Posted in Conferences & Conventions, Education, Innovation, journalism

Dear Mom & Dad: Had A Great Time At SparkCamp! Weather Was Fine. Love, Benet

By Benét J. Wilson, DJTF co-chair, Online Managing Editor-Business Aviation, Aviation Week Group

So I’m minding my own business, and I get an email back in March inviting me to this thing called SparkCamp June 10-12 at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.  According to the email, this inaugural SparkCamp was  described as “a focused but free-spirited conversation about journalism and media pivoting on a broad theme: `real-time.'”

The event brought together a wide range of participants covering what the organizers called a diverse range of disciplines to explore new ideas and new possibilities in this thing we call journalism.  The organizers, led by Amy Webb of Webbmedia, built SparkCamp along the lines of News Foo Camp, held in December 2010 at Arizona State University.

The event used the unconference format, bringing together people “inside and outside of the news universe” so we could all learn from each other.  We had representatives from traditional and new media, along with representatives from different companies that offer the tools and technology that help us do our jobs better. We even had a few folks from the advertising side of the house to offer their perspective.

I love the unconference format. For the uninitiated, unconference attendees create the panels before and during the event, and attendees also choose which ones they like best.  Instead of being lectured from upon high by a moderator and panelists, sessions have a leader, but everyone in the room is involved in the discussion.

I was thrilled that my session on helping a traditional newsroom adapt more quickly to the new digital world order made the cut.  Other sessions dealt with topics including mastering timelines, next-gen tools, focusing on mobile websites, not apps and how to use crowdsourcing.  There were things that I knew, but there was a lot I didn’t know — and that was OK.  Everyone was on different levels, but no one was made to feel like they were dumb because they didn’t understand some program or a string of acronyms.  We all had something to bring to the table.

There were many great things I loved about SparkCamp, but one that I thought was a stroke of genius was that each invitee had to bring a plus one (mine was Melanie Eversley, DJTF treasurer and an editor at USA Today.)  I felt having us bring a plus one brought a great diversity (in the broadest sense of the word) to the group.  Another great thing was I got to meet folks I’ve followed — and admired — on Twitter, along with meeting others I didn’t know, but was also glad to meet.  And who knew there were so many other aviation geeks among my SparkCamp compatriots (I’m talking to you, BMc and JO’K)??

I came away from SparkCamp energized and still hopeful about the direction of journalism.  If you’re on Twitter, you can follow our conversation via the hashtag #SparkCamp.  And allow me to create a SparkCamp edition of my Friday fast Five and share a tiny amount of the things I learned at SparkCamp:

  1. Arab spring: an interactive timeline of Middle East protests — the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper created this cool, 3D interactive timeline to illustrate key events during this seminal — and ongoing — event.
  2. Japan: After the Wave — used Storify to curate stories in the aftermath (still ongoing) of the tsunami that hit Japan on March 11.
  3. KING5-TV: Stories from February 2001 to March 2011 — this Seattle television station uses the timeline program Intersect to create a storyline.
  4. The Society of Professional Journalists’ Toolbox — SPJ updates this website regularly with all kinds of sites and tools that make our jobs easier and make us more efficient.
  5. The Brain — this is, as the creators say, “designed to help you organize information the way you think. ” You actually have to see it in action to believe it.