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Toronto Aug. 3 Conference Ideas

So what do you want the PJNet/Civic Journalism Interest Group Aug. 3 conference to look like? Here are some ideas I have received from Jon Greenberg, Jeff Jarvis, Jan Schaffer, Terry Thielen and Griff Wigley.

Jon Greenberg at New Hampshire Public Radio who did an earlier PJNet Q&A on his presidential/citizen blogging project, says:

As a daily practitioner, I lean toward discussions that emphasize changes
with a one-two year time horizon. Not that I object to extreme forward

thinking, but for my taste, the balance of a conference should be on the
short term side.

In my experience, the MIT Media Lab tends to look so far out to the cutting edge that they can find it difficult to bring their ideas to market. I am aware
of their community publishing software and I have great deal of respect for
it. But they are technology driven and we should not gloss over the
sluggishness with which technology is taken up by people at large.

To that end, I might suggest a modified first session to put technology into
context. Some of the key points to hit would be the important features that
news organizations ought to retain within the framework of technical
changes. High on that list are such qualities as reliability, public
interest watchdog, and yes, the role of compiler and explainer of events.

To make this session more engaging, you might set it up as a type of debate
with advocates of two positions trying to win support from the audience. One
view would be more traditional and the other more technology driven –
decentralized sources of information being the wave of the future. This
could be done with enough camp so that no one would take the disagreements
to heart but would still join the discussion with more vigor.

[One] session should definitely focus on how news organizations can
cull useful information or generate new sources of information through
creating and reading blogs. That seems to be the intent so I don’t think
I’m suggesting anything different. To gin up the participation, it might
help to have some sort framework for types of citizen input and information
processing and then use a third of the time to brainstorm on practical
applications for those ideas.

My concern at the bottom of the agenda is that a “global electronic village”
does not seem well defined. Communities of interest have already proven
their ability to cross national boundaries very effectively. Is this what
you have in mind, or something different?

[Witt: Jon, see what Doug McGill is doing in Rochester, MN]

For what it is worth, I think electronic communities will prove their worth
when they contribute to face-to-face interactions. That would tend to take
place more at the state or local level, not global. If you’re familiar with
what we are trying to create here in NH with, you will see one
approach to this sort of community building. The question there is, can we
develop a new means to connect people who have common interests. The second question is, should news organizations take on that task.

Here is what BuzzMachine’s Jeff Jarvis says:

Right there in Toronto, you have he ultimate community journalist: Hossein Derakhshan, aka Hoder, who single-handedly started the Iranian weblog revolution just two years ago. The story in case all on the list don’t know it: From his one seed there are today up to 100,000 weblogs about forbidden topics from politics to women’s rights to sex to music. The mullahs paid attention and arrested a weblogger; see Mark Glaser’s OJR column. They also see the inevitability of this and now the vice president of Iran has a weblog. At the same time, the webloggers got each other to blog in English so they could get their story out to the rest of the world and report news (they did so during the student demonstrations a few months
ago) and create new connections.

And the seed spread. I wrote how we needed a similar blossoming of free
speech in Iraq to get more viewpoints and news from the people and one
day a 24-year-old dentist wrote me and said I’d convinced him. He got a
dozen more to blog. I sent him a camera and he reported on
anti-terrorism demonstrations that were not covered well in established
media; his photos and story were picked up by The Weekly Standard.
These illustrate the real power of citizens’ journalism.

Hoder could speak. I could interview him. We were going to have him at
Bloggercon but he couldn’t get a U.S. visa … well, we’re going to him.

Beyond that, I see that you said you reduced the weblog content… think
that went too far. Here we’re at the start of this revolution and so
this is the time to explore it! I hope the community of those involved
in community and public journalism will be eagerly inclusive and
supportive of this.

I have people in towns in our markets blogging, getting us down to the
holy grail of the newspaper business: hyperlocal coverage. Weblogs
provide an instant means of bringing diversity — of sources, of
viewpoints, of interests, of backgrounds — to coverage. Weblogs
challenge us directly — see the Trent Lott story, in which a webloger
shamed mainstream reporters into picking up the story again; see Howell
Raines and the pressure kept on by weblogs; see Dan Okrent’s
relationship with webloggers from the first day; see the columnists who
are starting to use webloggers as sources.

Note also that with weblogs, the people can not only have a voice they
can, for the first time in memory, have a media business, witness Gawker
and Gizmodo, for example.

Here is a portion the comments from J-Lab’s Jan Schaffer:

Lighten up on the number of panelists. It’s hard to get a discussion
going with three panelists in only an hour. And with transition time
between the panels, it will really leave only 45 to 50 minutes of actual
panel time — and less if there are AV hookups required.

Also here is a view from Terry Thielen, who is consulting on civic engagement projects in Jamaica:

I just read over your draft agenda for the conference
in August and am wondering — it looks almost
exclusively based around the internet/web, electronic
media, and the like. Does this reflect the new trends
in PJ…? If so, I find it surprising since it is my understanding that
public/civic journalism is about engaging communities
and the media around issues of community importance,
inspiring action, and so forth. I find the
web/internet to be extraordinarily useful in
connecting people initially and helping them stay that
way, at least verbally. But it is also a very
isolating medium (said as someone who works from home
but would much prefer someplace else to go!) that
often allows people to hide behind a computer rather
than make old fashioned conversation and discussion
face to face.

Certainly in the developing world the utility of the
web is limited at the moment, at least if you want to
reach beyond the elite. I’d say that’s true, to a
lesser extent, even in the US. Poor people don’t have
as ready access to the internet and are probably not
as inclined to use it to their advantage unless

My interest in bringing the concepts of public/civic
journalism (I assume there has been some discussion
around which is the better term?) to Jamaica and other
more developing countries (like Haiti) is as a tool
for bring people together (physically), sharing ideas,
and re-engaging the populace in civic affairs. Is
this still the thrust of the movement?

Griff Wigley’s were comments were posted earlier and I made some fixes to agenda based on Chris Waddle had mentioned about possible concurrent sessions.

So in a few days I will put out another agenda.

Thanks to all the people who took the time to help the agenda development so far, including Ken Sands who found a couple of embarrassing typos in my first draft. Keep the ideas coming.

In fact, if you read this far, jump in right now by clicking on the comments button in the next line.

One Response to “Toronto Aug. 3 Conference Ideas”

  1. Leonard Witt Says:

    In an email exchange with Terry Thielen, who is consulting on civic engagement projects in Jamaica, I wrote:

    The Tornoto conference is focusing on the weblogs because they are such an important new tool. They provide publishing power to the people.

    Yes, they can be isolating, but they don’t need to be. In fact look at Howard Dean’s campaign. It’s Internet driven, but then they also have MeetUps, where people around the country get together face to face. Some 160,000 have signed up for these MeetUps.

    Most of the people who will be at the Toronto conference are blogging now, yet it is the blogging that will push them to meet face to face. It’s people constantly in communication and it gives their face to face meetings legs. in South Korea has some 26,000 citizen reporters.

    Then there are sites like Friendster, where you are linked to your friends and then to their friends so you have this whole new network of people. It’s used mostly by people in their 20s for dating and social purposes, but it is a way of using the electronic to make real contact.

    The blogs and we journalism is forcing journalists to pay attention to the people because if they do not, the people will just talk among themselves.

    Of course, the challenge, here, and especially in third-world countries but also in the digitally developed world, is how to get the least heard, the poorest of the poor to play a part.