Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The conversations we need to have...."Right now there's just flashes in the dark; we have to learn to turn on the light."

Here's something I almost never do: live blog about an event as it unfolds. (I might even twitter this one....and that's something I NEVER EVER do....).

But this one is worth the tracking as it unfolds: I'm sitting in the opening conversation of our Park Center for Independent Media symposium, an event that has brought together 27 of the most successful, innovative and powerful independent media makers in the country. I got here late -- had to show up at a college-wide meeting with our new prez -- but I have arrived in time to hear an active and energetic discussion about the new media ecology that offers new opportunities for independent media makers.

A few highlights:

Amanda Michel, director of Off The Bus for the HuffingtonPost, is talking about crowdsourcing and the value of engaging non-journalists in the practice of contributing content and information to journalistic organizations. Not everybody is a journalist and not everybody needs to be. But it's possible to draw readers into the process, thereby allowing them to "commit acts of journalism" and contribute to the public discourse. "What stories can we do that no single journalist could?" she asked. Those are the stories that journalists need to do -- and that readers can contribute to in ways that make a difference.

More than half of the contributors to OffTheBus are women; sometimes, it's as high as 80 percent. Why? She doesn't know, but it's a clear signal that women do participate when they are compelled to do so.

Dave Matheson, author of Be The Media, agrees with earlier speakers that there's a new definition of success when it comes to independent media. It used to be commercial success, the ability to get a contract, attract advertising...but the new definition is owning the means of both production AND distribution. It depends upon owning and controlling the infrastructure associated with distribution -- a revolutionary idea made possible by new technologies and new direct relationships with audiences. He quotes Kevin Kelly's commentary about the long tail and the concept of "1000 True Fans":

A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author - in other words, anyone producing works of art - needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.

A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can't wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans...."

Linda Jue, director of New Voices in Independent Journalism, says the key issue is enabling journalists to retain control over the production and distribution of independent media. There's too much focus on the infrastructure and organizations rather than the independent journalists themselves....

Dori Maynard, who heads the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, reminds the group about the impact and opportunities for independent media to reflect the perspectives and lives of a diverse audience. "People don't see their lives reflected in the mainstream media," she says, "and that's something independent media could do....that would be a great service...how great it would be never to hear the term "underserved community" again...."

David Cohn, director and founder of the crowdfunding project, spot.us, reminds the group that independent is not synonymous with progressive. He's acknowledging that the conversation has focused to a significant extent on the role of progressive media, and he's reminding the group that "independent" is not synonymous with progressivism: "Our role now is to participate in community organizing.....but we should keep in mind that it's not to have a specific agenda, but to make sure that there is a platform there for every point of view, it's about not squashing views, we're here to use and distribute the tools to be sure that every point of view is represented....


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