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Standing On The Edge Of The Future: The New Media In Copenhagen

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For all of us in the media who were on the ground in Copenhagen, we're beginning to recover from the whirlwind we just experienced. As reactions and postmortems pour in from journalists and environmentalists from around the world, I want to focus on story behind the story: how new media, grassroots activists, ordinary people and citizen journalists worked together in inspired ways to get the Copenhagen story out.

When I think of what it means to be a new media journalist today, I think about the Fresh Air Center in downtown Copenhagen. It was set up during the UN climate summit by TckTckTck, a non-profit umbrella group committed bringing people together from all backgrounds around the climate talks. The actual conference was held in a huge conference center, which eventually kicked out many NGOs and had lines up to eight hours long for people to get in even with accreditation. The Bella Center was the monolithic representation of The Old Way -- slow, unresponsive and bureaucratic. TckTckTck made space available to bloggers, journalists and NGOs and provided high speed Internet access, live streaming briefings, video editing set-up, drop-in talks by people like Kumi Naidoo, the head of Greenpeace, panels with Naomi Klein, Andrew Revkin and George Monbiot, Happy Hour sponsored by the UN Foundation, and patient, tirelessly helpful support team. It was where the cool Internet kids were working, I joked. Movers and shakers wanted to stop by and reach that audience.

What was most amazing about the experience was not just the fantastic journalists and activists I met, but also the spirit of cooperation and camaraderie that was fostered in this environment. Unequivocally, it's the backbone to where new media is going. Working with limited resources, everyone knows that it's not realistic for every writer or even a whole website to have a support team of editors, photographers and videographers. Success in the Internet age undoubtedly means being a jack-of-all-trades, and while working out of Fresh Air, I was able to crowdsource some of the most interesting coverage I did in Copenhagen by using the people I met there as resources -- personally, via email lists and through Twitter. I got YouTube videos of police beating protesters sent to me by student activists, I got immediate access to photos of sit-ins that I could include in my updates which were fed by Twitter, and I had access to live streaming embeddable video of events shot by independent media outlets like The Uptake Everything was free and instant and immeasurably bolstered by the personal connections I made at the Fresh Air Center.

I'm certainly not someone that shies away from competition. But what I thought was so interesting about the spirit of new media cooperation that was fostered in Copenhagen was the urgency that all of us felt, whether we consider ourselves activists or not, to get the stories out. Despite the incredible importance of what was being discussed -- the fate of humanity, for godsakes! -- UN climate conferences are not an easy sell to American readers by any stretch. Everyone I met who worked in media shared the goal of engaging readers as much as possible, creating as much interesting, exciting content as possible and get as many eyeballs on it as we could muster. The attitude I encountered again and again wasn't, "This is mine, I own it." Rather, it was, "This is too important, everyone should see/hear/read this." I struck content deals with Grist, Mother Jones and The Nation, among others, and got countless tips from smaller blogs and independent bloggers.

Green journalism stands at a particularly interesting nexus. Broadly, its very existence takes a position on moving the conversation towards one about sustainability, which can be perceived in this country as political. (It's in fact probably closer to being post-political, but not everyone sees it that way.) And when what we were covering was of such global significance, traditional media business models were trumped by the historic nature of the events. The reality of how instant everything has become shows how technology allows people to collaborate in amazing spirits of cooperation.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), we'll all get a chance to do it again next year in Mexico.


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