The Block by Block conference started last night here in Chicago, and I have to say it was the most inspirational journalism event I’ve been to in quite a while.
Here’s what made it great: A room filled with journalism entrepreneurs, people working to both inform communities and unite them, standing up with incredible humility and talking about what they wanted to learn and what they thought they could share.
Jay Rosen, NYU professor and one of the discussion leaders at Block by Block, had started the conversation by asking people to talk about what they could teach. Jay, with his usual sharp insight, is the one who noticed how the participants had changed the question and started talking about what they could share.
It is the idea of sharing – something that seems to come instinctively to these community site publishers – that is so striking to me. As someone who grew up professionally in a newspaper newsroom, I’m much more familiar with journalists who wanted to compete than to share.
That competition was not limited to beating the other newspaper or television station in town. It ran rampant within most newsrooms, where “colleagues’’ were competing with each other for the best assignment, the lead story on the front page, the high profile beat. I can’t begin to tell you how hard it was to get reporters to even share their source phone lists with each other. After all, if another reporter could reach the police chief at home at night, that might make you a little less valuable.
It’s this competition in overdrive that has damaged traditional news organizations so badly, and that makes the news entrepreneurs here at Block by Block so powerful. More than one person last night said they were happy to be at this conference because it showed them they aren’t alone. There is knowledge and hard-won wisdom that can be shared that will make everyone stronger.
That’s what journalism should be about: sharing. It’s a beautiful thing to see these folks, who are shaping journalism’s future, reject the old models of competition to help each other gain momentum in this vital work.
On Saturday, my initiative partner Lisa Skube, a fellow at the Reynolds Journalism Institute, and I will unveil the project we’ve been working on. The Journalism Accelerator is our humble effort to help enable this connection and sharing in a virtual community that will live on after we leave Chicago. We are eager to learn from these smart publishers – and to share our own journey as well.