Tuesday, August 19, 2014

TEDxPoynterInstitute 2014: I'm a Cat. I'm a Kitty Cat!

Posted By on Tue, Aug 19, 2014 at 10:22 AM

click to enlarge I CAN HAZ MILLIONS? Kitty meme guru Ben Guh.
  • I CAN HAZ MILLIONS? Kitty meme guru Ben Guh.

TED talks have become a constant cultural presence for anyone who pays attention to ideas. TED started out in 1984 in Southern California, catering to Silicon Valley, but has exploded both in size and scope, with satellite events in nearly every country on the planet. These independently organized "TEDx" events are loosely supervised by the central organizers, and have featured everything from quantum physicists to jugglers.

The common if rarely-spoken mandate for TED and TEDx talks is “keep it snappy.” Talks are usually under 20 minutes, and even speakers tackling the weightiest subjects keep things conversational and light. While TED has been lauded for providing an outlet for serious thought boiled down for lay consumption, not everyone's a fan - The Guardian’s Benjamin Bratton has called TED’s pithy format and wide-eyed optimism “a recipe for civilizational disaster.”

The Poynter Institute’s TEDx event, happening today, promises to embody that tension. As an arbiter in the world of journalism and media, Poynter might seem like a good place to engage in critical thinking about a news landscape overrun by listicles and vampiric news aggregators. But the lineup for August 19th suggests less a critical appraisal than a wholehearted vault onto the back of the thundering new-media juggernaut. The theme of the event is “Disruption,” which, for those not clued in to tech-speak, translates to “Change is Good – Get Over it.”

The speakers seem likely to focus on how to succeed in the brave new media world. Attendees will get to hear from Liz Heron, of Facebook’s news program, social media trainer Jen Reeves, and Jamie Klingman, billed as “Creative Entrepreneur; Realtor; University of Florida Graduate.” Some people will no doubt be particularly excited (or ‘totally pumped’) to get insights from Ben Huh, founder of the “I Can Haz Cheezburger” cat-meme empire.

But there’s sure to be some head-shaking in the wings. Doesn't the public, no to mention any aspiring Bob Woodwards studying at Poynter, deserve something more? Maybe discussions of what Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald have to teach us about disclosure and transparency in the digital age? Or an attempt to figure out how young journalists should deal with the bleak employment landscape facing them? (The implicit answer on offer here is: Go directly into public relations).

All is not necessarily lost - the event features appearances from St. Pete Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, who has talked about how cities can use new communication technology to better connect with citizens. And Vox Media, represented at the event by Senior User Experience Designer Yuri Victor, has been an example of how something occasionally sort of resembling journalism can survive on the web (check out The Verge if you haven't).

Eric Deggans described TEDxPoynter 2012 as “news geek heaven,” and for those already ensconced in the profession, or not excessively perturbed by its future, how-tos on getting social media traction may be both practical and fun - at least two of the presentations promise to help you figure out how to "win" in the face of media disruption. TEDxPoynterInstitute 2014 is sure to be, for many, a great networking opportunity with plenty of day-to-day insights. And let’s keep things in perspective: TED is an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, the original themes for an event that was never intended to be particularly high-minded.

Still, journalism is in trouble, and that has some serious implications for our society. It would be great if TEDx and Poynter could help us articulate a more ambitious and hopeful future than one with more efficiently-monetized LOLcats.

The program will run from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at The Poynter Institute, 801 Third Street South, St. Petersburg. Admission is $50.

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