STARTING THE DAY
Saturday morning, April 26, 2014
— Content Camp (@content_camp) April 26, 2014
Hundreds of journalists, content creators, developers and editors converged on Temple University’s Annenberg Hall at 13th and Diamond Streets in Philadelphia, PA. In its 6th year, BarCamp News Innovation (#BCNI14), an unconference dedicated to exploring the future of news and journalism, was starting. Put on in conjunction with Content Camp, an unconference to share ideas about writing for the Web, BCNI14 produced its best program yet. Here is my annual, official review: It was great. Perhaps even life-changing. Let’s start at the beginning.
David Dylan Thomas, the organizer of Content Camp, recruited me to serve on this year’s planning committee. Early set-up for the day was part of the deal. By the time 8:30 a.m. rolled around, I’d already hung the Technical.ly Philly banner (twine and scissors help via Mr. Chair-of-Temple’s-Journo-Dept, Andrew Mendelson), we set up endless bags of bagels and coffee supplies, and I jumped in to a very empty seat at BCNI’s check-in desk. Brian James Kirk had left his iPad mini on the table with Philly’s own TicketLeap’s sign-in program loaded up, so I dove right in. Ticketleap has spiffy little software. With a no-brainer QR code scanner on the left of the screen and an alphabetical list on the right, it took me about 2 seconds to tap around the app before I was off and running. I highly recommend Ticketleap for any of your conference sign-in needs. You want to know the best seat in the BCNI house? The sign-in desk. Not only did I get a guaranteed chance to greet my friends, I also had direct interactions with the big-name journalists that came through the door. Shall I name-drop? Yes, I shall. Here are just a few of the people –most of whom have their own verified Twitter accounts– I saw at the sign-in desk and throughout the day:
Many, many other journalists from the New York, DC, and Philadelphia area papers as well as national outlets like USAToday were in attendance. The day was packed with powerhouses, more than any previous BCNIs. I felt privileged to be there. By the end of my stint at the desk, I was not only signing people in and handing them a Wifi access sheet, but also warning people to treat coffee cups like gold. Dunkin’ Donuts didn’t send nearly enough cups for the amount of people we had. Perhaps next year Christopher Wink will emphasize JOURNOS will be drinking the coffee. Honestly, who drinks more coffee than journalists? No-one. Thankfully I secured a cup early and my life-saving friend John Langan refilled it for me while I was at the desk.
Around 11a.m. I was relieved by my friend Mark and I ducked into Nicholas Whitaker’s Google track session. “Search, Trends, Public Data, Authorship in Search.” Mr. Whitaker didn’t get to the meat of things until the last ten minutes of the session. There has to be some way to post the basics of Media Tools in a Google Doc somewhere and spend more time on the advanced aspects. At this point, I think it’s safe to assume that anyone who would come to Content Camp/BCNI would know the fundamentals of term & image search. If the subjects of the last ten minutes were stretched out into an hour, that would have been an invaluable session I think many people would pay good money for. In Whitaker’s defense, though, it is tough to know how to gear a talk for an unknown crowd.
Also, I may be overestimating my fellow attendees’ abilities. Mr. Whitaker was a total peach, though, taking questions and going the extra distance with one-on-one help with a journalism student after the session. Click on the three thumbnails for helpful links from the session.
After that session was lunch, which was, for me, sorely needed. Here’s a mini scene from the long lunch line, set up this year in the hallway instead of the middle of the lobby:
My friend Whitney Hoffman: “Why are you shaking? Blood sugar low?” Me: “Well, that and three cups of coffee.”
Ah, the perils of a journalism conference attendee. While Whit and I were waiting, we got a serious education about the real happenings “A coup” in Egypt, from an Egyptian-American student queuing in front of us. She wore a black shirt with “Egypt” in white caps written across it, so I felt the need to ask. She spoke for less than 5 minutes and I wish I’d taken notes. You casually happen upon this kind of ground-breaking knowledge often at BCNI.
In a sentimental and touching move worthy of an “awww!” award, crazyman Christopher Wink saved me a longish walk to 7-11 this year by grabbing some gluten-free curry chicken from Whole Foods for my lunch, as well as having a salad with no dressing or croutons on it. This was the first year I didn’t miss any of the keynote because I was out hunting and gathering GF food. It really rocked AND it was delicious. (thx again Chris I could kiss you).
Amanda Zamora’s lunchtime keynote delivered some niceties, like the almost-old-saw advice about pulling in-real-life people into your storytelling to get them invested in the work. But diving a little deeper, Zamora shocked a bunch of newsies into a hard, cold reality many don’t want to wake up to: promoting your writing is part of your job as a journalist. Hem and haw all you want; you simply aren’t fulfilling your role as a public interest journalist – to deliver timely information relevant to the civic needs of your audience – unless you are dedicating some time into getting your work directly to your readers. Don’t bother writing anything unless you are willing to promote the work. For me, as a 10-year blogger and techie who’s come to journalism via the info superhighway this seems like a no-brainer, but it’s a harsh lesson for my colleagues who’ve come up the traditional ranks. Perhaps the solution is to always have an Amanda Zamora on staff. It’s her job to get the staff’s writing in front of the right eyes. Her official title at ProPublica is “Senior Engagement Editor.”
