Posted by on Jun 18, 2013 in News | 1 comment

On Friday, June 7, the Poynter Institute held its third annual day of TEDx lectures. For those who’ve never attended, TEDx is the independently organized version of the TED talks, wildly popular lectures on technology, entertainment, and design. These talks often take a stimulating look at the future of the theme or topic the organizers choose to examine. As this series of talks took place at the renowned school of journalism, it took journalism – and often how the modern realities of social media affect it – as its theme.

This was the second time I’d attended a TEDx talk, so some parts of it were familiar. As with all TED talks, the speakers were limited to no more than 18 minutes; there were no question-and-answer sessions; a small number of TED videos were shown to supplement those speaking in person; and regular breaks allowed for socializing, networking, and talking with the speakers. The organizers of every TEDx talk always do something that give it its own character, however, and this one was no exception. One of the Poynter Institute’s teachers played excellent piano during the breaks; food trucks came in to allow us to purchase our lunch; and other nice flourishes encouraged the active participation of attendees.

In total, the schedule boasted 11 in-person speakers and three videos. We kicked off with Pat Aufderheide talking on a subject near and dear to my heart: fair use in journalism. The worst problem journalists have with fair use, according to Pat, is that they don’t know it well enough; most good journalists don’t know when they can use it, which leads to stress – and self-censorship. If journalists self-censor, they can’t do their jobs properly. Pat went over the three key questions for fair use:

  • Is the work being used for a new purpose (transformative)?
  • Are you using not too much and not too little of it to carry out your purpose (Goldilocks principle)?
  • Are you following the acceptable practice in your field for fair use?

The third point is critical, as fair use for a teacher may be different from fair use for, say, a musician – or, more specific for us, a journalist. Consensus statements are important, and Pat noted the publication just that day of a set of principles for fair use in journalism, a hard copy of which was available to all attendees. You can check it out for yourself at http://www.centerforsocialmedia.org/journalism.

Kelly McBride talked about what a 28-foot alligator teaches us about sharing content. In her case, it was that being wrong feels exactly the same as being right – right up until the moment you find out that you’re wrong. The problem is, stories get spread without getting checked (especially nowadays with the ease of online sharing), and even major newspapers get it wrong. McBride went over the warning flags you should look for and check a story against before you hit that share button, using humor to make her points.

Eli Pariser spoke next. If you’ve heard that name before, it’s because he previously gave one of the most popular TED talks, discussing how sites like Facebook are causing us to live in “filter bubbles” where we don’t hear dissenting voices. Pariser talked about how many important stories didn’t capture people’s attention or “go viral” online. He decided that the truth needs better marketing, and founded Upworthy. Their curators look for content that is visual, sharable, and meaningful, give it a compelling headline, and get it out to people. They created a good feedback mechanism, so their curators would know when they were doing a good job, and what they needed to improve; it helped them to keep focused on what people really cared about (which turned out to be a lot more substantial than funny cat pictures!). “There is an enormous appetite for content that matters,” Pariser noted.

Truly, I only have the time and the space to cover some of the highlights from a few of the other speakers. Jessica Bennett gave an amazing talk titled “I Was Going to Talk About How Tumblr Was The Future of Journalism. Then I Got Laid Off,” which dealt with Yahoo’s recent purchase of the microblogging site, but even more with the kind of journalism she had been doing for the company, and provided some warnings for those who might find themselves in a similar situation. Two of her key points were that experimental projects are always easiest to kill, and doing journalism at a non-journalistic entity is risky.

Eric Deggans gave an excellent talk about the “war of media images” in the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin trial. Normally, the greater diversity of viewpoints you apply to a topic, the greater accuracy and fairness you get. But in this case, that might not have been true; attempts to “prove” that racism was involved got in the way of attempts to find out what actually happened between Zimmerman and Martin, and this was just one of many issues.

One of the good things about TED and TEDx talks is that they are usually captured on video, so others who were unable to attend can view and appreciate them. As of this writing, sadly, I haven’t yet been able to find videos of the event, but you can get a feel for how it went forward by checking out the live stream of pictures and comments here (http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/top-stories/215474/live-streaming-tedx-talks-with-jessica-bennett-tim-burke-matt-waite-more/). I’m really looking forward to the Poynter Institute’s next TEDx event!