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I’ll be honest. Driving to a corporate office park on the edge of Southampton is not my idea of a fun weekend activity. It was the sort of thing I thought I’d left behind me when I quit corporate life a couple of years before. But here I was, at the impressive Ordnance Survey building, getting ready for Blue Light Camp — one of my earliest gigs testing the live-blogging / live capture concept with the Drawnalism team.
Matt Buck and I had worked together before at a range of events, but this was both our first unconference together, and my first event where I was live-blogging information out of my knowledge comfort zone. I’d not really gained any significant knowledge of the emergency services since, well, I left school. And there’s only so much swotting up you can do in advance.
It was an interesting mix of pressures: yes, I was out of my comfort zones, but the job felt important. Yes, it was “just” an unconference. But by their very nature, unconferences attract those who are both deeply engaged with their profession, certainly engaged enough to lever themselves out of bed on a weekend and head to a freeform conference, and forward thinking enough to want to do it. And the Blue Light professions are bound to impact all of use, sooner or later. They are, without doubt, once of the most important set so jobs in this, or any other country.
There was likely to be real, practical value in their ideas. And they were trusting us to capture them.
Matt was quite used to turning up and live drawing concepts he’d never heard of before that day. It’s been the heart of the business for years. For me, though, up until then, my live blogging had been contained to fields I was familiar with — journalism, digital and real estate — not unfamiliar ones. Would I be able to maintain the pace I needed while getting my head around new ideas? I was pretty confident — but there’s always that nagging doubt when you do something new.
Added to that was the challenge that unconferences are some of the hardest events to live-capture: their freeform nature often mean that there’s no real structure to the sessions, and you need to find some coherence in them in your post. It much easier to do that with a planned conference session on the main stage, than it is in a fast moving discussion between a room fully of enthusiastic experts.
About 45 minutes into the day, I’d forgotten all about that. The subject matter was engaging and important. The people were thoughtful and committed. The information, and the storytelling around it compelling, and Matt and I were gelling as a team. One of the big advantages of working as a combined text/illustration team is that each of us catches something different from each session, meaning that our notes are more comprehensive. But we can also check in with each other through the sessions — peering over a shoulder as lines form into images, or words assemble into paragraphs — and get a greater grasp on the essential narrative of these complex sessions.
All this and a drone, too
And by the end of it, I’d done some great work, work I’m proud of years later, looking at the results on the Blue Light Camp site. Oh, and I got to see a drone fly for the first time. (It was half a decade ago…). Result.
I’ve live-blogged many unconferences in the years since Blue Light Camp — but it’ll always have a special place in my own career, both for the adrenaline rush of providing detailed notes on an unfamiliar subject in real time, but also for the underlying value of what we were doing. Matt and my efforts helped create a record of ideas that have had a palpable impact on our emergency services in the years since.
A valuable weekend’s work is an enjoyable weekend’s work.