EBU: Wrapup

Last week, Kevin and I spent a couple of days in Warsaw, at the European Broadcast Union‘s Radio News Specialised Meeting. Kevin has done a sterling job of taking notes from the sessions, (although I think he has a few sessions still to write up) so I don’t want to rehash what happened, but I did want to talk about a few highlights for me.

It was, for both of us I think, a really good conference. The delegates came from across Europe and were all either public broadcasters or freelances. The atmosphere in the meeting was welcoming and open, and although I am neither a radio journalist nor a public broadcaster myself, I was made to feel as if I had as valuable a contribution to make as anyone else there.

Probably the stand-out session for me was The Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma‘s Mark Brayne, who gave a talk on how journalists and their employers deal with the aftermath of trauma, whether that be war, terrorism attacks or gruesome accidents. It’s very easy to forget, for those of us engaged in types of journalism that don’t require us to go out into the field, that there are people who end up having to deal with some harsh realities and the consequences of that are potentially life damaging. It was fascinating to me to see how the others in the room grappled with issues such as the ethics of sending a freelance into a war zone, and then to see the way that the freelance’s life is affected by those decisions.

My contribution was to the ‘citizen journalism’ panel, although by the end of our session we had pretty much all agreed that ‘citizen journalism’ is a divisive term and should be called something else. I prefer to use the phrase ‘participatory media’, because firstly it removes the implication that citizens and journalists are two different things, and secondly because it removes the erroneous concept that people engaging in these sorts of behaviours are trying to, or even want to be, journalists. It is also a more technologically agnostic phrase, not implying the written word as ‘journalism’ so often does. After all, much participatory media is photos, video or audio, so to think that it’s just blogging is seeing but a fraction of the story.

In a dramatic contrast to the WeMedia fiasco, the big media people in the room were really interested in different types of participatory media technologies such as blogs, podcasting, photosharing, videoblogging etc; in the different behaviours shown by those engaging in particpatory media; and in the different scales at which these sorts of projects can work. Vin Ray from the BBC’s College of Journalism asked me for the mindmap that I had thrown together for the session so here it is.

We also had some really good contributions from Holger Hank, Head of Multimedia at Deutsche Welle, who spoke about their blogs: a US election blog, one covering an assent of Mount Everest, and now some World Cup blogs, the most popular of which is the Spanish one. DW also run The Bobs – The Best of the Blogs – which gives awards to journalistic blogs in nine languages. One past winner was a Chinese blog about dogs, which was a subtle commentary on the way people are treated in China using dogs as metaphors. He also talked about how blogs are taken up differently by different cultures, for example, the way blogs are viewed in South America is very different form North America, and he explained how German blogs aren’t as original or self-confident as American ones.

Arthur Landwehr, Chief Editor at SWR and self-confessed ‘non-expert’ talked about the trends in blogging that he observed whilst working in the States. I’m not sure I agree with his assessment of US political blogs, but his discussion of religious blogs was fascinating. It seems that some churches in the States are seeing blogging and podcasting as a serious threat, because people are podcasting sermons and the congregation are listening on their commute to work and not coming to church. Ex-church goers, particularly rebel Mormons, are also using blogs to criticise their churches, having found a way to voice their opinions and talk about their experiences that they didn’t have before.

Rob Freeman, Head of Multimedia at the Press Association, demonstrated a number of mash-up sites, showing what you can do with crime statistics and Google Maps, for example.

It was a shame that we didn’t have very long for questions, but I got the sense that people were very curious about what could be achieved and how it could be done. Many of the delegates had not previously come across or thought about participatory media, so for them it was entirely new area. I wish I could have had time to demo NowPublic to them, but there simply wasn’t the chance.

After the end of the conference, which was nicely paced with not too many sessions and an adequately long lunch that involved a decent amount of food supplied by our gracious hosts, Polskie Radio, we had the opportunity to talk further. I had some relly great converations with several people, but the one that stands out was Urban Hamid. Whilst we were being shown around Warsaw on the guided tour that had been organised for us (and which was great fun) we had a really cool chat about Creative Commons and the benefits to freelances of releasing archival video or audio footage for others to reuse and remix.

I’ve had similar conversations with journalists before, and their reponse is often ‘But if I give my stuff away, how can I make a living out of it?’, but Urban immediately understood that by giving your stuff away under, say, a non-commercial licence, you can bring your work to the attention of a lot more people, and thus get yourself more work. It was a real pleasure to talk to him, and I am hoping soon to hear about his new CC-licenced video archive!

Overall, I came away feeling relieved that not everyone in the media is as clueless and small-minded as those whose ‘leadership’ we were subjected to two weeks go. There has been created, by a small group of press and bloggers, a false sense of antagonism between the two camps, yet if you were looking for that tension last week in Warsaw, you would not have found it. Indeed, so much did I enjoy talking with the journalists I met that the EBU conference turned into a much needed tonic against the bitterness of the previous week’s stupidities. I just hope that the other delegates feel as welcomed into my world as I was into theirs.

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