WMTM follow-up: A Portland journalism incubator, and more

It’s been 48 hours since the close of the WeMaketheMedia conference that took place on Saturday, Nov. 21, more than enough time to let the dust settle and see what actually happened.

A crowd of about 150 or so media professionals and just plain folks attended part or all of the conference, which was created to explore the feasibility of starting a nonprofit organization to cover local news. Many of them have already weighed in with their views, which are all over the map.

There are those who thought the conference, put together by a handful of long-time Portlanders with roots in local media and public affairs, excluded – accidentally or otherwise –  groups that are chronically under-served by the state’s existing media, specifically people of color.

There were also those who railed against how it was structured, with participants who didn’t listen to each other and led by a handful of Boomer and older journalists who aren’t as hip to Twitter et al as their Gen Y counterparts, a techno divide that got bigger as the day wore one.

There were also those who’ve made the rounds of local or national digital journalism conferences over the past year or more and are tired of talking about problems and just want to get on with implementing some solutions.

While I started out as one of the panelists, by the end of the day I’d joined “the corner,” a group sitting in the back of the room near the electrical outlets so they could take notes on their laptops and use Twitter to broadcast meeting updates to people who couldn’t be there, and yes, I’ll admit it, crack jokes and grouse about things they heard and didn’t like.

It’s all well and good to argue about who did what at the meeting or who didn’t respect whom. For me, what it all comes down to is the work. As one of those people who’s been going to these ‘future of news’ presentations for the past six months and written about it for the past two years, I too am ready to stop talking about it and get things done.

Which is why I spent the better part of Saturday with the conference goers who wanted to discuss creating a network of independent, entrepreneurial journalism ventures that could collaborate in some way on a regular basis. What this organization could look like, how the participants would collaborate and how it would be funded is TBD. But as discussed by the 20-plus people who spent a couple of hours hashing it out, it could take several shapes, including some or all of the following:

  • A loosely affiliated group of journalists and bloggers, each with their own specialty or beat that would run their respective websites, blogs, email newsletters or other publications, and possibly also contribute some or all of their work to a larger online publication or site.
  • A physical co-working space specifically for reporters who want to work someplace other than their home offices some or all of the time
  • A social support group that would meet regularly to brainstorm, share advice and commiserate.
  • A group that could barter editorial services – my copyediting for your videography or Ruby on Rails development.
  • A partnership that could compile and sell its work to other news outlets through some type of syndicate.

Exactly how such a conglomeration would be structured, governed, paid for and operate is yet to be determined. But I like the concept. And it’s something I’m willing to pursue.

The group that worked on this idea on Saturday ended up calling it an incubator. For better or worse the name’s stuck. They also decided the city doesn’t need another new journalism group holding another monthly meeting to hash things out. Instead, they’re opting to piggyback onto the Digital Journalism Portland meetings that are already going on.

If you like the sound of a Portland journalism incubator and want to learn more, get involved – especially if you’re already working as an entrepreneurial journalist or have space to offer or some other goods or services to throw into the pot. Come to the next Digital Journalism Portland social hour. That’s set for Thursday, Dec. 3, 7 p.m., at the Rose & Thistle pub on N.E. Broadway. Get more details at the Digital Journalism Portland blog.

Meanwhile, the conversation about an incubator that started on Saturday is ongoing, in a Google Group set up specifically for the purpose. Anybody can join at WeMaketheMedia.

The incubator wasn’t the only idea to bubble up from Saturday’s gathering. According to meeting organizer Ron Buel, separate groups will be working in coming weeks on initiatives on investigative reporting, preserving traditional journalism values, and possibly, creating an agency to disseminate Oregon state public records to media organizations in a more timely fashion that exists today. To find out more or get involved with those groups, contact eharris@opb.org or ronb@donavoncards.com.

11 responses to “WMTM follow-up: A Portland journalism incubator, and more”

  1. Steve Woodward

    These are all good ideas, and frankly, I hope you try all of them to see what works. Scott Nelson, the online enterprise editor at The Oregonian, brought up the idea of co-working space at The O. Unfortunately, they have plenty of it, and I bet it can be had for cheap. Also, The O might find it to their advantage to be affiliated with a group, whether it’s in the co-working space or not. But what better sponsor (or co-sponsor) for an incubator than the biggest media outlet in town?

    In case you don’t have it, Scott’s e-mail is scottnelson@news.oregonian.com

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  3. Steve Woodward

    Hmm, you’re right. The raptured (bought-out), the disappeared and the laid-off former staffers might have to take the freight elevator…. ;-)

  4. Ron Buel

    I can’t come on Dec. 3 — having a medical procedure that day, and will be watching the Civil War football game if I am not still groggy that evening. But I would like to help and would come to future meetings if you would put me on the notification list. Has the group thought about the U of O J School Center and OPB or the Community Media folks as alternatives to The Oregonian for incubator space? Although it is delicious irony to have The Oregonian helping journalists network and survive in concert. “We like to help out-of-work journalists, and that is why we are getting rid of so many. ”
    Personally, I think what is being planned is entirely compatible with what the other work groups coming out of the conference are discussing, Michelle, and I believe there needs to be an effort to connect the google groups working forward. Let me know if I can help.

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  6. Scott Nelson

    Daniel Bachhuber was the only one to DM me after WMTM to express interest in a co-working space. As Ron alludes to, some in the alt-press world might have viewed us as the enemy for so long now they can’t get their minds around a more collaborative relationship. I can understand that.

    But if it turns out there is more interest, lemme know. I’m on the WMTM Google group, too, and welcome any and all conversations about where journalism is headed in this region. I love the incubator idea, however it ends up being shaped.

    I can’t promise anything, regardless. Just as there’s fear and loathing among the alt-pressers, there’d be plenty of suspicion at The Oregonian about the benefits of this kind of thing. But you never know unless you ask, and I’d be willing to raise the issue if there appears to be enough interest to make it fly.

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  8. Daniel Bachhuber

    @Scott, I think you might have more success getting input on the co-working space if you emailed the Google Group. Tweets sometimes get lost in the stream.

    +1 for thinking of the J school as possible too, Ron. That would be cool.

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