'Experience Engagement:' A pop-up think tank

Sitting people together to brainstorm and troubleshoot each others’ media-based community engagement projects was the heart of Journalism That Matters’ Experience Engagement unconference this past weekend. It was at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communications’ Agora Journalism Center, here in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. 

At Experience Engagement, journalists, community organizers, educators, government officials and financial wizards from halfway across the globe came together for the weekend to build a pop-up think tank for groups as well as individuals working to create new media projects and community partnerships (including yours truly and “How to Be a Citizen Journalist”). (You can follow the whole thing at the hashtag #pdxengage15 on Twitter, Facebook and Flickr.)
This is not my first weekend with JTM folks. They make the people in the room write ideas on sticky notes and then stand up and do things with the notes and then talk to each other; sometimes you don't know what you're doing. But you always end up sitting next to someone you've never met before and having a fascinating conversation about topics you can't discuss with your family and friends because they fall asleep in your lap. Then you're friends with that person for the next 10 years.

I see JTM as methodically weaving people together across a significant geographic area but also an area of practice. They've been watching where mass media is going through the lens of communities. A lot of what they do is — literally — thinking, and putting people in a room together to see what happens. You can check out their work at JournalismThatMatters.net.

I won’t get into details of everything I picked up there because I’m writing it into the book, right? But these are some of the smartest people I ever met. As usual, I learned some of the most brain-popping and far-reaching things from folks who just happened to be sitting near me. (Go over to my Twitter, @LisaLoving, and check my retweets for specifics from the unconference then follow those people in that beautiful moment, is what you should do).

A lot of asking, thinking, writing, standing, walking in circles trading bits of paper, laughing. One thing that sped up the process was JTM’s decision to remove tables from the meeting spaces. It literally brought people closer together, even people who might otherwise stay in their shells. 

The weekend included a Friday night networking dinner for local community members around the idea of inclusive competitiveness. Organizers mixed local residents up with attendees, including entrepreneurs and investment experts, for a deep talk about economic opportunity and racial equity in access to start-up capital. 

One of the coolest things I saw for the first time was “graphic journalism,” artists who drew the proceedings on paper and stuck them on the wall. A supercool new pal, Sean O’Connor from Our United Villages in Portland made a warm and fascinating 2 1/2 minute video documentary on Dan Archer, who drew the unconference comic book-style in pen and ink and sometimes watercolor. Then he tweeted the pictures out, then he pulled them out of his notebook and stuck them on the wall of the room. Analog to digital and back to analog hahaha. I loved that somehow. 

There were journalists from Missouri discussing best practices on racial news coverage; a radio producer from California working on a series about undocumented immigration; the community engagement editor for the Seattle Times opinion pages offering suggestions all around; and many more.
Read the fountain of ideas and thoughts showering from these smart people on the Experience Engagement webpage and by checking out that hashtag, #pdxengage15. Thanks everybody! It was great.