Monday, April 27, 2009

BarCamp suggests our situation isn't beyond all repair

Turns out I’ve been going to the wrong kind of conferences. Sorry NAA, ASNE and SPJ: BarCamp is my new favorite.

I spent Saturday in the company of a few score others with an interest in the future of news and journalism. Gathered at Temple University in North Philadelphia, Bar Camp News Innovation was unlike any of the conferences I’ve attended on similar topics. The process is strikingly different, and I think that helped yield a different, valuable product as well.

Bar Camp got its name name as a spoof of the invitation-only Foo Camps in the tech world; see fubar for further illumination. It’s intentionally upside down, the the agenda driven by the participants and reconfigured on the fly. While most of the presentations I attended (several available in each hour from 10am-6pm) were obviously prepared in advance, others were added after the program had begun. You attend at your own invitation, and anybody can claim a room and host a sesison. Good use of open source, public tools helped sustain its rudimentary organization, though dedicated human volunteers were essential, as well. Twitter messages with hash codes, a mobile-friendly web presence and Temple’s good tech infrastructure all helped.

Most important was the fact that discussions, ideas and debates were open as well. The process was emergent and iterative, with a few key memes building from one session to the next as the day progressed. Of course some arguments were repeated from session to session, but just as often they had evolved or even been transformed.

I lost my notebook in the taxi afterward, so my specific notes aren’t as good as they would be. You can learn a great deal from searching #bcni and related threads on Twitter and going to the camp website. I’m sure others will be posting, as well. Let me leave you with two thoughts: a wholehearted endorsement of the bar camp process, applied on a local or regional level; and a renewed sense that there are answers and solutions within our grasp.

And one more: I sure love people who love journalism.


  1. @Howard,

    You left off the best part! It's free. I attended ONA last year for $400 or something along those lines, and I can't really say that it was better.

    In fact, I really like the spirit of BarCamp. It seemed like everyone was there because they wanted to make journalism better. I can't say I've ever been to a conference where I felt like all the participants were on the same page, especially when it came to embracing the Web as our path forward.

    It was great meeting you. I was surprised by how good BarCamp was.

  2. Glad you discovered BarCamp over there Howard. They are truly phenomenal events to hear ideas and get some perspective on the future of the Internet. It's a great place to meet people who are enthusiastic about media and technology.