June 29, 2008
Through bleary eyes and lack of sleep, I just spent a great day at CopyCamp, a barcamp-style event hosted at the Mercury News building in San Jose. There were about 40 participants, including several Mercury News reporters and editors. We had a couple of group discussions and 4 breakout sessions. The discussions centered around the Mercury News' style, tone, and technique in its coverage of race, immigration policy, the work of non-profit organizations and activism groups, technology, and business. The discussions were passionate and eloquent. I was moved by the obvious impact the Mercury News has in all of the diverse communities of the Bay Area
I am very grateful to the Mercury News reporters and editors who participated. As representatives of the paper, they were asked pointed questions. I thought they did a great job of listening to critiques of the paper's performance and explaining the philosophies and realities that govern their jobs. At this moment in time, it is impossible to discuss print news without getting into the topics of staffing cuts, the move from printed paper to the web, and the pressures of being in a for-profit, corporate environment. In my previous discussions of those topics, I had rarely considered the people in the newsroom, instead thinking of the Mercury News as a single entity. Sitting down with the journalists from the Merc and members of the public, it brought home to me the reality that the Mercury News is employing people. Real people who are trying to bring important information to my attention. I may disagree with the content or the tone of the Mercury News sometimes, but I have never been more certain of its importance in the Bay Area, here in Santa Cruz, and all over the world.
The beauty of CopyCamp's open format (and BarCamp in general), it encouraged discussion among participants. I'm always inspired by what people are doing and it is often quite striking what is going on in your community that you don't know about.
I learned a great deal about the Merc's online setup from Randy Keith, the Merc's online editor. I briefly talked to Goro, who helps Japanese start-ups relocate to the Bay Area and blogs about Bay Area news in Japanese so recent Japanese immigrants can read about local news in their native language. I also chatted with Jorge Zavala of TechBA, who works with start-ups in Mexico and Canada to help them relocate to the Bay Area.
I had some excellent post-camp discussions with CopyCamp's organizers, Chris O'Brien of the Merc and (Digi)Dave Cohn, a recent Knight News Challenge grant winner (along with Margaret and Quiddities), who's creating a non-profit for local investigative journalism called Spot.Us, Chris Amico, a freelance journalist (and UCSC alum) recently back from China and Rex Pechler (also a UCSC alum), a future Google-ite who's working on a citizen journalism start-up. Here's a video of Rex, Dave and I recorded by Chris Amico as we left CopyCamp:
Update 6/30, 10am PDT: Chris' video goes along with his blog post about CopyCamp. I recommend the post and the video, so I've removed the video so you can see his post and the video together.
Note: I think I came off kind of harsh in my description of my "ownership of the newspaper." In my rambling, I was attempting to address the newspaper industry in general, where I feel coverage tends toward the broad, sensational story and not get to the details and underlying "meat and potatoes" of a community involved with the story. I think that directive comes indirectly (via staffing cuts and profit-motive) from the higher levels of the media industry as a whole and not from a conscious effort on the part of the newsroom staff. So, you could say I pretty much blew it on that question.
I want to thank Chris O'Brien and Dave Cohn for organizing CopyCamp, the Mercury News for hosting and everyone who came on a Saturday to participate in the discussion. I had a great time and I will carry many of the ideas and concerns I heard today with me into the discussions I have here in Santa Cruz about newspapers and citizen journalism.
Update 6/30, 10:03am PDT: Dave Cohn has written about Saturday's CopyCamp.
If you'd to participate in the ongoing discussion we started today at CopyCamp, go to MajorityofNone.com.