Disclaimer: This blogger's airfare and accommodation was paid for by MediaConnect to attend the forum.
I didn't know Phil Sim from a bar of soap when he invited me to attend this year's MediaConnect forum to speak about podcasting. From reading his blog I figured he must be one of these cranky old ex-journos. So I was very surprised to find him a cheery 33 year old bloke with a head full of Brett Whiteley-esque dark curls. He seems to be very well liked amongst his journo / PR community and I can understand it. Comes across as a nice bloke. From what I understand, he's an ex-journo who now runs this company that connects IT journos to IT PR folks and vice-versa. He even let me get away with having a bit of fun blogging about them saying they were going to game tech.memeorandum. I think Phil took it in the humour it was intended, not sure everyone else did.
As for the event itself, it seemed to run pretty smoothly, and his team are a great bunch. It was basically a chance for some IT vendors and their PR folks to schmooze some of the country's leading IT journos. Weird for me to be there and I think Darren felt a bit the same. We don't usually have much to do with journalists, PR people or IT vendors. Our blogging and podcasting sessions were kind of flat without a great deal of intelligent questions, although for some strange reason, the podcasting session seemed to get more good questions than the blogging session. And we sat through some other sessions, like the one on "online news" this afternoon, and had to listen to Stuart Kennedy from The Australian IT make an endless series of snide remarks about citizen media, blogging, bloggers and podcasting. I was biting my tongue only because I couldn't be bothered getting into another fight that close to going home time and Belinda had already given me enough of a hard time for "being a wanker" with the previous night's post.
When I hear these old journos dismissing "citizen media" so vehemently, it reminds me of "Comical Ali", Saddam's Information Minister, standing there saying the Iraqi forces were crushing the Americans, even as Baghdad was falling down around him. Get the data people. Newspaper readership is down, year after year. Blog readership is up, year after year. Podcasting listenership is up year after... well this is only our second year. Hell, do the frikkin math.
Anyway, I think it is great credit to Phil that he even invited Darren and I up to present our respective sessions. Not many other people in this country from journalist backgrounds take pure-play new media that seriously... yet. At the end of the day today he even suggested to us that for his next conference in September he might expand the brief beyond journalists and PR to "influencers". I was explaining to him that although guys like Kennedy love to promote that their publications are read by "IT Decision Makers", and that only "14-year old pimply kids" are reading blogs, my experience in dealing with CIOs and COOs when I was at Microsoft for many years taught me that when these "IT Decision Makers" need to make a decision, they (well at least the good ones) take the information they get from the vendors, the press, the analysts, etc, then they go to their teams internally and ask them for recommendations. Where do their team go to do research? Online. Do they read blogs? Absolutely. Do they listen to podcasts? Increasingly. And then they funnel that data up to their bosses. I even know at least one CIO who podcasts and blogs himself. So dismiss "citizen media" at your peril.
Oh the other funny thing is that while these crusty old newspaper journos are dismissing us new media types... I can guarantee you that their bosses are busily trying to figure out how they get to come play in our sandpit.
One other weird aspect of the event was that the vendors present were segregated from the journos for much of the time. Their access was mainly over drinks and dinner in the evening and at "round tables", speed dating type deals. I thought that was weird and I know at least some of the vendors there felt it was a bit precious.
So, in summary - I had a great time hanging out with some truly good folks and I think Phil's event has a lot going for it. However, it drove home to me yet again that journalists and PR people in this country are still a long way from understanding and accepting gracefully that the exclusivity they have had on broad-based communication for 100 years is over. For good. Get over it people and learn to live in the new world.