Notes from Making Media Connections 2009

On Wednesday and Thursday of this week I attended the Making Media Connections 2009 conference, hosted by the Community Media Workshop. I haven’t attended a whole lot of conferences, so this was a good reminder of the importance to talk to and learn from others.

Day 1: Databases for Success

Arif Mamdani led this workshop on using databases and picking the right database software or service for your needs. This wasn’t necessarily about communications, but without a strong database, who are you going to communicate to?

The main takeaway for me was the need to have a strong plan on how to use and maintain your database. Think about the data fields strategically. The notes field, for example, can quickly become a dumping ground for too much information.

Arif stressed the importance of looking at your needs and picking the right tools and the importance of maintaining your database, perhaps spending some time daily on cleaning up contacts (press lists, e-newsletter recipients, donors etc.)

Day 1: Social Media Listening and Literacy For Nonprofits

I couldn’t have been more excited about any one particular workshop. Why? Because the incomparable Beth Kanter led the session. Beth took us on “a deep dive in listening techniques.” It wasn’t a social media listening for dummies kind of presentation. I think we are past the point of needing to explain what Facebook or blogging is at conferences.

I won’t go into what was covered. You can find that at Beth’s Blog and at her Social Media Listening Wiki.

But what did I learn? I thought I knew a lot of tools, but now I know even more. And what’s even better, I now have an idea to tie those tools together into an effective and central listening hub.

I’m excited to think through a listening set up for my new job at Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago. Back at the Chicago Symphony, I developed a pretty good sense of where to listen, but now I have to delve into a completely different industry and find out where and how the conversation is taking place. And a good feel for what kind of listening system to set up is crucial.

Day 2: Monica Davey keynote

Monica Davey is the Chicago bureau chief of the New York Times. What was supposed to be an address on what it means to be a newspaper of record in the age of social media, instead turned into a discussion on newspapers and the recession and how it is covered. A question from the audience on how reporters prioritize pitches, got a great response: “Don’t throw everything at us, all the time. Pitch what makes you think “this is the NY Times.”

Day 2: Words on the Web

We all know reading on the Web is nothing like reading print publications. People are scanning copy and do not read word for word online; sometimes they don’t read it in the correct order. Or, as one panelist put it, “the more you write, the less people are going to read.”

Panelists stressed to really asses your subject lines and preview panes, consider moving beyond the newsletter (in various shapes and forms), and declare a war on jargon.

Day 2: Metro News

After all the tech and social media talk, I wanted to make sure I was going to catch some old school journalism as well. And leave it to these veteran journalists to give us one of the better workshops!

There were some great pitching tips and general “how to approach journalists and editors” points. Many seemed so self-evident, but apparently public relations practitioners still need to be told that they have to do their homework before pitching and that you can’t call a reporter to simply ask if he or she received your e-mail.

The Sun-Times’ Don Hayner on what he thought was the biggest change in newsrooms: “Biggest change is speed. We’re going on Mach 5. Don’t meander, have something to say.”

The Tribune’s Mark Jacob said that “The “beat system” has changed. It’s hard to figure out the one or two people to go to.” But do your homework and find the people.

Telemundo’s Tony Martinez told us that the “common denominator is storytelling.” And WBEZ’s Cate Cahan admitted that “we’re not going to cover your event, because there have been many more ways for that information to get out.” You have to find the in-depth, back story.

One audience member asked about the process of journalists finding the organization, as opposed to organizations pitching journalists, and what the role of a Web site was in that process. All panelists agreed that Web sites are “very important.” A bad Web site can cost you a story. A good, and especially transparent, Web site adds credibility.

Day 2: Colonel Tribune

The second keynote of the day started with a fun animation, featuring the Colonel Tribune character, that conveyed many of the key points. Bill Adee, digital editor for the Chicago Tribune, delivered the address, because, of course, the Colonel “couldn’t make it.”

The big question, according to Bill, was “could a paper like the Trib enter into social media and NOT trip over itself?” He was very thankful for understanding superiors that let his team make some mistakes on the way.

The Trib was not engaging before. And that wasn’t necessarily the fault of the web staff, it was the policies that were in place (for example, not linking to YouTube). Now, Bill said, “it’s not about us, it’s about interacting with others.” The focus right now on is local users. And that makes sense; that’s where the money and the potential is.

Day 2: Online Broadcasting

I decided to attend this particular workshop because of my current position, where I deal with Web conferences and the dissemination and distribution of research publications. I though it would be helpful.

One of the things YouTube has done is change the expectations about video quality. There’s still room for high-quality video, but compelling stories are key. Or, as one of the panelists said: “We don’t just want to read your mission. We want to see what your mission is.”

Online broadcasting is also about distribution. Going where the people are.

But manage expectations. Don’t ask for viral videos. “Viral videos are about kittens and boobs,” said Michael  Hoffman. He added that he knew about companies with 1 million views on YouTube that saw almost no increase in traffic or donations.

Day 2: Social Media, The News & Us

For this session, the audience was broken up into four groups to discuss social media and the news environment peer-to-peer. From those four groups, results were presented to the entire audience, after which there was a discussion among four funders from foundations about the news environment as they saw it. Perhaps the main takeaway for me in this session was that we should look at the Internet as infrastructure and look at journalism as content. One panelist pointed to a study by Free Press. I will have a good look at that one.


It was a tremendous learning opportunity. In the last session of the day, a panelist mentioned that “you can do all the virtual media you want, but it still comes down to face to face.” And that certainly rings true for conferences like this. I had some great discussions and met some truly knowledgeable people, but I was happy to share my experiences as well.

This was also the first time I really knew why I bought a laptop. Taking notes is faster, more efficient and easier. But more importantly, I could share my notes with the world. You can see the complete coverage of tweets from the conference at What the Hashtag?! (as well as

The Community Media Workshop also did a good job of offering online content surrounding the conference. Discussion could commence and continue there, and it still does.

There was another conference in town this week. The League of American Orchestras conference was held in Chicago. Interestingly, there were significantly fewer tweets ( from attendees (I didn’t attend, but Twitter was for me a way to get involved). The League did set up a blog for conference discussions and reporting, but the articles have no comments. Perhaps a sign that orchestras still have a lot of catching up to do in the world of social media.

That was putting 2,000 words worth of notes into a 1,500-word article. As you can imagine, I’ve learned more than what I have reported. Now on to putting what I’ve learned to work.

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