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    Live from London::We Media, Me Too Media and Them Media

    by Mark Glaser
    May 4, 2006

    i-ca2d859c9e8e7a92501742605d729be7-We Media Day 1.JPG
    LONDON — It’s exciting to be in a room — well, actually a glitzy BBC TV studio — with a group of top media executives, consultants, think-tankers and gadflys for a day of discussion about We Media or citizen journalism.

    Much of the discussion was about how Big Media is embracing the new democratization of media online with citizen-shot photos and video, weblogs and the inclusion of diverse voices. But ironically perhaps, the idea for the conference to be a global conversation — or at the least, a conversation in the room — was much more difficult because of the setting and setup.

    Rumor has it there were 200 BBC staffers behind the scenes putting on this TV show of a conference at the BBC television headquarters in White City on the west side of London. Attendees were spread out at tables around the room, and panelists were up on stage wearing clip-on microphones. There were even commercial breaks where sponsors were interviewed from the “trade show exhibits” in the back of the studio.

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    While there was plenty of time for the audience to jump into the conversation happening on-stage, it was a bit disconcerting to have a TV camera crew and stage lights shone onto you while throwing out your question or comment.

    One of the BBC presenters (a.k.a. anchormen), Nik Gowing, was especially abrasive to people stepping into the conversation. For example, I got up at one point and asked this question to a “Leaders Panel” of mainstream media mucky-mucks: “The great thing about we media or citizen media is that anyone can start a blog or podcast and do journalism — it’s a grassroots thing. People in the blogosphere see this conference as Big Media folks trying to grab onto a trend and show that they ‘get it’ and are just trying to co-opt what’s going on by launching blogs and such. How do you respond to that?”

    Gowing turned to the panel and said, “Exploitation — how do you respond?” The responses were pretty tepid, not surprisingly.

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    Consultant Suw Charman was one of many in the room who were frustrated by the split personality or disconnect happening here. “There are really two conversations going on, one up on the stage and one out here, and they aren’t listening to each other, really.” As for the exploitation angle, Charman dubbed the event “Me Too Media,” for the way the mainstream media was trying to show they were hip to the trend without actually bringing many independent people on stage who are practicing citizen media.

    You can count on bloggers to excoriate this dynamic, and they did it in spades. Just one example came from Jack P. Toerson, who didn’t attend the conference but slammed the idea of “Digital Assassins,” where the We Media conference brought in “real people” who were shutting off old media for new media in their lives. These folks spread out at each of our tables, and we questioned them as if we were in a psych lab. As contrived as this idea was, I have to admit this was the first time I really did have a group conversation at the conference because our table got to talk privately for awhile.

    “There are some amazing things coming out of blogging,” Toerson wrote on his blog critique. “Reports from war zones, personal stories, and information that never would have reached a wide audience. But these, for me at least, are symptoms of just how badly the old media has failed. Necessity is the mother of all invention and people that have been ignored by the old media have taken matters into their own hands.”

    Other folks at the conference (names deleted) were astonished that there was so little talk about Web 2.0 technology such as social networking, photo-sharing and online video — and so much emphasis on old arguments such as journalism vs. blogging. One high-profile consultant on the scene said, “This day was so 2005. If this was taking place in the U.S., they would have been trashed.”

    On the Plus Side…

    But at tech conferences, blog sniping — and all other on-site sniping — is like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s a nice sport and so easy. But credit is also due to the conference organizers for pulling this whole thing off, and at least getting the idea of citizen journalism out into the world, largely with the huge help of the BBC, which was running TV story after story on the trust-in-media survey, flawed as it might have been.

    In the middle of each panel discussion, the moderator would cut away to Brian Reich, who was monitoring what people were talking about online in the We Media chat room and on other blogs. Reich mentioned at various points that people online were calling panelists “elitist” and “smug,” and while the panelists and moderators tried to laugh it off, the points were made. Again, it had a contrived feeling to it, similar to what you see on CNN and their blog reports, but it was at least a nod to the real world outside that was not always looking at the conference kindly.

    Also on the good foot, The Media Center think tank that’s putting on the conference paid 13 “We Media Fellows” to come to the conference from various places around the world and live-blog the conference’s sessions and speeches. It would have been nice to have some of these folks up on stage, but at least they’re here.

    I have a lot of hope for the second day of the conference on Thursday, which will take place at the new Reuters HQ in Canary Wharf with a bit less glitz, and perhaps a more unified conversation. The lineup includes panels on how citizen media is changing culture in hotspots around the world, from Asia to the Middle East. Stay tuned for more reports then…

    UPDATE: One thing I forgot to mention about the first day’s affairs. At one point, Brian Reich mentioned someone in the chat room critiquing the panel. The moderator then asked for the person to stand up and tell the panel directly what was wrong and what her complaint was. Eventually she stood up sheepishly and seemed to soft-pedal her criticism. I hadn’t seen this type of “outing” someone doing online chat critiques and making them stand up to talk about it in the room.

