Sunday, October 18, 2009

PubCamp Weekend

What does it look like when public broadcasters and social media rockstars come together? It looks like PubCamp - short for "Public Media Camp."

Folks from NPR, PBS, their affiliates (and a those from a multitude of other organizations) gathered last weekend at American University to discuss how to strengthen relationships with the public through collaborative projects.

The Format
It wasn't a conference, it was actually an "unconference" (no joke, that is what it's called). There is no committee that pre-plans every session. Participants come ready to lead a session. During the first hour, leaders plot out sessions on a large chart - based on suggestions from peers. Participants are free to move about the unconference and attend whichever sessions they like. Radical, huh? It was modeled after events like CongressCamp and PrivacyCampDC.

My Role: "I Am Sponge"
On my first day at NPR, my supervisor, Andy Carvin asked me: "Can you help me at Public Media Camp?" (Have I not had "intern" stamped across my forehead for the last 18 months?) Of course I could volunteer, I said. After all, my supervisor Andy Carvin was one of the main collaborators of the first ever PubCamp. Not to mention I find this whole idea of "unconference" plus public media absolutely thrilling!

This was going to be epic.

Following the spontaneous style of unconference, as a volunteer, I showed up - coffee in hand - to help with registration. I sat in on sessions mostly as a sponge - then as a notetaker to contribute to the Wiki.

The Sessions
Getting Seniors and the Underserved Online - This one intrigued me, simply because my family is always trying to understand what it is I do online - and why I think it's so important. Mark Ryan from a Fort Wayne station discussed his experiences helping senior citizens navigate technology. The second half featured folks from PBS Kids, who talked about interactivity for the Web's youngest audience and participants.

Using Social Media for Story Ideas - This session was led by Maria Carter of KCUR (PBS affiliate in Kansas City). I volunteered to be the official note-taker for the discussion, and my notes are on the Wiki.

iPhone Apps Contest - This highlighted the results of a contest done through iStrategy Labs called Apps for Democracy. The session highlighted the successes of that contest and asked, "How can public media harness that to help their audiences?"

Some cool apps that came out the original contest: Stumble Safely. It points out all the watering holes in town so you can have a safer bar crawl. For those looking for something more civic-minded, Are You Safe? organizes demographic information into a user-friendly format. Moving to a new town? Use the app to find out the safest neighborhoods.

I - along with nearly 300 participants tweeted all day Sunday with hashtag #pubcamp. If you follow the tag, you can see the conversations that started this weekend.

The People / Follow PubCampers!
Finally, it was great to meet people with similar interests, and fascinating jobs. Here's a few noteworthy people who were in attendance (they're famous in my book):

Craig Newmark, of Craig's List (@craignewmark)
Jonathan Coffman, PBS social media guy (@jdcoffman)
Aaron Ginoza, NPR Business Affairs Coordinator (@ninjaclectic)
Jeri Eckdahl, with NYU's School of International Affairs (@misspolitica)
Andy Carvin, NPR social media guy (@acarvin)

...Not to mention folks from the Center for Public Broadcasting, The Sunlight Foundation and neat stations like WNYC and WBUR.

Follow Up
So what happens next? What resulted from these spontaneous discussions? At the end of the unconference, the large group reported back with pros and cons. The idea is that many people from this group will take what they've learned and head up a PubCamp in their area. There are already five planned for the near future. I'm not sure of exact details, but I know several PubCampers plan to continue discussions that will result in concrete projects. For example, @misspolitica hopes to spearhead a singles group in New York City.

Since participants are so active online, there are several great reflections posted to personal blogs. "Jessie X" wrote an excellent post on her "take-away" that was "retweeted" several times on Twitter - I think, because of her great analysis of conflict between traditional jouranlists and Gen X'ers.

Bloggers from We Love DC, a local blog, gave an excellent overview of the experience on their site.

On my first day at NPR, Andy asked me, "Can you volunteer?"
Of course, I said.
Thus begins my journey into public media...

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Lacking in Truth

It was a spur of the moment decision. Several other interns were headed out on the town, and it included a trip to see "The Invention of Lying."

In short, it is a satirical romantic comedy -- with a surprise thematic element of anti-religion.

The Office fans know that Ricky Gervais (original star of the British version of The Office) plays the leading role of Mark Bennison, an unhappy documentary script writer. (His writing specialty is for the uneventful 13th century.)

The story takes place in an alternate universe where everyone tells the truth. This results in most of the humor in the movie.

Romantic interest Anna McDoogles (Jennifer Garner) tells Gervais flat out, "This will probably be our last date. You are not my genetic equal. Our children would inherit 50 percent of your genes, and we'd have fat little kids with snub noses."

