Reflections on Hardly Strictly Young

Last week I learned that David Cohn knows how to tell a joke, bust a move and host an awesome conference.

In all seriousness, the Hardly Strictly Young conference was a whirlwind of new people, old friends, big questions, bright ideas and lots of food. About 30 of us got together at the Reynold's Journalism Institute in now tornado-stricken Missouri for a small conference gathering designed to compile alternate implementations for the Knight Commission's report on informing communities.

We sat around for a full day in small, rotating brainstorming groups to tear the Knight Commission's report to pieces and find ways to implement the very vague concepts recommended. Notably, the four topics we discussed:

  1. Journalism or media education at various levels
  2. How we can increase the sources of news providers
  3. Expand local media initiatives to reflect the "full reality" of the communities they represent
  4. Ensure that every local community has at least one high-quality online hub

These aren't small topics to tackle for only an hour and a half at a time. Half of each discussion was simply trying to figure out what the language of each recommendation really meant.

One criticism I have of the ideas we came up with implementation is that most of them  were abstract, and I think that's partially due to to time limitations that kept us from drilling down to the heart of each recommendation. Part of the thought processes for such abstract concepts is starting at a high level, breaking the concept into subparts, then tackling each subpart. We were forced to skip from step one to step three, though, and our conclusions were far from exceptional. A few notable implementations that stick out in my mind.

Demos not memos -- in the K-12 classroom

On the topic of media education, it's more important to focus at the lower levels than on higher education. Because teachers learn better from role models than from instruction, create a network of teachers who are making exemplary use of media literacy in their classrooms, then distribute that information to teachers across the nation to guide them toward what works, rather than trying to recreate the wheel. Incentivize teachers with grants and awards.

Report for America

On the same topic, the best and most implementable idea was the "Report for America" concept, comparable to Teach for America or Code for America. Although this idea was presented in the scope of increasing media literacy, I think it would work better for the last recommendation we looked at: ensuring every community has one high-quality, online hub.

Take a look at the description for Teach for America's approach: "Teach For America corps members commit to teach for two years in low-income communities, then go on as alumni to lead efforts to change the face of public education."

If you replace "teach" with "report" and "education" with "journalism," you have a way to ensure communities have online hubs (Report for America members commit to report for two years in low-income communities, then go on as alumni to lead efforts to change the face of journalism).

Combine that with the technological aspect of Code for America: "Code for America enlists the talent of the web industry into public service to use their skills to solve core problems facing our communities" and you could have a sustainable partnership for creating informational hubs in every community.

Wikify it

Although it seems like a no-brainer answer, one way to ensure there's an online hub for all communities is by expanding Wiki tools. Of all the solutions presented at HSY, this was the most practical and takes the fewest amount of new resources. The group that presented it, Jenny 8. Lee and Chris Amico, referenced the greatly successful Davis Wiki out of Davis, California (see the video below).

LocalWiki - collaborative, community-owned local media! from Philip Neustrom on Vimeo.

Why I absolutely love the LocalWiki project as a means of creating an online hub for communities is that it's truly community owned, and can become an important informational tool for any community. It doesn't require the participation of journalists or newsrooms or extra tools -- it's just people informing people.

Overall takeaway

  1. Putting a bunch of smart people in a room is an awesome idea. Limiting their topics of discussion to recommendations from the Knight foundation -- maybe not the best use of our time
  2. Next time, I'd love to see some kind of hackathon and a way for us to continue talking about and building our ideas after the conference.
  3. I'm not a fan of invite-only conferences overall. I understand space and resources are limited, so next time I'd suggest having an application process so that those outside of our immediate circle of twitterati are given the opportunity to participate if deemed worthy.
  4. Agree with Chris Wink: "It’s tough to do so with such a busy crew, but I think we all would have been more productive had we all fully read the Knight Commission report (I did on the plane there) as I believe there was some duplication."
  5. The diversity at this conference was awesome. People from different backgrounds, ethnicities, professions, etc. were there. Next time I'd like to see people from outside of "journalism" (entrepreneurs, general community members for whom we're making these decisions).

Thanks to David Cohn and RJI. It was an amazing weekend.