Guardian Open Weekend: ideas, culture and insight

Guardian cartoonists drew a mural of events at the weekend

Guardian cartoonists draw a mural of events at the weekend

I’m not going to try and answer the question ‘What is the future of newspapers?’ or ‘Is journalism dead?’ here. That’s not because I don’t want to, but because I genuinely can’t – I’m a student, not a fortune teller. That, and what a mainstream blog post that would be, really. The future of journalism was a large part, but not the entire point of the Guardian’s Open Weekend which I had the pleasure to attend. Instead, it was about ideas, culture and insight, and here’s my take on it.

I arrived at 90 York Way (Guardian offices in London) breathless and disorientated. It could have been due to the awe of seeing the Guardian and the Observer’s signs in the window, walking the corridors of literary talents or being in awe over the vast array of comfortable furniture. More likely this was because I hopped on the wrong train early in the morning at Milton Keynes in my bleary eyed state and had to run from Euston to make it in time for the ten o’clock start.

The atmosphere was similar to that of a festival;  live music, excitement and giggles, striking up conversations with random strangers, even overpriced food, but primarily due to the amount of people milling around and the unmistakable buzz in the air. The only real difference was a clean shiny building of glass and open plan rooms as opposed to fields of mud and tents, and a lot of people reading the Guardian and not smoking spliffs. But that was only to be expected.

Welcome to the Guardian Open Weekend

Welcome to the Guardian Open Weekend

During my purchase of my own copy of Saturday’s Guardian – it came with a rather fetching bag I can use to lug my New Labour books around campus to appear suitably liberal – I faced my first test. “Do you support the pigs or the wolves?” one of the stewards quizzed. Triggers in my brain informed me this was suitably cryptic, as I had a flash back to the Guardian’s ‘Three Little Pigs’ viral campaign. “Wolves,” I responded proudly after a few seconds, to a congratulatory remark from the vendor, though what I really should have said was “The whole picture.” Damn.

The talks I attended were simultaneously stimulating and mind-boggling. The limits pushed by the ‘digital revolution’ of newsgathering have transformed the way we as journalists find and report our news, the secrets of the parliament lobby continued to baffle even the politically minded of us, and ‘hyperlocal journalism’ appeared to be making an attempted comeback in the form of notice.com and personal blogs across Britain and cyberspace.

In another talk, the entire room (myself included) seemed pretty unconvinced at the Guardian’s past and present war correspondents in ‘Guardian’s ringside seat on history’ unanimously advised against the profession due to its intense danger and high risk of kidnap. They perhaps they were just told to say that. What keen young journalist would turn down an opportunity to sit on the sidelines as history unfolded and not run around with a notebook?

‘How to be Happy’ was undoubtedly the most interesting and engaging part of my weekend; the odd one out among my journalism and news-related talks, and it stretched me. The final 90 minutes of my weekend at the Guardian was spent delving into my own mind to discover and unlock new ways of improving happiness and general mental wellbeing, leaving me utterly inspired with bags of motivation.

Twitter was highly addictive throughout the weekend, proving both incredibly dynamic and downright frustrating. Clutching my phone throughout the talks to tweet ultimately brought up a multitude of first-world dilemmas. Fingers poised over the ‘Tweet’ button for when Rusbridger would say something significant caused me to feel a warm fuzz when someone – anyone – retweeted me, which in turn only caused me to miss the other half of the conversation, and therefore didn’t make a lot of sense. Reading the tweets of someone you’re following due to a shared interest in journalism but have never actually met was also entertaining. Knowing they were in the same room watching the same speakers led to the inevitable stalker behaviour of trying to subtly locate them without staring too intently at random strangers. And besides that, I spent most of the gaps in between talks (when I wasn’t daydreaming about what it would be like to work there) trawling the halls of Kings Place searching for plug sockets in the floor to perch next to in order to charge my battery to last me my next tweeting session. You wouldn’t have seen it in C. P. Scott’s day.

The Boar snuck into page two of the Monday edition of the Guardian this week after Stephen Moss approached us for a chat late on Saturday evening. We discussed the pay wall, noted our grand debt (and the significant reduction!) and then were abruptly interrupted when Moss had to turn over the tape cassette to carry on recording. If there’s one person who’s clearly refusing to embrace the digital future, it’s him.

Guardian cupcakes!

Guardian cupcakes!

Some of my lingering impressions and ideas surrounding the weekend, however, exist in the form of ideas about the future of the Guardian and of newspapers, of local and national news and the digitization of the news gathering and receiving process. Conclusions of the weekend as a festival of ‘reasonableness’ resonate true – the Guardian’s readers sure are a bright bunch. They know far more about the process of the shifts in the media, have more ideas and knowledge than I think the editors imagined, but truly the most compelling and optimistic fact – they want to help the paper they love in ways never anticipated.

The future of this newspaper in 2012, as after it was first published in 1821, is not remotely concrete, as indeed Rusbridger himself noted. The uncertainties of the printing of the Guardian resulted in the conception of this weekend, and provided an opportunity for readers, writers and journalists alike to engage in a new form of open, interactive journalism.

No longer are the days where the journalist reports, the paper is printed and the man on the street reads it. They are just one part of a multi platformed, multi-layered process of communicating, gathering information, representing it and relaying it which requires the continuous involvement of everyone. I can’t tell you what the future of the Guardian will be, but if the readers and their ideas are anything to go by, it will be exciting and dynamic, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with.

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