Saturday, November 20, 2010

Refreshing Public Media's Future

I encountered this sad-faced retro news robot during a recent vacation stop at Disney World's Tomorrowland. ROBO-NEWZ's downcast expression seems to say a lot about the current state of the media world. But the disheartened look on ROBO's face does no justice to the buoyant spirit at this weekend's national PublicMediaCamp at American University in Washington -- even with all the current political fuss over public media's funding, image and critics. (Disclosure: I work at NPR.)

PublicMediaCamp, or PubCamp, is the second such attendee-led gathering of staff and supporters from across the country. As the event's website explains:

"PublicMediaCamp seeks to bring together community technology activists, citizen journalists and other members of the public eager to support public media in tangible ways, bringing them together with public broadcasters in an engaging collaborative environment."

As is customary at these improvised, "BarCamp"-style "unconferences", PubCamp opened this morning with introductions. One by one, the attendees stood, offered their names, affiliation and three "tags" or keywords to describe themselves. (My tags: "content, community and contraptions.") Attendees also proposed ideas for sessions, which organizers jotted down on note cards and quickly arranged into an agenda that promises a very full two days of conversation.

As I found at previous barcamps, the combination of attendee's three-term intros seemed to quickly reveal and reflect the mood of the crowd -- in this case, succinctly expressing the cultural and technological challenges that are changing the direction of public media, as well the opportunity those challenges expose. So here is an edited sampling -- organized to reflect the beginnings of the conversations I except to hear over the course of these two days:

"online, community, engagement"
"community, civic engagement"
"engagement, innovation, secret NPR tattoo"
"journalism, community, innovation"
"telecommuting, community, geek"
"local station presence"
"global, local, experiment"
"international, experimental, cheerleading"
"e-society, social networking, transparency"
"content, web, strategy"
"style books, content, workflow"
"interesting content please"
"multimedia, stories, technology"
"hacker, social, technologist"
"Android, open-source, collaboration"
"open-source technology community"
"video, Linux, blogging"
"Drupal, content, strategy"
"linked open data"
"metadata, archives, digital asset management"
"SEO, content strategy, 'I love bacon'"
"reading, learning, keeping up"
"social, design innovation, learning"
"stations, communications, educator"
"public citizen, mom"
"public citizen, dad"
"tech-that-matters, mountain-biking, dad"
"kids, local, interactive"
"games, kids, community"
"web, gaming, tacos"
"video, engagement, Jedi"
"community, storyteller, change"
"independent, photographer, storyteller"
"reporter, environmentalist, coffee"
"radio, development, highly caffeinated"
"not morning person"
"technology, geek, hoofer"
"interactive, organic, outside"
"artist, gadget-geek, roller derby"
"interviewing, reporting, running"
"print journalism, government, running"
"improv, storytelling, yoga"
"cyclist, storyteller, unemployed"
"recent college graduate"
"I'm hiring developers"
"whew!" "oh crap," "let's get it done!"

Amazingly, these and all the other intros took far less time than many people expected, especially those who never participated in such a free-form proceeding. (This was my fourth barcamp. In addition to last's year's PubCamp and a local spinoff hosted in the Raleigh-Durham area, I also attended the 1999 Government 2.0 Camp here in D.C.)

My favorite introduction this morning was offered by an attendee from Mississippi Public Broadcasting, whose three keywords referenced a recent controversy involving his organization:

"we canceled 'Fresh Air'"

His proposed session: "How to handle an online revolt."

With so many interesting and good-humored participants, this weekend's discussions about public media's future might even bring a smile to old ROBO-NEWZ's glum face. You can follow the conversations with the #PubCamp tag on Twitter.

UPDATE: NPR colleague Andy Carvin took the 45 or so introductions above and turned them into a text cloud. The forecast: Heavy "community" with a high chance of "content" and "engagement."

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