the midwest is a funny place. i know that every place i've gone and meet a fellow midwesterner, i've always found a feller of good company.
smack dab in regional stereotypes, the east and west look at my home state as a humble populous smack dab in between cornfields and coal mines, to the north a short congressman who's vegan and running for president and to the south, the home of makers mark.
i, on the other-hand know something a bit different. i know that ohio is home to six us presidents (that makes it second to NY to the number of US presidents)! i know ohio is home to the wright brothers, thomas edison, granville woods, charles kettering, blue jacket, and tecumseh.
i know that when the economy of the US is on the rocks, ohio has been on the rocks for a few months longer. i know that when the housing market crashes, i can find a desperate home owners in ohio. i know when ohio votes for a president, that president wins.
i know that ohio is at the heart of it all!
as my skybus descended through the clouds, i saw magnificent fields of crops and never-ending suburban sprawl. when the wheels made contact with earth, the precipitation contacting the plane was sleet. yet i new this was no cold welcoming. i walked out of a warm aircraft and flip-floped my way across a cold tarmac into one of the oldest airports in american history, port columbus international airport.
through the maze of walkways, foot paths, escalators, and ramps, i found my anxious parents, impatient brother and a very slow baggage claim. (in all honestly, the slowest baggage claim is in ahmedabad india. in a town known for their ice cream consumption to be some of the highest in the world, ahmedabad's baggage trollers are greased with sugar and grind to a halt the min any traveler has a destination with a time line.)
...back to columbus... so after a brief recapitulation of the past four months, i found myself in a new (circa 2000) lexus with an electronic navigator and heated seats. though the drizzle, i saw what i knew best, middle america. little did i know that in less than an hour i would find myself knee deep in the muddy river we call the future... surrounded by more questions than answers, i sat in the back seat, chewed on wendy's double patties jalapenoioed cheese hamburger.
slamming a frosty, gulping a dr. pepper and devouring a burger rocketed my shuga levels to another planet. with extremely high levels of fidgety uncertainty, my family and i shook off the sleet and walked into cosi's new GIGANTIC new museum.
COSI, for those of you who are not familiar with columbus, is the center of science and industry. it a commercialized name for columbus' equivalent of a natural history museum. since, ohio developed through the industrial revolution, the monicker "industry" is added for full crowed pleasing affect. too boot, many of the exhibits are underwritten by captains of industry.
in this new iteration of the COSI, WOSU (the broadcast wing ohio state university and home to central ohio's public radio) collaborated in the construction of a monstrosity community TV studio. tucked away in a building open 9 - 5, most of the center was under-utilized... well that was until, this evening when 40 some odd bloggers, tv and radio personalities, newspaper readers, citizens of the greater community, my parents, my brother and i (all daytonion carpetbaggers) got together to discuss one question - "What can we do together that we cannot do alone to make the community better using Social Media."
walking into a TV studio with a ring a chairs and a camera pointed on half of the ring scares many people. it damn near gave me a heart attack, i didn't not expect to be on camera nor did i expect such a group gear up for video documentation. despite the prevalence of camcorders, very few east coast groups have attempted video documentation of their events. too boot, if you've seen a recent picture of me, you'll know that my hobbitin height, bearded facial monstrosity and orange cap always seems to be a bit out of place. surveying the room and seeing many clean shaven folk most in "i just got out of work" attire, i was highly self conscious of a formal meeting with a structured sessions of "we want this" and "can you tell us how solve our problems."
first, up on the wall was a matrix of time slots and locations.
second, i saw a poster advertising the "law of two feet" - Law of Two Feet (also known as the Law of Mobility in settings where participants don't necessarily have the use of both feet) -- a foot of passion and a foot of responsibility -- expresses the core idea of taking responsibility for what you love. In practical terms, the law says that if you're neither contributing nor getting value where you are, use your two feet (or available form of mobility) and go somewhere where you can. It is also a reminder to stand up for your passion. (from wikipedia)
third, i saw the four principles of open space (from wikipedia)...
