Highlights from four days with my head in a blender full of wildly intelligent people

What follows is intended as a brief personal braindump from the four days I spent in Cambridge, Ma. last week, most of it deeply entrenched in the guts of #KNCMIT, a conference hosted by the MIT Center for Future Civic Media featuring Knight News Challenge winners from 2007-2009, and the announcement of this year’s winners.

Tuesday night, Margaret Rosas (of Radio Engage) and I took the train out to Harvard’s end of Cambridge to sit in on a conversation Doc Searls, David Weinberger, Jonathan Zittrain, and a classroom full of brilliant people were having about the 10th birthday (and a new edition) of the Cluetrain Manifesto.  (For an actual idea about what was said at the proceedings, see Ethan Zuckerman’s notes here.)

Made it to the Cluetrain talk at Harvard with @mrosas - Searls, Weinberger, and Zittrain talking.
That’s Jonathan Zittrain, David Weinberger, and Doc Searls leading the discussion about Cluetrain at Harvard.  Fact: Zittrain is a very funny guy.


I read the Manifesto at the beginning of my research as a grad student at San Jose State, when I was following the oversized head of the blogosphere, rather than the long tail of my interest group. Doc and David W. and Scoble and Dan Gillmor and Jay Rosen and Dave Winer and, for different reasons, Romenesko, formed the core list of names I paid attention to and used as hubs for my initial explorations of the intersections of media and technology.

So Cluetrain, for me, was a list of clues that led from one node in the system to the next like a scavenger hunt — or maybe, more accurately, a geocaching game.  Now I feel like I travel (or traffic?) in the diaspora of clues, learning from a corporate media refugee here, an unemployed reporter there, a blogger with 16 nonprofit affiliations over there, and running through cycles of employment and organizations myself, as I bounce from node to node in the evolving media system.


I spent Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday bashing heads together with Knight grantees and friends old and new, as we all tried to accelerate the evolution of that aforementioned media system.

When you’re in a roomful of geniuses, I recommend you try to get them to shout out their ideas.  They tend to oblige.

Then, get the people-who-physically-build-things (I sometimes call them Web developers around these parts)  to help them translate those awesome ideas into action.  Every idea can be a work in progress.

Knight News Challenge 2009 winners
The 2009 Knight News Challenge winners.  And @agahran‘s Tweetdeck lower-right.

Everyone present came up with some awesome ideas.  And we started translating some of them into action.  Interested in a hackathon to build social tools for SMS services?  There’s a group working on it.   How about a way to track (and score) the predictions made by sources in the news, including pundits, officials, and so-called experts?  Ask Dan Schultz about that.  And lastly, what if you could get a Twitter notification every time legislation related to your interests gets close to a vote in Congress?

How about a few lists of people who inspired me?

Inspiring as always: Lisa Williams, Susan Mernit, David Cohn

People I want to collaborate with, soon: Matt Thompson, Aron Pilhofer, Nick Allen

Great conversations with editors: Tom Fiedler, Owen Youngman, Anders Gyllenhaal

One of the most personally satisfying experiences of the whole week for me was showing off ReportingOn 2.0 (coming soon!) to real live journalists of all stripes who might be interested in setting up backchannels for their beat, or their organization, or their company.  Just like it says in my script, right?

Hint: There is no script, but I’ve spent more than a year honing that pitch.

Of course, if you want to check out ReportingOn 2.0 for yourself, I posted a screencast tour on IdeaLab, though it will cost you eight precious minutes of your life.  You have eight minutes free, right?

Thanks to everyone who made my week so inspiring, and to the Knight Foundation and Knight News Challenge staff as always for funding ReportingOn’s first year.  Have an innovative idea for local news?  Apply for a grant, and I’ll see you on stage next year.