WordCamp and journalism conferences

This weekend Alex and I drove up to WordCamp Seattle. It was the third WordCamp I’ve been to and while driving home I started relating those WordCamps to the journalism conferences I’ve been to over the past few years.

WordCamps ground themselves in software, so an iterative approach is a natural fit. They are about answering the question, what are you working on right now to make things better?

That question is not limited to code. The writers in attendance focus on concrete tips for making their writing more engaging, their communities more active, and their publishing business more successful. Aaron Hockley, for example, gave what sounded like a really great talk about the basics of making money with your blog.

The code-focused speakers were covering everything from approaches to using AJAX in plugins to Swiss Army Knife-style theme options pages. Each talk gave you a tool you could take home with you and implement in your next project to make it better.

The journalism conferences I’ve been to have been decidedly different. In the past couple years I’ve been to the Associated Collegiate Press Conference, a couple of SPJ conferences at the University of Oregon, and other smaller conferences and presentations around Portland.

With the exception of the talks Marshall Kirkpatrick gave at the SPJ conferences, these journalism conferences are far less about doing things. They are filled with self-referential discussions about news. I’ve come away with a strong sense of what’s broken but not a good feeling about what is being done to fix it.

When you speak at a journalism conference I want to hear about what the top idea in your mind is. I want to hear about what experiments you are trying, how you are measuring them, and how they are affecting your success.

At the end of the month I’m heading out to Philly for Bar Camp NewsInnovation. I’m excited, it should be a great WordCamp-style journalism conference. We need more of these discussions to iterate and make the news information business better.

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