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We Made The Media - What went right - and wrong

We Make The Media was an intense day. As one of the sub organizers who spent the last few months helping Ron Buel and a core group of people create the event, it was both thrilling and heartbreaking to see how it played out.

Over the course of the day about 50 percent of attendees left and didn’t come back. Many that I talked to said they didn’t see value in simply discussing the problems of the industry. Several people told me they felt like the day was an attempt by OPB, which was a sponsor, to “steal” innovative ideas that were generated by the journalism community. (I think that’s completely unfounded.) By the end of the day, I didn’t feel inspired, I felt exhausted.

Two days later my mood has improved. When I spoke to the audience as part of the opening panel, I said I was amazed by how the journalism community in Portland has come together over this last year. Yes, it’s very “Portland-y.” But the ways we’ve been exploring ideas and learning from each other is fundamentally important to the future of journalism in Oregon. And we clearly saw that happening on Saturday. Because of that, I feel like the day was an overall success.

But I’m going to leave why and how it was successful to other attendees to write about. Here are two things I believe the conference failed at on Saturday.

Uncomfortable: That’s the only way to describe the atmosphere in the conference room when the lack of racial diversity was brought up. When the organizers were planning the event, we contacted media outlets we were familiar with. We failed to reach out to community media, and to media that reflected the racial diversity of Portland. This was a mistake, one that I take partial responsibility for.

We were lucky to have KBOO come on as a sponsor a few days before the conference. But what if that had happened a few weeks before? Who else could we have invited? And how would that dialogue have shaped the planning of the event? If we’re going to create a media organization that breaks out of the old news models, we need to be including people from outside traditional media outlets.

From the beginning of the day, the smartphone- and laptop-using crowd congregated in a back corner of the conference room. True, that’s where the power outlets were. But like minds found like minds — and they were in the minority. I’m not inferring that the rest of the attendees were Luddites. That clearly was not the case.

But the attitude of some of the core organizers was that technology, like the printing press, is simply a method to deliver the news. Wrong. Technology is journalism — from the code that creates new projects, to the tools we use to report and communicate, to ideas we are only now discovering. The cavernous gap between those two mindsets created an us-vs.-them mentality that drove some of the Twitter crowd into a frenzy. I’m not being critical of it; the heavy flow of snark on Twitter was hilarious and absolutely spot on.

But remember how I talked about a journalism community that’s coalescing? “The corner” wasn’t feeling it. And the project they gravitated to — an incubator for journalism startups — had little or no outreach or communication with any of the other final projects.

It’s two days later and I’m asking myself, “Now what the hell am I supposed to do?” I know I’m not the only one asking that. Over the next few days I’ll gather together answers from some other participants — and try and come up with one of my own.