On October 15, 2016 at the Annenberg Hall on Temple University’s campus in Philadelphia, PA, USA, 150-200 journalists and other media makers and watchers gathered for the 8th Annual Barcamp News Innovation (BCNI). The pure momentum of my yearly attendance to BCNI had me driving up Broad Street at 9 a.m. on a Saturday yet again.
I parked in the garage for the first time in 8 years. I know. You’re shocked. We proud (ex-)city dwellers usually raise the colors of Those Who Fight The Philadelphia Parking Authoritarians and defiantly park on the street. Previous BCNIs were held in the springtime but this year the date was moved to the fall. Since my lifestyle is most closely related to academia, my “new year” starts in late August/early September. My new year’s resolution is to work steadily and earnestly on a novel. In that vein, my schedule has endured some severe slashes as of late. The bloodshed rivals the Red Wedding. All extracurriculars are on the shelf. Parking in the garage gave me one less hill to conquer. (Don’t gloat, PPA. We shall duel another time.)
College campuses are awash in Ingress and Pokémon Go (PG) stops, and Temple is no exception. On the walk to Annenberg, I caught a few ‘mon and fueled up on supplies (dump the lower potions, keep the pokéballs). Thankfully I’m not one of those super-absorbed PG players, because holy crap, there’s a humongously huge hole in the earth next to Annenberg Hall. Temple has a lot more $$$ than it did when I was there in graduate school. I wasn’t expecting whole blocks to be dug out to make way for new buildings. But Annenberg was still standing, and I arrived there well to find it had not one but 2 PG stops out front. Bonus!
The Board – as in, food
Breakfast was happening when I walked in. The spread was lavish. Judging by the way they’d raided the table, my guess is journalists, like academics, are not typically treated like humans. I’d arrived close to 9:15; after the 9:00a.m. start but before the 9:30 board opening (more on that in a minute). Despite being early-ish, almost all the yogurts were gone. The normal people still had plenty of food to choose from though. I grabbed the last mixed berry yogurt and a cup of coffee. A plate of odd-looking bagels sat close to the yogurt bowl, but since it wasn’t labeled “Gluten-free” I dared not take one. None of the food was labeled. I knew there would be GF offerings, but for me, eating the catered food this year was like being a poison-tester for the Starks. I managed to flag a Miles Table worker later at lunch to identify the (meatless – why does everyone assume GF also means vegetarian?) GF sandwiches. At breakfast, the odd-looking bagels looked yummy but it’s a risk eating catered food with a label, let alone without one. I was happy with my yogurt and coffee. Plus, this food was practically free as it was included in my $15 ticket price, even if I couldn’t eat 99% of it. The caterer didn’t identify the vegan offerings either. In a room full of journalists, it’s curious no-one had a pen and paper to remedy the missing label problems. (Meh. Everything’s digital these days. Where’s my virtual reality overlay when I need it? The futurists promised me flying cars and VR. I got self-driving cars and games.)
The Board – as in, schedule
BCNI is an “unconference” – a gathering where the attendees present. Surprisingly, the board – a pushpin-and-cardstock physical scheduling wall – never ends up being a Game of Thrones war scene. Spaces get taken up on a first-come, first-serve basis and these journos politely accept whatever sessions end up in the time slots. Fascinating. Yet they all end up being pretty great sessions.
Almost all the podcasting/social media crowd was not present. This is understandable, given the change of the season. Fall is big for conferences in that area of expertise. That’s the bad news. The good news is the concept of online reading and internet culture has been fully inculcated into the hearts and minds of Philly’s best and brightest journalists. I attended sessions (loosely) entitled “Listicles that don’t suck” and “Sponsored content is not evil.” That was heartwarming to see.
Side note: NOT heartwarming: hearing a Millennial male journalist publicly refer to a fellow attendee, a grown woman, as a “girl.” That’s not just a bad habit, it’s oppressive and HIGHLY offensive language. Such an egregious mistake is especially worrisome coming from a supposedly well-informed professional JOURNALIST – the true purveyors of our progress, the critics of our culture! What was more disappointing is that this violent error would have flown by unfettered and excused by his peers, had I not called him out. I’m not *really* one of his peers, am I though? I’m GenX and didn’t go to J-school. I come from academia and IT. The rest of the white males in the room let it pass. The crowd in that standing-room-only lecture hall would’ve rioted if that same white man had referred to a grown black man as a “boy” as if it were 1950. Yet I was the only one to call this man out for reducing an adult to lesser status. Doesn’t bode well for journalists as a whole, does it? Wake up, Journos. Those old white dudes who schooled you are doing you no favors.
Back at breakfast, I reviewed the board and caught up with old friends. I spent the rest of the day running up and down stairs. The lunch panel and the happy hour were both great. BCNI is an outstanding and absolutely essential networking and educational event for the Philly media community. This “review” is too long, though. I’ll have to break this up into a series. I’ll complete it over the course of the next few weeks. I learned a lot this year, perhaps even more than previous years, and it’s too much to share in one post.
Congrats to the organizers and the sponsors. Another BCNI to remember! More to come…