By Andrew Humphrey, CBM
DJTF Founder & Co-Chair
Journalism That Matters (JTM) held a conference in Detroit, Michigan with the support and participation of NABJ’s Digital Journalism Task Force (DJTF) and other organizations. Entitled JTM Detroit: Create Or Die – Innovate, Incubate, Initiate (JTM Detroit), it convened journalists, technologists and entrepreneurs to discuss and discover new methods of gathering and disseminating news and information to empower individuals and communities and to create new companies and partnerships.
St. Andrew’s Hall on Wayne State University’s campus was the setting beginning on Thursday, June 3, 2010. DJTF Members Michelle Ferrier and Andrew Humphrey, CBM and other JTM Members welcomed nearly 100 registrants and exhibitors. People introduced themselves with their names, where they were from and what would “blow their mind” by participating in the conference. People hailed from Michigan, Massachusetts, New York, Missouri, Florida, California, other American states and Canada.
After dinner, three featured speakers (two of whom were conference attendees, too) spoke about digital journalism’s code, content and conduits. “Code” includes computer programs and software. “Content” refers to the stories told. “Conduits” indicates the forms of media used to tell stories and the policies governing their use, availability and accessibility.
Latoya Peterson, owner of racialicious.com, spoke about content by presenting new methods of telling stories through the use of gaming, graphic novels, comic books and manga. Author and consultant Chris Rabb discussed the digital divide and net neutrality in regard to the “conduits” portion of the evening. MIT’s Center for the Future of Civic Meida’s outreach specialist Christina Xu talked about the theories of abstraction and re-appropriation that make it easier for storytellers to to use “code” to perform acts of journalism without having to reinvent the digital wheel.
Immediately afterward, we performed a “World Café” style of responding to and sharing our reaction to the three presentations. Each of us got to confer with as many as nine or twelve others about what we heard and what notions and inspirations we had regarding journalism and communication. There were many intriguing ideas mentioned. Many said their preconceptions and experiences of making money were the main hurdles to overcome in order to discover an new sustainable model of journalism. Some suggested the intrinsic good of giving voices to the voiceless could become the new form of currency in the new media landscape.
On JTM Detroit’s second and third days we conducted the “Open Forum” sessions. “Open Forum” is also known as “Unconference” where the conference participants create and carry out an agenda on the spot. It sounds chaotic, but with general guidance from an overall theme – in JTM Detroit’s case, digital journalism and the ability to innovate, incubate, initiate – it is very organized.
We began each morning by sitting in a large circle. Blank posters and magic markers were in the middle, and we were encouraged to write any topic we would like before the day ended. It could be a question someone wants answered, a problem someone wants solved or a answer to a question or solution to a problem. Once written, the author hangs their statement or question on a wall under a time they want to meet. All other conference-goers review their fellow conference-goers’ compositions and meet and discuss their matters.
The results of these sit-downs were astonishing. I heard commitments to support or create investigative journalism start-ups, pledges to write for grants to fund corps of student journalists and the creation of a journalism video game.
In addition, Friday night’s social gathering was held at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History. All of its exhibits, including the permanent exhibit depicting the experience from Africa through slavery to the present and the visiting exhibits of Boxing Legend Joe Louis and the fashion of hats containing those from Aretha Franklin during the 2009 Presidential Inauguration and Dorothy Height, were open to everyone one.
Museum CEO Juanita Moore welcomed all of us, and much discussion was aroused by featured speaker, Karen Dybis who is the freelance writer and blogger for Time, Inc.’s Assignment Detroit project, in which Time Magazine opened a temporary, year-long bureau in the City of Detroit. Her candor while speaking and answering questions about Assignment Detroit’s local and national reactions, strengths and shortcomings motivated many to develop program to continue after Time’s project ends after August 2010.
In the end, including the journalism video game, there were four substantial, innovative journalism projects that were discussed and chosen by all of the attendees. They may survive and thrive beyond JTM Detroit but were primarily elected for the purpose of learning how to make a pitch during the final day of the conference. Creating a non-profit investigative journalism center, developing a web site tracking and examining the “cost of war”, and establishing “Re-Assignment Detroit” to pick up from the conclusion of Time Magazine’s “Assignment Detroit”.
On Sunday morning, the pitch makers were passionate and the evaluators (American University’s Jan Schaffer, Knight’s Jennifer Lee, and University of Missouri’s Roger Gafke) were constructive. Many spectators never sat in on a pitch session and even had the opportunity to give their own critique. The advice was heard by all for future use for their own ideas.
Overall, JTM Detroit delighted everyone who attended and participated. A spirit of optimism about the current and future state of journalism was common, and it was refreshing to know that others have it. Most of all, several JTM Detroiters not only had ideas for the future but had the will to act and met others who promised to help them. New alliances were formed with have long-lasting potential. JTM Detroit is a testament to what journalism’s successful evolution is while maintaining and building upon its ideal foundations of freedom, objectivity, fairness, accuracy and timeliness.