- Whoever comes are the right people
- Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
- Whenever it starts is the right time
- When it's over, it's over
when the facilitator started speaking, my sugga kicked into overdrive and my fidgeting exploded in excitement... i've traveled the world, and there in front of me, there in columbus, ohio, i was watching the future of news. there in front of me sat a diverse group of community members who had come together to discuss how WOSU and COSI can better serve the community.
in the buckeye state i watched the future of "broadcast" media unfold.
in nyc, i've helped organized many of these open space events, and after a serendipitous meeting of david cohn at BarCamp NYC 2, the two of us bounced many ideas off of each other to work on CopyCamp - an unconference for community journalism. (we are in the process of formulating a grander conversation on how open space conversations can improve journalism - both citizen and professional - for now join the google group and let's corral a few news agencies into thinking that this is a good idea.)
for 15 mins, the group sat around trying to understand the next two hours. as people gathered ideas for conversation, people grabbed a sheet of paper, wrote down their two cents and found a space to do discuss the topic. while i desperately wanted to chat about so many things, i wondered how much would i be perceived as a foreigner. with my bearded hobbitin status in full effect, i wrote something down and waited to see who would pose a topic that seemed more suitable. i didn't have to wait too long to get, andrew, from elephants on bicycles, to propose a topic that sounded like "the future of citizen journalism."
after over staying our allotted time, we log rolled from topic to topic... from trust, to linkage, to content, to business models, to the definition of "broadcasting"... on and on, the room tumbled in conversation from Robin Mizell, copyeditor & former newassignment.net contributor, to mike thompson, director of news and public affairs, to susan meyer director of communications and organization planning at WOSU, to tim eby, station manager of WOSU radio, some upper crust members of COSI's management, to a few guys from the barcamp ohio group... and that's just to some of the more vocal members of the group... there was conversational buy in from so many divers parties.
as we ran through the second alloted time session, many ideas splashed up at us..
- FIRST, continue exploring by hosting more open space events that invite the community to help shape the future. just remember, rome was not built overnight.
- use the COSI/WOSU facility as home base for Columbus's tech community (aka meetups, *camps, more open space events, etc).
- investigate the marriage of freelancers and independent workers within a COSI café (aka coworking). also, don't be afraid of turning to daytime events like "work at jelly" to help crystalize personal relationships. (apparently, an international network of science centers is studying how to keep them self community relevant. if anyone can send me contacts, that would be awesome!)
- open up more WOSU programing for community participation by bringing in community experts (specifically expert bloggers, and not just local ones). comically, when we were talking about "experts" or "bloggers" the criteria came from the same place... people who know their stuff and can accurately augment a show. (btw, one should note that mike thompson, director of news and public affairs already pulls in bloggers to augment his line of pundants)
- point listeners/viewers/community members in direction of online communities that feature topical conversation.
- bring in new media students as interns (aka slave labor) and have them experiment with "professional programming" (i use this term in the looses sense, please see my previous blog post.)
- don't just say it, but embrace it!
- one the shortcomings seemed to stem from the fact that no one was employed 100% to understand the intricacies of new media, community, and exploration. everyone seemed to say, "well, that sounds like a bit of this and that..." yeah, in reality it is a bit of this and that...
in the end what we discussed is nothing new. if you look at talk radio, if you look at community programming, if you look at community centers, or anything that loops community, conversation, and construction - you will find time tested models of engagement. there is nothing wrong with frailty, this is what has placed WOSU/COSI into this position. there is nothing wrong with failure. we must read, write and created or in this case listen, communicate and create. the only way traditional broadcast will survive is to find a symbiosis between a relevant/profitable business model and community - if your listeners are talking, are you listing?
hats off to WOSU and COSI, the facilitators, and community members. you took the leap of faith.... now it's a collective job to find the tussling logs will sustain the weight and carry everyone.