June 5, 2010

Surprised, perplexed, exhausted from/at/in Journalism That Matters

I am amazed at the optimism and positive outlooks at a Journalism That Matters event taking place now in Detroit Michigan. With a subtitle of Create or Die, with the dying of traditional journalism, the amount of change in media, with media in Michigan this could have been a somber affair.

An opening exercise invited all who had worked in a newsroom to change places with someone else in a circle of participants. Nearly everyone moved elsewhere. But only two moved when the question was who works in a newsroom.

Tonight, I ran through a slideshow of photos from the event. Notice how many are smiling.

Participants set agenda

This is a conference where those who are present create the agenda. Someone has an issue, an idea, a proposal to examine and announces the idea to the group. Anyone can stand up and suggest, sometimes ideas are combined. All ideas are posted to a board, get a time, get a room. Then participants choose where they want to go, if they want to go.

Unlike other Journalism That Matters conferences, the hope was that some projects would be a direct result of the talking, sharing and exchanging that happened at the event with a tagline of Innovate, Incubate, Initiate.

You can see the topics proposed and notes from the sessions online as well as photos and video of some parts.

The plan

What I planned to do at this meeting was buzz from session to session to gather a sense of what happens and to create an ongoing report of the outcomes after people left Detroit, returned home and moved on. I did some conference work, picking up supplies, making some wall hangings, and inviting some people. I helped people make collages of who they are for a wall of faces. I planned to gather words each day to pull together as a poem to recap the end of the day for all.

Social gaming for journalism

But a series of conversations on the opening day led me to host a session on  Social Media Gaming to foster understanding of Journalism and Civic Engagement That session went past the initial time, rolled through lunch, through the afternoon and onto a plan for all day Saturday.

There was a revolving, evolving set of people who flew in and out of the conversations as we talked about different types of games, how could we encourage people to understand why journalism mattered, the  of state of gaming journalism, racial and gender issues in gaming and much more.

But, by the end of the first 90 minute session a small group of us knew we wanted to create a game that was fun, that could be viral, that could help others understand the complexity of finding the story as a journalist, that might lead to more people caring what happened in their community.

Long way since Space Invaders

I would not consider myself a gamer, although I admit I've played a variety of games online, on consules, on mobile devices, even my phone. I've played when the games required text commands like "get ball" made a character move across the screen and in more complex games.

Lately, I've been watching and reasearching FarmVille as a powerful example of how to make money online, create a game that lets you succeed with little time spent and offers some life lessons I wish more would encourage: Being nice to neighbors, working together for the success of all and celebrating success.

Still, I think the traditional gaming industry appeals mostly to males and those under 30, if not younger.

Breaking out

One fascinating part of the session for me was who was in the group. Only two or three (it depended on the time) were active gamers, by which I mean played multiple games, knew the types of available games and could speak off the cuff deeply about the gaming industry.

The group was predominantly female - many games are male dominated in developing, characters and players.

I continued to faciitate the process for the next five hours, pulling ideas of games that worked, that didn't from those who play games regularly and those who didn't. There was pulling of what is journalism from those who once were journalists and those who never were or intended to be.

We explored possible characters, possible approaches to storytelling, platforms and so much more. We left with the idea to continue the next day with blueskying, picking one scenario to flesh out and doing preliminary building so that we could present some sort of a game to a panel of coaches on Sunday.

Right people, right place

There are four principles of Open Space, the technique of this gathering:
  1. Whoever comes is the right people
  2. Whenever it starts is the right time
  3. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
  4. When it's over, it's over
What happened early Saturday was remarkable. By the time, I entered the session where that day's agenda would be formed I knew I was too exhausted from the first day to continue as facilitator. I also knew that I didn't want to focus my energy for the next few months developing this game. Yet, there was no time to hunt for any of the participants to let them know of my change in plans.

Unexpectedly and with great appreciaiton, one of the first people to bounce up with an idea to lead a session was one of the women who floated in and out of the first day's conversations/planning/sessions. Her enthusiasm was contagious. Some others dropped out, others droped in. I stayed for some of the planning and then moved on.

New energy builds on the start

Today ended with the project -- Create a game to interest the public in the continued creation of an evolving journalism -- being picked as one of four (out of nine) to get coaching on the last day of the conference.

The game may never make it to the real world but the process of learning what hooks gamers, gaming journalism, what those inside and outside of journalism define as journalism was exciting. All who worked on the gaming plan agreed that any of us could use parts of what we discovered/learned/developed to use.

I am about to end the day, smiling in amazement at what happens when you are willing to give up the shoulds.

I wrote about this conference as part of a post on citizen journalist iniatives in Michigan