Sunday, November 22, 2009

We Make the Media

I dragged myself out of bed early Saturday morning to attend We Make the Media, my second conference at the Turnbull Center. My husband was nice enough to drop me off before he headed over to Blitz Ladd to watch the Ohio State v. Michigan game with some of our other friends from Columbus.

I tweeted from my phone (not one of those new-fangled smart ones) throughout the day, but left my laptop at home. I'm kind of sad that I missed out on reading all the Twitter discussion that went on during the conference (which I did read as soon as I got home), but am also glad that I was able to focus my attention on what was actually being said in the room. I think the tweeters made a lot of good observations, but I also thought some of the comments were rather dismissive and disrespectful of the older attendees, who were less media savvy, but very experienced and knowledgeable in other areas, and certainly every bit as passionate about working for change as the younger crowd.

After checking in, I ran out for some coffee and made it back in plenty of time to get seated and somewhat caffeinated before Joe Smith took the floor and introduced keynote speaker Steven A. Smith, a seasoned newspaper man who grew up in Portland and Eugene, and attended U of O and Ohio State (I'm always intrigued by the number of people who seem to move back and forth between these two O states). Everything he said about the industry was in line with what I've been hearing at school and at other conferences: everything's going electronic, there are serious funding problems that no one's figured out how to handle yet, shrinking newsrooms are leading to a decline in the quality and quantity of news being produced, small local papers are doing the best, etc.

Next a panel of media professionals introduced the topics of the breakout groups and then Joe Smith opened the floor up to the roomful of journalists, who had more to say (much of which they had already been tweeting) than I think he anticipated. One of the proposed breakout groups was replaced by an "Unconference" group that planned to tackle a number of the issues that attendees felt were being overlooked.

I decided to go to the OPB group, which was focused on expanding the organization and possibly forming a new non-profit. There were about 15 people who stayed for the duration of the session, and about 10 more who popped in briefly, often just long enough to share their opinions and avoid hearing those of others. It was kind of strange, I thought. I was also surprised by how much hostility developed during the session.

There was certainly a divide, which was apparent the whole day, between those who were more into new media, and more open to new methods, and the more old-school crowd, who seemed not to take Twitter and blogs very seriously, which I think fueled some productive discussion about the role of citizen journalists and how they can be included without dismissing or hurting "real" journalists (or how we can even make such distinctions), and how to be more inclusive of marginalized groups in the media; but there also seemed to be some tension that I had a hard time placing. I suppose when you put that many smart, vocal people in a room you're bound to have some clashes of personality. I certainly came away with a better understanding of the range of opinions on a number of topics, and hope others did, too.

In the end, I think our group came up with some good ideas about how to improve OPB, but there wasn't much discussion about forming a new non-profit, and after our group representative presented to the room, Joe Smith suggested that OPB move ahead with some of the proposed actions, but that we not continue to discuss it as a group.

After all the groups presented, individuals formed more specific proposals for actions, which all of the attendees voted on by way of a complex hand-rasing system. I think new technology could have saved a lot of time and frustration there. I'd certainly jump at the opportunity to use the iclicker I was required to spend upwards of $30 on for my Grammar for Journalists class last year (and have never used since).

Over the course of the afternoon, there was a noticeable decline in the size of the group. I'm not sure how many people left because of other obligations, and how many just felt that nothing productive was going to come from the conference.

Finally, after about eight hours of trying to figure out how such a large group of people with such disparate ideas could take action together to improve the outlook of journalism in Portland, we broke into smaller groups once more to make concrete plans.

I joined a group that plans to create a new non-profit multi-media entity. Ron Buel, one of the conference organizers and founding editor and publisher of Willamette Week (and another UO alum), was appointed discussion leader. I think we may collaborate with some of the other groups. We're planning to meet again in three weeks. Hope this goes somewhere!

Lots of others are blogging about this event. I'll add to this list as I find more:

Thoughts From the Spiral
Carla Axtman on Blue Oregon
360 Convos
Reporting 1 Blog
Civics 21
Still a Newspaper Man
Joe Wilson
Oregon Media Central
Ran Dum Thots


Bret said...

This has to be one of the more extensive commentaries on the whole event. I was there at the event and enjoyed, as it seems, as much as you did. For both its inadequacies as well as for its successes. Great job with the review and Ill be following your blog more closely!

becca said...

Thanks for the feedback!