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Blogging a conference I’m not even attending…

Several of my Global Voices colleagues are in London this week, participating in the Reuters/BBC-organized We Media conference. I’d been sad that I couldn’t be part of the event – I agreed to be part of the Metaverse Roadmap conference previously and didn’t relish the prospect of a London to SF trip Thursday evening.

So far, not so good, evidently. BBC is hosting today’s sessions and has been plagued with technical problems – the video feed has been unreliable, there’s been no audio feed (my preferred method of participation) and the chat system hasn’t worked. (My guess is the estimable Matt Hassock will have all this fixed for tomorrow’s sessions, which Reuters will host…)

But the real problem seems to be the content – a rehashing of the bloggers versus journalists debate that’s leaving most of the GV participants pretty frustrated. Rebecca speculates that they’re asking the wrong question: “The question we really ought to be focusing on is: how can citizens and professional journalists work together to create a better and more well-informed public discourse?”

Neha, our South Asia editor, is upset that, in defending blogs, many seem to end up critiquing “breakfast blogs” and emphasizing the good, journalistic blogs out there. (I’ll own up to using this line of defense. I too often throw the mommy bloggers to the wolves in explaining blogs to journalists and NGOs…)

It’s also important we understand that bloggers aren’t responsible for each other. The same way Guardian isn’t responsible for what the BBC does. It’s sad if journalism as a profession feels threatened by citizen journalism. But if it makes them clean up their act – Oh! Why not? It is unfortunate that people who support citizen journalism have to feel so defensive in a forum that was supposed to engage the two camps. I feel like they’ve divided them up even further.

And Rachel Rawlins, BBC veteran and now our managing editor, is just pissed off:

The “rest of the world” has featured entirely peripherally. One unfortunate panellist referred to the plucky media in the developing world operating in conditions “from the stone age in a mud hut”.

I mean WTF?

We are now enduring an exercise involving “digital assassins” who I assume are being put forward as “average” digital media consumer/producers. These people are so far from being global as to be confined, judging by their accents, to Greater London.

In the BBC’s defense… these conferences aren’t easy to hold. Bloggers see the rise of citizen’s media as preordained and inevitable; many reporters tend to see bloggers as barbarians at the gate, helping destroy the proud and honorable profession they’ve spent their lives defending. Tomorrow’s panels will almost surely be more global, as GV’s had a strong hand in organizing them and Rebecca will be moderating two of them.

A last observation (in a post that’s already embarrasingly long, as I’m not actually at the conference!) – while global news organizations seem obsessed with the bloggers/journalists “dichotomy”, local media seems more open to this idea. I gave a lecture at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts a few weeks ago as part of a class taught by Bill Densmore, who has edited several Berkshire County newspapers. Bill observed that local newspaper editors generally understand the value of journalists cooperating with bloggers because local papers don’t get produced without the help of lots of amateurs. That baseball story, town meeting summary or theatre review might have been produced by a seasoned, experienced journalist… and just as likely was produced by an intern, an amateur trying to get some experience, or someone in the community who was passionate that an event get covered.

Maybe these conversations aren’t best yelled held between bloggers and journalists from highly professional, structured, hierarchical news organizations – maybe community papers could help provide an ideological bridge between camps?

5 thoughts on “Blogging a conference I’m not even attending…”

  1. Well, it seems obvious that the old media need some time to catch up, not only in technology. I do think it needs some patience on the side of the vanguard. Many more conference will have to convey similar messages: not everybody is yet convinced.

  2. it’s been a disaster for virtual participants today at we media… at one time we had realone streaming at a bitrate of 1kbps and windows media at 8kbps….

    chat moderators aren’t passing on the questions to the panelists… bloggers getting beat up over nothing.. and for crying out loud some of the msm folks have no clue what they’re talking about!

    and msm dudes poking way beyond the line at bloggers’ credibility when they can look at their credibility for starters…

    hog wash IMO ;-)

    tomorrow looks to be different though…


    btw: Technorati needs a revamp! they aren’t tracking disaster relief blogs right.. some of them don’t even pop up on technorati’s list…

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  4. Hi Ethan,

    I was at the October We Media in NYC, and observed at that time that there was something very strange about august, high level media types discussing blogging. I mentioned to Jay Rosen that it was so odd that they were talking about “the people” yet there was only a handful of “people” in the audience. While the We Media folks are trying, there is this disconnect because there is so little on-going dialogue between the people and big media.

    So, I agree with you that it is small papers that might be able to bridge the gap (although some, as I wrote today on my blog Constant Observer, have their own struggles understanding blogging.)

    Also holding smaller events that are accessable to both big media and the people might help…that’s part of the aim of the conference we’re holding out at the University of Massachusetts at the end of June:

    “Democracy & indepencence: Sharing News and Politics in a Connected World”:

    Overall though, it’s going to take some gutsy people on the blogging side, and some open-minded folks on the big media side to begin to bridge that gap. Getting us in the same place, at the same time, is the challenge.

    Tish G.

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