    Whether it was a good or bad thing is unclear. I would guess it might chill the online complaints somewhat, but it would also bring out some counterviews to a panel where everyone was basically congratulating themselves. What do you think about that type of outing someone’s online chatter?

    Photo by Annabel Blair — BBC Global News

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    • Thanks.

      The reason I didn’t attend was that the emphasis didn’t seem to be on talent. One of the really exiting things about blogs is that there are all kinds of people, myself included, learning to write for an audience. I think good writing transcends trends and the Digital Assassins questions from the BBC turned that into a bit of a joke.

      From my perspective it was a slap in the face. I spend time thinking about what I write, I work hard on it, and I care deeply about my audience. I respect old media’s professionalism but deeply disrespect their condescension.

    • Will Pollard

      I think the reason the moderator asked for comments in person was that he is trained in TV. I saw this on a stream and it was more interesting to watch than someone reading out email.

      Not sure the UK is so far behind on web 2.0 . I think it was more the media organisations involved. The proportion of people from the USA was quite high.

    • Hi Mark,

      I was at the We Media event last October and have been reading all the various blogposts about this one….(missed it because I couldn’t afford to fly to London)

      The criticisms that you have re this conference–specifically too many bigwigs–is a complaint that I have been raising about blogging conferences *in general* since I attended my first one last July (BlogHer, which was surprisingly a good mixed group.) As a freelance writer–also a blog editor for Corante’s Media Hub– living on contracts, I’ve had to do a lot of beggin’ and pleadin’ with folks who run conferences in order to attend. The fact is that most blogging conferences are costly and most bloggers cannot afford to attend.

      We are, effectively, shut out of the conversation by simple economics. Giving us blogs, audiocasts, etc. does not help. Even if we comment, it’s easy to ignore us.

      Nothing beats a face-to-face meeting!

      The only way I was able to attend October We Media was by volunteering–and was surprised that there was all sorts of talk about “the people” but there were, in relation to bigwigs, a small percentage of “people” (Jay Rosen and I had a short conversation about the irony of this–and I wrote about the event on my blog–see my October archives) There were a few “people” that were there on scholarships, but the rest of us were working the conf. in one way or another.

      As for the calling out incident you mention, there’s precendent for that–the Mena Trott-Ben Metcalfe hoo-ha at Les Blogs. We may, in time, see more of that, as we now know it can be used as a means of intimidation that essentially silences conversation. There may, however, be backlash at some point.

      Bottom line: *most* blogging conferences are for executives of one stripe or another, and do very little to bridge the gap. There will be a conference this summer at the University of Massachusetts Amherst that aims to put media bigwigs and the people in the same place (relative to other conferences, the cost is most affordable):

      http://www.mediagiraffe.org/conference.html

      Hopefully, at this event, we’ll get some *real* conversation going… :-)

      Tish Grier
      http://spap-oop.blogspot.com

    • I was the outed person by Nik Gowing. I was also one of the fellows who was funded by the Media Center to attend the conference. I back pedaled in part because I was so shocked that I was called upon AND because I felt a bit guilty that I had been funded to attend this thing and here I was critiquing someone on the panel.

      Looking back, I wish I hadn’t back pedaled, but when that camera gets on you it sure isn’t as easy to complain as it is in a chat room.

      Thanks for your commentary!

    • I was one of the online curators along with Brian Reich and Suw Charman, feeding chat comments back to the debate/audience. I’m not usually at conferences, whether blogger or media, and while I was apalled at the sort of abrasiveness displayed by the likes of Nik Gowing, and the lack of podcasters/bloggers/vloggers onstage, I found the back channel chatters to be as condescending and self-absorbed at times as the old media types; cliquish, in a word. The criticism online was, regrettably, not very articulate or constructive – especially during the first day. That’s a pity because many of the concerns and critiques voiced by chatters were valid and deserved to be heard – not shot down. (Comments were a lot better the second day and I think we curators managed the process better as well.)I don’t think it was inappropriate to out one of the critiquers, but there’s no need to be hostile and patronizing about it. That said, I see it like Tish; this was an “executive conference”, a mixer for media heads to refresh contacts and reaffirm their relevance, rather than address their rumored demise.

    • I must say I had a very low opinion of the Wemedia event. Between the two days (May 3rd and 4th 2006) of the Wemedia Event, a fringe event was organized. WeMedia Fringe was an enjoyable series of talks and chat in Soho, London. One of the most entertaining talks was Suw Charman of the Open Rights Group talking about all the things that where done wrong on the first day of the Wemedia event. So, without further ado – here’s Suw Charman providing her thoughts after the first day of the conference.

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