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A note:  Newsfoo provided me with significant food for thought.  I was warned this would happen.  The post that sits below is one of many that have been rolling around in my head like little balls of mind-snus since the plane home in early December, but it’s only now I feel that this one has taken enough shape to share.  Thanks are due to Matt Bernius for engaging generously with this post when it was still largely a dérive – I have, with his permission, left in some of his notes and reactions. In response to one section, Matt wrote: “following [Bruno] Latour, the argument should come as a byproduct of walking the path, versus an active shaping of the argument to fit the path.”   That’s more or less how this post has come together, but I hope to pick up and refine some of the themes and ideas raised in it through more focused posts and conversations.  Naturally all infelicities, inaccuracies and mysteries below are mine alone.  And though I’m hoping to write more regularly, it will be more efficiently and concisely in the future…

At Newsfoo, a session on long-form journalism prompted me to think later that maybe we should have been talking instead about immersive journalism.

There was in the session an anxiety (my reading) that long-form journalism as an important way of capturing and understanding the world, is in danger – because it’s expensive, labour-intensive to produce, takes a long time to read, and takes up a lot of space in print and, in a different way, online.  The discussion ranged over the changing nature of news content and changing settings and habits of news consumption – and the impact this has on how we apportion our attention.  Within the ecosystem of online news, information and comment, I got the feeling that the lapidary status update (and in other settings the SMS) was being regarded as the increasingly sharp-elbowed atom/pixel of news and information, hustling other, more stately forms to the back of the queue.  If attention is “shortening” – whether deterministically because of the volume, variety and velocity of the stream (I think of our period as that of Strom und Drang - the stress of the stream), or because the market wills it, or because because because because… – either way, this was Kryptonite to those seeking to do or foster long-form journalism.  (It may be helpful, as a tech-free counterweight, to cite Julian Barratt, of The Mighty Boosh: “Having kids means relaxing is a different thing for me now. Today, finishing an article in a newspaper is like going to a rave.”  He and I both have young twin boys.)

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On the first weekend in December, I had the good fortune to be part of a group of 150 people brought together at ASU in Phoenix, Arizona, by O’Reilly, Knight Foundation and Google for Newsfoo, a Foo Camp on the future of news.

A friend had been to such things before.  I asked her how I should comport myself at a Foo Camp.  She told me:

* don’t be a tool, contribute, and be peripatetic
* come with your mouth open, your ideas half-formed
* you will often feel like the dumbest person in the room.  that’s because you probably will be. [OK, I added that very last bit.  No, really.]

Following this, and wiki advice, seemed to act as a reasonable amulet (n00bery during my virgin round of Werewolf apart).

I won’t pretend it wasn’t daunting to begin with – as a hand-selected group, it was a formidable cluster of skills, achievements, futures – but it felt quickly more natural to explain my presence there by referring to what I do/know than by saying, as I did initially, “Because of a grotesque clerical error*.”  Everyone I interacted with (including those of us with jetlag-induced narcolepsy) was open, generous and discursive, and I hope the contributions I made helped.

This discursiveness was considerably enhanced as an experience by the general adoption of the Foo Camp ethos of “being present” as far as possible, by setting aside laptops, mobile devices and such (although a number of Newsfoo-ers wielded iPads – clearly a different, magical device-class), and of using common sense and courtesy as to what could be shared through social networks and blogging (see the second Steve Buttry post below for more on this).  This meant that almost the only interruptions were phone calls, but by this stage I was enjoying the freedom, so I let my phone battery run down.  Not that I took extensive field notes, or drew elaborate sketchnotes in every session, but I was definitely having uninterrupted, whole conversations, which felt nutritious, enjoyable, and freeing.  I should issue, however, a blanket apology to fellow attendees for inadvertently saying “rhizomic” twice over the course of the weekend.  Jetlag.

Newsfoo is an unconference, and as such each person’s experience is likely to be quite different.  Here’s the Rasho-blogging of Alex HowardSteve Buttry, Matt Bernius (once, twice, three times an anthropologist), Wade RoushAlex Hillman, and Dave Cohn (let me know if I missed anyone).  [16 Dec 2010, 5.53pm, adding the glory that is Meg Pickard, and the Storification of Mo Krochmal.  6.58pm: Andrew Walkingshaw's provocation to the US press, and more from Alex Howard.  Looks like it's accelerating.]  Something from me very soon [Update, Jan 21, 2011: here's a short one about Green Lions, Isaac Newton and the news business, and another shambolically stalking one such Green Lion, and getting rather badly mauled].

* For the record, I am not Samira Ahmed.  Also, if you don’t understand the title of this post, I apologise.

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