Boston Pubcamp 2010 - Recap

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This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending Boston's Pubcamp, hosted by WGBH and organized by a team representing several Boston area media outlets. 

If you're not yet familiar with the concept, Pubcamp, or Public Media Camp is a movement within public media to convene conversations based on an "un-conference" model where attendees set session topics on the fly.  Pubcamps invite staff from area public media organizations, community members interested in public media, and local tech experts for conversation, coding, and anything else they brainstorm.

The first Pubcamp was hosted by NPR and PBS last October in Washington, DC.  A handful of stations received grants from CPB to attend the national camp with the stipulation that they host their own local Pubcamps within a year.  In this case, WGBH was not a grant recipient. The idea to host a local Pubcamp emerged from within Boston area community media outlets.  WGBH was on-board, and generously donated the use of its building and provided food for the event.

Setting the Stage:

Roughly 150 people gathered at One Guest Street on a gorgeous Saturday morning to set the agenda and geek out on all things public media. 

At the welcome session, everyone introduced themselves, and those with ideas proposed sessions to lead.   Session topics were posted on sticky-notes, and added to the schedule board.  NPR's Andy Carvin facilitated a brief discussion to organize the flow of the day, and that was it.  The schedule was set.

Highlights:

Public APIs   -  A discussion about how local media orgs want to make use of public APIs from Public Media.  The team behind Mapping Main Street demoed how their site is powered by public API's from Flickr and Vimeo.  Representatives from community media orgs explained that they want to be able to have more content than just linking one sentence back to the primary source.  For example, a rep from the Boston Pheonix explained how they use the Last.fm API to enhance their concert listing with artist bio information.

Setting Stage for Collaboration between Public Media & Public Access - Led by Nilagia McCoy of Cambridge Community TV, the session plotted the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats faced by traditional public media vs. community media outlets.  For example, public media's strength include "quality content," and weaknesses include "lack of funding."  On the community media side, strengths include "community ties," and weaknesses include "lack of funding," and, as one attendees summed up, "Wayne's World." Conversation then revolved around potential opportunities where the two groups could best work together.  One clear opportunity: identifying and telling hyper-local stories well.

Access to Media/Quality Programming - This session exemplified the best, and worst, but mostly the best, of the Pubcamp model.  The person who proposed the session and volunteered to lead it didn't show. Everyone in the room had slightly different ideas about what the topic meant, so we all shared what interested us, and a highly productive conversation ensued - mainly focusing around resources for free or low-cost content (images, music, archival footage, etc.) that can be used to enhance local productions.

Mobile Giving/Source Texting - Two topics surrounding mobile: First an overview of a collaborative project from WNYC & PRI's The Takeaway and WLRN Radio that involved sourcing stories in Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood through text messages.  Even in underserved neighborhoods where few people have easy access to computers and the internet, large portions of the population have cell phone with text messaging capabilities.  The project experimented with engaging these communities.  

The conversation then turned to the topic of mobile giving.  The consensus being that while text-to-give campaigns have not yielded much success, there is untapped potential in engaging audiences by offering SMS content as a service (headlines, weather, program updates, etc.), and directing that audience to other places to give.  Amy Wielunski (@amywoo) of WSKG also sees potential in using text message donations at free community events.  People attending a paid event may be reluctant to give via text, but success may be found by asking attendees at free events that are seen as public services.

It was a jam-packed day, and there were several other sessions I wish I could have attended, including:


Boston wasn't the only Pubcamp going on this weekend. Pubcamp North Carolina took place on Friday, Pubcamp South Florida was held at WLRN on Saturday and Sunday, and several other stations hosted Pubcamps earlier this summer.

Have you held a Pubcamp or are you planning one?  Please share your experience! 

What were the highlights?  Are conversations being continued?  What do you think of the Pubcamp model?


If you haven't ventured into the world of Pubcamps yet, or, like me, you're becoming a Pubcamp junkie, stay tuned for information on grant opportunities to attend the next national Pubcamp in DC being planned for later this fall.

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