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Why events are truly the new niche media
One of the great delights of doing live event coverage is discovering things you didn’t know you would be fascinated by. It’s the unexpected delight of a passionate speaker, or one with a great story to tell, that you wouldn’t have expected to pique your interest. In fact, it’s pretty much exactly the same feeling I used to get from newspapers and magazines. You’d devour your favourite sections, and then find yourself unexpectedly drawn to something by a photo, a standfirst or an illustration, and find yourself sucked deep into a story about something completely new – yet fascinating.
Like most of the Drawnalism crew, my background is in journalism – and, as with so many others, I’ve largely left print behind for the delights of online news and other writing. And that’s mostly great.
Sure, I have a huge range of content I can access – more than ever before. And that means that I can dive much deeper into the subjects that interest me that I could in the print-only days. But there’s also a narrowness that’s developing – a tendency to just find the things I knew I wanted to know.
Let me explain.
Website content: deep but narrow
The problem with websites – and I say this as someone whose working life has been dined by them for over a decade now – is that a “website” is essentially a fantasy construct. People don’t consume websites, they consume individual pages from websites. And, as such, a website, even one that calls itself a magazine, doesn’t really have that sense of discovery, of immersing yourself into a subject. In that way, digital has undermined what made print publications great, atomising them (as we say in content strategy circles) into an aggregation of articles, that is no more – and often a bit less – than the sum of its parts.
And, for me at least, events have stepped into the void left behind by magazines’ old role in synchronicity and happy discovery. When I go along to an event, be it a few hours in the evening, or a three day-long conference, it immerses me in content in a way the web doesn’t. I’ve built elaborate digital structures to bring me exactly the information I want on the subjects that are most important to me, so I’m rarely surprised by what I read. It’s always something I already expected to get.
At an event, though, sometimes the speakers I was most drawn to in advance, don’t bring me anything new. But those I paid no heed to will completely revolutionise my world. In my time live blogging I’ve learnt to mix sessions that look obviously interesting to me with ones I’ve shown no prior interest in, just to see what may uncover itself in that session. And I’m surprised and delighted more often than not.
The art of the unexpected: Live
This goes doubly so for my work alongside the Drawnalism team. I didn’t expect to find myself fascinated by learning about the implications of open data on food safety -and if you’ve very have food poisoning, you’ll understand why that might be important – or the role of tablet-based software in wind farm maintenance or farming parts tracking.
In the end, to borrow a metaphor, it’s the difference between spear fishing for exactly the information your require, or opening the trawler net and just seeing what the sea throws up.
The digital world has been a boon to events – it’s made it easier to arrange them, to find an audience for them – and to communicate the content of the event (that’s what we’re for, of course…). But it’s also opened up an opportunity for them to step into an abandoned role – that of the vehicle that brings us the stories and ideas we didn’t know that we wanted to know – and do it in the company of people with equally open minds. And what could be better than that?
In-the-Moment Liveblogger Adam works with Drawnalism at events and writes here regularly.