Newsgeist is an unconference that Google started in the US and brought to Europe for the first time last year. It’s been called secretive and exclusive, as it’s invitation-only and applies Chatham House Rules. This is also the reason why I won’t go into detail about what’s been discussed (Charlie Beckett did a great recap if you want to learn more) . Instead, I’ll share my personal takeaways and learnings.
I have to start off by saying that I’ve felt painfully uninspired in the past few months (or even years), fighting my own battle with where the future of Fillmore (and my own career) is headed. So when I received the invitation for Newsgeist, I had high hopes that this would be an opportunity to feel inspired again. And it did not disappoint. What makes Newsgeist so great is that’s all about open discussions and sharing experiences. I went into this thinking I’d be a passive, observing attendee but I ended up leading a session about entrepreneurial journalism with Manuela Zlateva who I just met at the event. Personally I got the most out of the smaller sessions where you really got an opportunity to talk to everyone in the room.
While a lot of what was discussed at Newsgeist evolved around the struggles and challenges of journalism and the news business, there were also great examples of how you can make high quality journalism work in the digital age. These were the moments that re-sparked my inspiration and hope for the news business. Another great thing about the event is that it brings together people with all sorts of backgrounds and positions. As an avid asker of questions, I had the pleasure to learn from experienced media professionals and fellow entrepreneurs. The Newsgeist organizers intentionally don’t put job positions on name tags, so there’s really no barrier to walk up to someone and start a conversation. It’s a small detail that I only noticed at the end of the weekend, though it’s these little details that make Newsgeist stand out.
The major highlight of the weekend was the Q&A session with Bastian Obermayer about the Panama Papers. With all the talk about monetizing and building products, his work is a great reminder about the importance of investigative journalism. For most of the attendees, Newsgeist was an opportunity to reflect on their work and think about what the audience really wants. And we don’t do that often enough in our day-to-day business.
Yes, Newsgeist is kind of secretive and exclusive. But it definitely can be replicated on a smaller scale. The Digital Journalism Slack could be considered a virtual version of Newsgeist (there’s also a Digital Journalism Hackathon happening in Munich next weekend!). I learned that France has a lively media startup scene, too. So there’s a lot of stuff happening and I’m now definitely motivated to make stuff happen.
Thanks Richard Gingras, Chris Shipley and all the others who made Newsgeist a great experience for all of us!