of folks from different walks of journalism in a room and see what comes out of it?
Cohn: A little bit of both. The first third of the day was about sharing best pracitices of networked journalism. What has already been learned? So we tried to gather the best practitioners. This included hyperlocal champions like Debie Galant from Baristanet and Vice President of News at Gannett Jenifer Carol (as Gannett is also doing interesting work in networked journalism). We tried to touch on various subjects, from video to revenue — who is doing ground-breaking work? We identified those people and did brief write-ups on them. The idea was for those leaders of networked journalism to share what they have learned.
That was the first third of the day. The other 2/3rds was a bit more of what you described: Throw people in a room and see what comes out of it. It was a little more subtle than that; we had breakout sessions, again, in different subjects of journalism, from database journalism to covering politics. What we wanted was for people to leave with new ideas and projects.
OJR: Sounds like it was intended to be a day of discussions and productivity rather than presentations and empty talk.
Cohn: You are correct: The intent was for the conference to be a productive day. What we want is for people who are working on similar projects or ideas to find each other. Again, the write-ups were helpful in this. The blog continues to be helpful. If you look at http://www.newsinnovation.com right now, you’ll find a series of “What’s Next” blog posts. After the conference we asked people to write in to tell us what they will do next. The hope is that the connections that were made at the conference will continue to flourish and help people move forward. Once all these “What’s Next” posts are up. I will probably give everybody three to four months and check in to find out, once again, what is going on.
OJR: What were the significant takeaways? Any overarching or recurring themes throughout the course of the day?
Cohn: To be honest, I don’t know. I was running around the entire day and was never really able to sit back and appreciate what was happening. I was always trying to stay one step ahead of the crowd. When the first third of the day was wrapping up, I was trying to make sure lunch was ready—that kind of thing. I wouldn’t know if a theme came out. Takeaways: I know lots of people left with more ideas than they came with.
OJR: In the event description, you set a “no MSM-bashing or blog-bashing” rule. Can you explain? And did they obey?
Cohn: The idea, again, was that we don’t need to proselytize. This isn’t about arguing the merits of networked journalism and complaining about the MSM. It is also not a gripe session for the MSM to complain about bloggers taking all their readers. Both types were in attendance and the reason we invited both was so that they could work on projects together in the future; not as a session for people to rag on each other. Fortunately the gong did not need to be brought out. I only threatened to bring it out once, as did Jeff Jarvis. To my knowledge there was no MSM- or blog-bashing.
OJR: You also had everyone show up with an advance write-up of their work as a conversation starter. How did that go over?
Cohn: It went well. We collected about 64 or so of these write-ups. That is about one-third of the entire guest list. About 20 of those were done by me over the phone. The other 40 or so were done via email with a generic questionnaire. I think they proved to be very valuable—both for the conference and for networked journalism in particular. This is an emerging art. It is not a science. Different artists have different techniques and experiences. Those write-ups are a collection of 64 different artists explaining what it is that they do in networked journalism. Do I think all the guests read all 64 interviews? Of course not. But I do know guests browsed the list of names and looked for people that they were already curious about. Small connections might have been made through the write-ups, it was an excuse for people to approach each other: “Hey, I read they you were doing X,Y and Z. Tell me more about it.”
OJR: Those write-ups are appearing on the Newsinnovation.com blog. What is the role of that blog, and who are your readers there? Was it specifically built around the summit?
Cohn: The blog was built for the summit, and will be used for the other summits too. Again, the summit was the main event, but we hope that people who came continue to network with each other. Readers: I don’t know who they are. I hope it’s a little of everyone.
OJR: What’s next for this project? Any plans for follow-up events?
Cohn: Two more of these conferences — and checking in on people who tell us what they are going to do next.