Digital Journalism Camp Session Summaries

After a morning unconference session that involved a 5 mile hike with Daniel I caught the afternoon sessions at this weekend’s Digital Journalism Camp.

Journalism startups

First up Melissa Chavez moderated a panel about lessons learned from three journalism startup founders. Michael Andersen of Portland Afoot, Barry Johnson, and Robert Wagner talked about their startups and what they’ve done well (and wrong).

Andersen emphasized how there is plenty of journalism happening, but that it’s mostly for rich people. He’s motivated to create meaningful information for those making under $50,000 a year. In other words, “there’s journalism for those with iPhones but not Samsungs.”

While discussing approaches to building audiences and readership Wagner mentioned that in journalism it really helps if your business is the hub. Being the place where people come to find more information will not only make your property valuable but will tell you a significant amount about your readers. Johnson argued that a journalist should not be afraid to sell. The worlds of journalism and sales are not mutually exclusive in his eyes.

Technology was a key point for all three as well. Wagner mentioned that Cascadia.fm relies heavily on WordPress. He thinks it doesn’t get enough love for all it does. He also pointed out that they don’t have any mobile apps. Cascadia.fm wants to provide the best experience for people to connect with them on the web regardless of device. Andersen said that, “I’ve got to focus on relationships with readers and hope the technology becomes commoditized so I can grab on to that.” Barry Johnson put it succinctly when he said that, “Technology is a practice that is a part of journalism. Journalism will thus be adapted to whatever new technologies come along.”

Unheard voices

The second session of the afternoon was about whether digital tools give marginalized communities a voice. Cornelius Stewart led a panel of 5 that was absolutely fascinating.

Israel Bayer, director of Streetroots, talked about their efforts to bring the homeless into all aspects of journalism. He also noted that, while some think a web presence would undercut street sales, their sister paper in Seattle launched a website and saw their sales increase 40%. He pointed out that it’s the technical parts of a project that are the easy. It’s the relationships and building of a community that are difficult.

Craig Fondren of Sabin Community Development Corporation talked a lot about how they educate their community in the tools of journalism. They focus heavily on bringing many generations into their workshops. As he put it, “If you can get online we have a class for you. If I have your kid in one of our classes then I’m going to get you in a class and I’m going to get grandma too.” They put a lot of work into senior instruction.

One of their driving goals is to get people interested in the tools. Fondren believes that his community will get left behind if we don’t latch on to this tool set. Sabin CDC never charges for a class and they expect those they teach to come back and volunteer. They try to make sure their kids have the skills needed to take part in real world projects. They’ve done work with Trimet, the Oregon Film Council, and many other companies.

The panel also featured Brian Conley and Steve Wyshy of Small World News. They collect video coming out of war and underserved areas and bring it on to the web. Brian had perhaps the quote of the day by describing the proto-journalist:

10,000 years ago a citizen journalist was the guy who went over the next hill and was like, “Hey there’s cool stuff over here!” He was viewed as crazy or was made the village’s chief.

Small World News works for those in Libya, Afghanistan, India, and Egypt. Brian will fly into these countries and train residents in the use of camera equipment and professional-level software like Final Cut Pro. The people then shoot hours of video, make the edits, and send the finished versions to Brian and Steve to post online. In other words, Small World News is working for these people, not the other way around. Once the content is online volunteers subtitle the videos into various languages.