I am so happy to participate in the UT International Online Journalism Symposium each year. It’s great to bring along TX State students so they can interact with UT people, professionals and academics from other schools. Every symposium, Rosental Alves and his Knight Center team raise the bar of a quality conference, assembling the most fascinating program of thinkers and doers. I was encouraged this year by the conversations, both on the panels and off. I think we are beginning to talk about the right things – moving away from the print model and discussing new economics and skills – without worrying about treading on the legacy of old media. It was a stroke of brilliance to have Steven Kydd of Demand Media as the keynote, to address the realm of paid content to a room full of skeptical journalists. And, Earl Wilkinson, executive director and CEO, International Newsmedia Marketing Association (INMA), had what I thought were some of the most provocative comments, by saying we need to dismantle print, rethink it’s value proposition and retrain an entire industry – strong words that needed to come from someone of his experience. He asked the question: How do we evolve from audiences of geography to audiences of passionate niches? I think these niches are so important to embrace. Passionate users will do lots of work for you and be very loyal – I mean it’s what YouTube and Wikipedia are based on. It lends toward my interest in user experience, giving users something to do on websites, letting them control the experience and, increasingly, the content.
TX State’s Scott Thomas asks a question to the panel on mobile news
Other great talks were given by Alfred Hermida/Amanda Ash of University of British Columbia, on a use of the CBC Wiki by a passionate community of music lovers, Nuno Vargas, of the University of Barelona, on the grid layout of news websites and Seth Lewis, of UT, on the ways that the Knight News Challenge defines and rewards innovation. Also, Ethan Zuckerman of Global Voices Online and a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center, discussed a topic that I talk about a lot, the importance of failing, failing quickly and failing cheaply. There is actually an article in today’s NY Times “The Rise of the Fleet-footed Startup” that broaches this notion – that you don’t need a lot of venture capital to start a business.
And Geoffrey Graybel and Jameson Hayes of University of Georgia had some interesting research proposing a micro-payment model for news sites. I have my doubts about the viability and future of such a model, but I definitely appreciate that they considered the social and sharing nature of news in their proposal. For me, the majority of the value of any form of online media is my ability to share it via Twitter, Facebook, email or linking it on a Web site.
I enjoyed the comments of many of the pros, particularly Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune. He has really put in the work that needs to be done to transition from the print model of Texas Monthly to the new media environment that he now heads. He really gets the importance of data and is banking on a non-profit model. That was encouraging to me, as it dovetailed nicely with my interest in data and programming and my case study of the NY Times Interactive News Technology team that I presented at the conference. And David Cohn of Spot.us talked about letting the public control freelance budgets on their site. It’s a very Digg-like model, except now it is being applied to assignments of work. He recently wrote a nice piece for PBS MediaShift on applying the same idea to Advertising.
As I reflect on the last two days, I realize that there were so many great ideas generated at this conference, more than I can effectively convey here. Please visit the symposium website to enjoy their extensive coverage and watch the archived videos once the become available. This event is getting to be very SXSW in it’s approach to innovation, which I am happy to see. It’s a great event to bring students to after SXSW so they can make comparisons across audiences and see some of the new ideas they were exposed to during SX as they are being applied specifically to the field of journalism.
TXST grad and now adjunct Jon Zmikly did some fast work at the end of the conference, finding the wthashtag.com site and pulling together some impressive stats for the conference hashtag #isoj. More than 4500 tweets, and people are still commenting on the event. He also generated a fun Wordle visualization that used the text from the tweets to identify key topics.
Click on the image to see a larger version. It’s fun to use these free and widely available tools!
TX State students enjoy some lunch with Jan Schaffer of J-Lab
As always, it is great to connect with friends, meet Twitter followers and followees and share ideas. Congrats to Rosental, Amy Schmitz-Weiss and the Knight Center team for a wonderful event! I look forward to next year’s symposium when I have no doubt that Rosental will once again exceed all expectations and put on another fantastic program!
Here are a couple of pictures from my panel that were taken by Andrew Waldrup. Thanks Andrew!