BarCamp NewsInnovation 2.0: My take aways and experience

I speak during Technically Philly's afternoon session at BarCamp NewsInnovation 2.0 at Temple University on April 24, 2010, organization of which was led by Sean Blanda, at left.

They weren’t from around here, were they, shouted my neighbor across the street over the weekend.

She was talking about a pack of young journalists — from Florida and Washington state and California — who had invaded my Fishtown rowhome the weekend before.

That was perhaps one of the largest take aways I drew from attending and, by way of Technically Philly, co-sponsoring BarCamp NewsInnovation 2.0 April 24 — the staggering drawing power of the event in just its second year.

Sean Blanda, who has become something of the event’s face, again brought together the national event at Temple University, with the help of the school’s journalism department and a litany of sponsors. Grab all the details of the event, including all the response to the event, here, but I wanted to share some of my notes and lessons learned.

There are practical lessons — there’s always too much coffee, we need to build in 10 minute intervals between sessions, fewer sessions in each time slot so I don’t have to miss as much and perhaps BCNIPhilly.com needs to be the home of a year-round conversation — but those bigger take aways are what are most important.

Blanda already put BCNI Philly in the widest context he could — as part of an evolving Philadelphia media ecosystem. So, I’ll bring the scope in quite a bit closer and try to coax out the purest, surest nugget I got out of every session I attended. (If Blanda gets his act together, we’ll also get video of the sessions to see.)

WHO WHAT NOW by Jim MacMillan

Jim once said to me in the basement cafeteria at the Bellevue in Center City that “the Web is putting me [the Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist who took a buyout from the Philadelphia Daily News] on the same level as you [the idiot 20-something who had recently graduated college and was stringing together a freelance career and small-time media startups].

Other lessons — Ones that had nothing to do with sessions, but with conversations.

  • We’re still trying to package good public affairs news and sell it to readers. We need to rethink design, just like we’re rethinking content.
  • 100 percent of paid content models not tried fail. Thanks Amy! Let’s stop the hating and let news organization try.
  • Do better at meeting people early. I only met two of the five people I planned on grabbing. Mostly I’ll blame that my girlfriend had car trouble that I dashed to help with rather than heading to the after party where the real conversations often take place.
  • As database journalism continues to grow, the reporters of the future already have to be worlds further ahead than I am in heavy technology and development knowledge.

He didn’t mean it derisively — or at least I didn’t take it as such. Rather, he seemed genuinely astonished, and I think Mac remains one of the purest, most accomplished journalists out who is genuinely seeking truths with the intense curiosity and skepticism that only news people breed.

In his morning session, he spoke about a new venture of his — Who What Now — but the session was very much an exploration of what he had been doing, what he had learn and what he thinks may be next, with a bit of looking back.

The take away: We really have no idea where media convergence is taking us.

HOW PENTON MEDIA DEVELOPED AD REVENUE by Prescott Shibles

For anyone serious about the business side of publishing, Shibles is the kind of guy you’d want to find at a party. The founder of eMedia Vitals, the media profitability news site that employs Blanda, has a past with About.com and Penton Media to boot and he drips B2B conversation.

His session coasted through the type of business tactics that might make an ad exec at the Society of Human Resource Management magazine yawn and one at a newspaper beam. Lead generation, database development and data collection are absolute necessities.

I asked him whether collecting a sales force or pegging your audience was the first step and he answered without pause: get the statistics and data and makeup of readers pronto, even if you pay to do so.

The take away: Content creation can make money online. We just have to look broader and act smarter.

TWITTER IS STUPID by Shannon McDonald

As an accomplice to the founder and editor of Northeast Philadelphia hyperlocal news site NEast Philly, I joined in on this session, but the conversation was hers.

McDonald walked the dozen in the audience through the breakdown of the site’s content sources — real journalism, press releases, reader submissions and aggregation — sharing some lessons along the way, like sticking to the social media platforms and other methods that work for you (Twitter isn’t popular in her older, middle-class part of town, but Facebook and Philadelphia Speaks Web forum are).

It was a wiser, truer presentation than what we presented at last year’s BarCamp.

The take away: We’re getting smarter, and the localized Web isn’t going anywhere.

FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION by Technically Philly

The three of us founders of the technology community news site shared five of our more embarrassing experiences in the past 14 months of growth and the lessons we drew from them.

So, for example, being called depressing reminded us to double (or triple) the expected time for growth in our business plan and my putting my foot in my fat mouth in front of a billionaire taught us to appreciate the opportunities working on TP had brought us (and humility… and to wait to talk about a meeting until leaving the building).

We didn’t even have time to share that Blanda wearing shorts to important meetings taught us that it’s OK to conform a bit and that the empty room for the lecture we prepared taught us to be versatile (and never make the effort to get all three of us to the same presentation unless we were paid or involved otherwise).

It wasn’t the hardest hitting of our presentations, nor the most fact-filled or forward-looking, even than last year’s BCNI chat, but it seemed right. We’ve come a long way and have learned quite  a bit.

The take away: We are young and unwise but only one of those traits are different than anyone else in media today.

EVOLUTION OF JOURNALISM EDUCATION by Andrew Mendelson

The chair of Temple University’s Department of Journalism hosted a lively session on the development of that department’s curriculum during the past decade, and included the announcement of its newest iteration due out the coming fall.

It was heavy on cross-departmental learning — like required computer science courses — entrepreneurship and multimedia work. Indeed, it was just what a whiny new media college alumnus might call for. But there are obstacles to making change in big institutions. To have Mendelson talk the talk and actively moving the bureaucratic boulders of academia made me proud to call Temple my alma mater.

Indeed, Mendelson seemed more bullish on this future than some in his audience. It was McDonald, the recent Temple alumnae and hyperlocal entrepreneur, who expressed concern over the lost focus on traditional writing and editing.

The take away: The conversations about change needing to happen in journalism and its educational system is long since over and action has long since begun.

Mendelson’s session was a good end before a righteous after party at a nearby college bar. Because that sentiment is what made this year’s BCNI Philly different than the last.

It seemed last year was largely still caught in the hand wringing on what had been lost and what could be salvaged of news from the past. Like the broader conversation, the focus this year was much more attuned to what is actually being done, by people like Mendelson and McDonald and Shibbs and MacMillan.

If that’s the conversation that was fostered, it was worth the shouts from my neighbor.