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...


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