Gervais does not seem fazed by the blunt comments he receives day in and day out ("You're such a loser.") But his luck changes one day when heads to the bank so he can pay the landlord. The computers are down, so Gervais lies about the amount of money he has in his account. Now, since everyone tells the truth, the teller believes that he has $800 when he actually has $300.

"Of course, our computers must have made a mistake," says the teller. And with that, she hands him the excess cash.

Viewers see an inside look of Gervais' brain, whereby he finds the genius discovery of lying. He describes it to his friends as "Have you ever said something that wasn't?" His friend are, no doubt, confused. For in fact, they have never lied -- and don't know how to.

In a particularly tender moment, Gervais says goodbye to his mom; she subsequently dies in a hospital room. To make her feel better he (lies?) about what the afterlife will be like. She dies in peace - or so we believe.

But suddenly everyone wants to know what heaven is like. Thus begins a series of fibs about the afterlife to help make people feel better about life and can see how this would complicate things.

After a late night of writing the "Nine Rules" (Ten Commandments, anyone?), on the back of pizza box containers, Gervais describes to crowds of people about the "Man in the Sky" who lets you do up three bad things in your life. In heaven, everyone gets a mansion. And you can eat your favorite ice cream whenever you want.

The movie has been described as a subversive chick flick. And that it is. The romantic mush begins when Gervais tries to show Anna there is more to a person that the outward appearance. While that is a main plot, the religious (or anti-religious) undertones blare pretty loudly throughout.

News outlets have praised it, others have criticized it and called it heresy. Reaction ran the gamut:
  • The Flickcast thought it was middle of the road. "(Gervais) pokes a bit of fun at religion."
  • Focus on the Family's Plugged In was suprisingly light on the criticism of a film that outright assaults Christianity. Rather, Paul Asay extends a call for more Christian moviemakers (Gervais is a committed atheist) who might make movies that "tell all of us Christianity might not be such a lie after all."
  • Variety said Gervais' film "never tops the explosive hilarity of its first 20 minutes."
The movie does poke fun at religion. There are no churches, but instead pristine buildings called "A Quiet Place to Think About the Man in the Sky."

It demonstrates that lying can actually be useful, but also reminds viewers that there is more to beauty than meets the eye - even if you have to lie to get someone to love you.

Funny? Yes. Controversial? That too.

Friday, October 2, 2009

News About The News

Just two years old, the Newseum stands at Pennsylvania and 6th as a tribute to journalists - and to history.

The building itself is visually impressive. I'm no architect, but it's clear the building was designed to last just as long as the

I spent four hours perusing the Newseum. Just enough time to see the exhibits at a casual pace and make a stop at the gift shop for a cheesy shirt labelled "News Junkie."

The museum is strong on audio-visuals (it better be). Each floor has interactive video booths or touch screens to learn about journalistic "firsts."

The Berlin Wall exhibit displays the largest piece of the Berlin Wall (out of Berlin, that is).

The September 11 was perhaps most haunting. The display included a
crumpled radio antenna that stood atop the one of the towers. One wall displays over 100 front page covers from that fateful day. And the video that showed the events of 9/11 from the reporters' perspective.

One photographer - Bill Biggart - died during the Twin Tower attacks. His last photo was timestamped at 9:00 - the exact time the second plane hit. There's a tribute video to him. His remaining camera equipment was on display.

Most viewers left the video gallery close to tears, myself included.

Almost as if to apologize for the churning memories from the 9/11 exhibit, the museum route guides patrons to a hall hailing the music journalism that developed from Woodstock.

Anchor-wannabes can report the news from a teleprompter on a mini news set, complete with green screen and mike (Just like I did).

And, as I'd hoped, there was a brief tribute to the journalism's future: the Internet, and yes, even a brief mention of Rick Sanchez on Twitter.

There's even a great balcony view of the Capitol and Pennsylvania Avenue. The Newseum staffer graciously offered to take my picture, adding that she got her picture with Conan O'Brien when he visited, too. She listed all sort of celebrities who have visited. The Newseum rakes in thousands when groups organize a private event. "You'd never recognize this place," she said. "It turns into a nightclub at night!"

The building is impressive inside and out. Just step up to the front door and read the front page of a newspaper from every state. And they're updated every day.

Of course, there exists plenty of skepticism and criticism - by journalists, no less - about this building that commemorates the work of journalists throughout history.

Newsbusters called it a "Shrine to media self-obsession."

A humorous look at the gift shop, from Fishbowl DC.

And the Huffington Post says the Newseum gives itself a "big, wet sloppy kiss" with the monument to itself. Nathan Robinson writes:

The Newseum constantly feels as if The New York Times is desperately trying to preserve its reputation in the face of competition, and rekindle the flame of a dead era. Blindsided by the Internet Age, and finally coming closer to realizing that Blogs Can Do It Better, the Times has reacted in the only way it knows how: building a gigantic monument to itself.

Love it or hate it, that's the news for ya.