Ever since the NPR API came out a year ago, we've toyed around with the idea of inviting local coders to NPR headquarters over pizza and beer to see what kinds of apps and mashups we could come up with together. It seemed like a fun idea, but we realized there was an opportunity for something even more powerful. What if we brought together all sorts of people interested in collaborating with public radio and public TV, to see what we could come up with, including digital tools, citizen journalism and other types community-centered initiatives?
As we talked with our colleagues across the public media system and beyond, it became clear we needed to host a really big camp - a national PublicMediaCamp, that is.
On the weekend of October 17th at American University's campus in Washington DC, NPR, PBS and the AU Center for Social Media will co-host a two-day event that we hope will serve as the kickoff for similar community collaboration events around the country. PublicMediaCamp is going to be organized as an unconference - an event without a rigid, top-down programmatic structure, with the sessions organized by the participants themselves. We're modeling it on other unconferences like Barcamp and Podcamp, which have successfully spawned similar volunteer-driven events around the world, as well as public media unconferences that have been hosted by Minnesota Public Radio and KUSP in Santa Cruz, CA.
All of these unconferences have one thing in common - giving all participants a chance to play a leadership role in the event's success, using tools like wikis and Twitter to plan the event. (Our Twitter hashtag is going to be #PubCamp, to keep it nice and brief.) And that's why we're modeling this event on unconferences. Public broadcasters are well-established pillars within their communities that have inspired a special bond with the public surrounding them. We've been very successful at organizing financial capital campaigns - particularly in the form of pledge drives - but there's still a lot more we can do when it comes to organizing social capital campaigns, in which local volunteers team up with public broadcasters because they've got specific skill sets that can strengthen stations and the community at large. And the only way we can explore the possibilities is to talk to each other, brainstorm and build things together.
At PublicMediaCamp, we're hoping to bring together as many as 300 people from around the country - public broadcasters, coders, community technology activists, citizen journalists, neighborhood organizers and the like - to begin this national conversation. It's hard to say how the two days will be spent; I wouldn't be surprised if we see techies engaging in code sprints, bloggers developing community journalism projects, community activists proposing station-hosted townhall meetings, etc. But that's what's exciting about unconferences — they are each as unique and powerful as the people who decide to participate.
We'll also be teaching public broadcasters how to host their own their own local PublicMediaCamps, to get the ball rolling in their communities. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is funding for a number of scholarships for station staff to attend PublicMediaCamp and experience an unconference for themselves. We're also working closely with Peter Corbett of iStrategyLabs, host of many successful DC-area unconferences, to help us create a "PublicMediaCamp-in-a-box" toolkit that will help stations work with their communities to organize unconferences of their own.
We'll have a lot more to say about PublicMediaCamp in the coming weeks, including how to register, apply for scholarships and help plan the sessions for the event. To receive updates in your in-box, we've set up an email notification form using EventBrite, so you can let us know you're interested in receiving alerts about how to participate. We'll also post updates on Twitter at @NPRTechTeam.