Five things I learned at the Innovate News Conference in Toronto

J-Source sent Hugo Rodrigues to the Innovate News Conference in
Toronto put on by the Canadian Association of Journalist asking him to
come back with five things he learned from the array of speakers and
panels. Here is his report

On Jan. 30, I attended the Canadian
Association of Journalists’ Innovate News
conference in Toronto with about 140 other people. By
all measures the conference was a spectacular success.

Though numbered, these thoughts are in no
particular order of prominence. Thanks to Kate Dubinski from the London Free
and Elliot Ferguson from the
Sentinel-Review in Woodstock for helping work some of these thoughts out as we
rocketed down the QEW and Highway 403 after the conference. Here’s what’s risen to
the top on this conference aimed at preparing me, the journalist who tweets,
blogs and does Facebook but doesn’t own a cell phone, for the world that awaits
my craft in the years ahead.

1. People at the conference and watching
from afar proved in their actions the very need for this sort of event.
the topics and the crowd, it was no surprise those present Saturday were fully
engaged in all types of social media. I was impressed by the impact it had on
those in attendance and following us. A concrete example? The Ethics of the New
session with Ivor Shapiro, Shirley Brady, Alfred Hermida and Matthew
Ingram. A good portion of those actively tweeting from the conference settled
into this discussion and as the tweeps did their thing, the doors kept opening
and the crowd kept growing. Others at the conference were reading about what
was happening in the room on their mobile devices and choosing to switch
sessions. The action taken by these people consuming our media only served to
reinforce the points made by keynote Jim Brady and others earlier in the day.

2. Stop talking and start doing. This was
another recurring theme mentioned throughout the day by panellists and
keynotes. We were encouraged throughout the day to find our company web
analysts (the loneliest people in our company, one set of presenters
told us) and make a friend. In “Hacking the News,” Alan McLean told us to make
friends with our web developers, even tolerate or possibly share the piles of
near-empty Chinese food boxes decorating our desks. By the end of the day,
Microsoft’s Bill Buxton was telling us if we didn’t get on and do it, we’d
watch the world pass us by. All that said, while we heard a lot of inspiring
and unique examples on how it’s been done, this newbie would have loved to have
learned how to do it.

3. The future is mobile. When it came to
discussions of how to get people to pay for the content a journalist can
produce, the refrain was, “mobile, mobile, mobile.” Rogers’ Michael Lee noted
the ever-increasing percentage of mobile users who are switching to smart
phones that are able to handle every form of information.
Lee, and Jim Brady at the start of the day, explained that the key to monetizing mobile
content would be making it relevant enough for the user that its convenience
factor would make cost irrelevant. As Lee explained it, we’ll pay $2.99 for the
ringtone because it allows us to establish an identity with every sound—even
though we could download the entire song for 99 cents. Buxton bluntly said if
our managers weren’t planning for mobile, they didn’t belong in a media

4. While a group of under-30s provided some
prophetic insights into how they consume media – based on tweets from the room:
voraciously and without willingness to pay for it – the need for strong media
was mentioned by several. It was brought up not in terms of knowing how to access or
learn from media, but in terms of critical thinking skills when it comes to consuming it.
This was the modern-medium version of the adage of “don’t believe everything you
read/hear/see in/on the paper/radio/television.” Whether it came from Shirley
Brady telling us that a retweet is not an endorsement of veracity, or Buxton
asking us, “Are these things in front of us supposedly making us stupid?” His
answer? Media literacy and critical thinking, or rather lack thereof, is what
would do that, not the form in which we consume that media.

5. Oh, the humanity. This came out most
strongly for me out of the aforementioned ethics discussion. A series of
questions and fulsome discussion touched on how much interaction is good
interaction. Is the right answer to adopt a Brit-style “public” and “private”
persona online? Or to simply acknowledge your entire online world needs to be
defined by who you are as a person and what you do for a living. To steal a
thought from Dubinski’s post-conference column
her online interactions have led to an understanding some of the Free Press’
readers continue to support and consume the journalism coming out of that
newsroom because they’re interacting with the journalists.

Hugo Rodrigues is a reporter at the Sentinel-Review in Woodstock, Ont. and a member of the Canadian Association of Journalists’ board of directors. He’ll own a cell phone, some day.