After lunch I was lucky enough to be in a talk and Q&A led by Steven Levy and Andrew Nusca entitled “Tech Journalism Bubble.” Mr. Levy and Mr. Nusca did a great job laying out the troubles editors are having placing articles in the wide subject area of “tech.” It’s easy to qualify product review when the product is just an app. Not so easy to place a product review of the new Tesla. Is it for the automotive section of the magazine or the tech section? I asked them both where my writing is supposed to go, as I have challenges getting editors to accept my articles, which focus on the affects tech has on human behavior (Psychology of Information Technology). Steve and Andrew shook their heads in sympathy, and gave me a few suggestions for outlets. An audience member sitting next to me, a mobile app developer for USAToday (speak up if this is you, I never got your full name -UPDATE: Josh Cornfield told me this sharp cookie is Sarah Schmalbach) suggested that I take a bit of real estate in my query to “pitch the pitch.” Perhaps editors need a bit of education on where my writing fits, she said. This is genius and I’m going to try it. A bunch of other audience members throughout the day also came up to me and suggested media outlets I may try, magazines I hadn’t thought of but are perfect matches. That’s the best part of BCNI – putting your problems in front of a razor-sharp crowd and getting back bleeding-edge solutions. I felt supported and encouraged, more so than any other year. I’ll talk more about this personal “aha!” moment in another post. Best quote:
“Innovation – now there’s a word that means everything and nothing.” -Andrew Nusca, Fortune.
CONTENT SHOCK & MEDIA MAKING
Somewhere around now, my Twitter activity was so on fire that I was in the #1 Trending spot in Philadelphia. I was simply tweeting out information from the sessions and chatting with some fellow attendees. This is only the 2nd time in my life that my “purplecar” account has trended. First time was when I was having a particularly fun, snarky time with my friends. I can’t even remember what we were going on about back then. At any rate, you know it’s a slow Twitter day when I trend in Philly.
Next session I went to a talk given by my friend Cecily Kellogg called “Content Shock.” This woman has 64K followers on Twitter and has written for and about everyone and everything on the Web. Currently she of the pink hair and gazillion tats is writing for Disney-owned babble.com (ahh, how I love the smell of GenX irony in the afternoon).
Cecily talked about the various engagement levels with different sources. A little surprise: Don’t overlook the email newsletter, Cecily says. In terms of engagement, it’s still a big winner and worth the investment. Local Philly area provider AWeber was in attendance and seconded the stats.
After that Lynette Young, author, owner of PurpleStripe, and G+ guru with 1.5 million followers on the service, threw her hat in the ring to talk about media making. A good amount of solid advice and product recommendations came out of that session, like making sure your sound, above all, is of the highest possible quality and how to find ways to hit multiple channels with the same content. Lynette is nice enough to include an “extras” page for any group she speaks to.
“1.5 million followers on Google plus and no-one knows me in the grocery store.” -Lynette Young
Leave it to Lynette to sum up the essence of life online.
NEWS AND CATS
I missed what seemed to be the highlight of BCNI14 in Christopher Wink and my friend Chris Krewson’s “Don’t save the news” session. Based on Wink’s essay and Krewson’s extensive editor experience, Chris² covered everything, it seemed, including the head-to-head competition news stories vs. cat videos. I’m sad I missed it. Hopefully some notes will surface from the session. I’ll update here if I find any.
DRINKS AND SNACKS
The highlight of the day is the after party at The Draught Horse on Temple’s campus. It’s when I can have some time to spend with my friend Heather J. Chin – a young Brooklyn reporter I met at BCNI in the early years and someone I look forward to seeing every April. For me, it just wouldn’t be BCNI without Heather.
Lots of other great conversations went on at the bar, of course. Aram Zucker-Scharff, with whom I always have great conversations with every year, gave me a few more media outlets I can try for pitching. Daniel Victor, my Philly ex-pat NYTimes social media editor and his Maine-ish partner in crime William P. Davis schooled me on Tinder. There were a ton of other people I met there, too. Give me a shout out if we chatted, because I definitely want to keep in touch.
That’s about all I have for now. After the bar I sadly had to send Heather on her way. She had to get back to NYC for a full day of family obligations on Sunday. One of these years I’ll get her to crash with me for the weekend. We made plans to catch up in NYC this year.
After that, I wandered over to NoLibs where Lynette, Cecily and our friend and fellow Content Camper Eileen O’Brien were unwinding with tapas at Bar Ferdinand by the Piazza at Schmidt’s.
PEOPLE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD
And here’s a partial list of people I was thrilled to see that I didn’t get to mention here:
My Content Camp Philly fellow organizers David Dylan Thomas, Amanda Clark, Kelsey Leljedal, Brian Crumley, Lisa Yoder (and her sweet, very bearded husband Chad). Philly journos Jim MacMillan and others like , Philly folks like Ruth Kalinka, who I was calling Erica Owens’ after too long at the check-in desk (sorry, ladies, I was brain fried), the sweetest ever Sonia Petruse, Faye Anderson (whom I wish I had a chance to talk to), Melissa Sachs, Mary Ann Geier, Ken Grant, and lots and lots of old and new friends. Make sure to check out the Tweet streams on the hashtags #BCNI14, #ContentCampPHL, @bcniphilly and @content_camp.
Thanks so much to Content Camp’s and BCNI’s sponsors. Their money bought the food, gave us the space, and just in general spreaders of good will and good cheer. They all deserve your look. Content Camp Philly Sponsors – You’re the best. Thank You! BCNI Sponsors – You rock! Thanks!
Further reading (I’ll update here as I get more notes, etc):