Feeling less alone during an isolating time - SRCCON in 2020
by Erika Owens
When we gathered for SRCCON 2020 in July, we really didn’t know what to expect. Our community told us they still wanted to connect and they still wanted to talk about everything from objectivity to data viz editing. So we kept our original dates for SRCCON and planned the conference in a few short weeks. Our biggest open question, however, was what would it feel like to gather online? Could we create the same atmosphere and experience as years past?
It was one of the highest compliments when one attendee this year told us that “the event felt like a real SRCCON.” As it well should. As we’ve all adapted to meeting from couches and kitchen tables instead of in front of whiteboards and coffee stations, we’ve found new ways to connect.
We know, too, that it’s also that ability to connect, share, dream, and grow, that’s so critical to us not only getting through the challenges of this year, and beyond, but also repairing the harms that have led us and our industry to this point. In many ways, making connections can be reinvigorating, as one attendee told us:
SRCCON “made me more confident about my media, my future, made me realize I was not alone in my view of journalism, it gave me hope for a journalism that truly represents me!”
This year, SRCCON became one of the moments when that feeling of hope, inspired and challenged by Black-led organizers in the streets and in our organizations, has been close at hand. Other times in 2020, hope couldn’t have felt farther away. But together we found chances to hold both of those realities and explore them together, as one SRCCON attendee put it:
“I feel like I can dream again.”
To continue dreaming together, we’re planning to gather as a community again for a final SRCCON in mid-December (with the emblematic tentative title SRCCON:???). We don’t know right now what precise format or setting or theme may be most needed then, but from what our community shared at SRCCON 2020, we do know some things already:
- We will figure out what we need together, and then we’ll make it happen
- We have one another to lean on in this work, and that support will create powerful coalitions
- We have the power to shape what comes next and we’re going to use it
We will figure this out together
Changemaking is always a process of co-creation, and that collaborative, community-led approach has been at the core of SRCCON and everything we do at OpenNews. Through talks, sessions, and numerous Slack conversations, we saw SRCCON attendees planning and sharing and figuring out how to reimagine and rebuild together. A major theme at SRCCON 2020 was about how to approach this changemaking: should we burn it all down, go it alone, try to create change from within? One attendee reflected:
“But I'm always reminded when I hear the term radical that radical means from the root. That's what the word means from the Latin. And you know, looking at that as an opportunity to do some gardening and weeding so that things can grow and flourish rather than looking to it as something that is going to smash down and destroy something you hold dear. Looking at it as a way of the rethinking things from the root.”
Conversations in July, at SRCCON:LEAD in 2019, and at other prior events engaged with all aspects of that necessary tending and the role each of us can play to make that change happen. As one attendee said:
“SRCCON is just like a forum for real talk. ... when we come together in these sorts of communities, we can plan, we can start projects, we can start community funds for doing mutual aid. We can plan walkouts, we can unionize, we can do all of those things. ... we can come together, find each other, and begin.”
We have one another to lean on
At SRCCON, we see again and again how many of our colleagues are invested in transforming journalism, but also invested in helping support others through it. Sessions tackle technical challenges and managerial questions, but also sometimes literally gardening 🌿, tending tomato plants 🍅 and pickling 🥒. Homeschooling and grieving. Music and gaming and walks along the Mississippi.
When we get to know each other’s interests and passions outside of work, we deepen connections with each other, and therefore our capacity to support one another in difficult, internal, organizational work. It is through personal relationships that we learn how to trust, cultivate compassion, learn how to give each other what we need, and build the resilient networks required to organize coalitions and fight for lasting changes. Through these relationships, we see how:
We are not alone in staking out an anti-racist vision for journalism.
We are not alone in fighting isolation, confusion, and exhaustion in covering COVID-19.
We are not alone, period. One of our attendees this year put it better we could have ever dreamed:
“This conference is so good at welcoming people and not just making people feel welcome, but making people feel brave. And encouraging people that normally feel sheltered or oppressed in their newsrooms, like giving them a chance to speak up and speak their heart and mind.”
We have the power to shape what comes next
When we turn to each other in times of joy and of uncertainty, we develop the strength for whatever comes next. Newsroom after newsroom continues the flood of unionizing, building collective power to not only have a seat at the table but to decide what gets put on that table for discussion. This community leads unions and employee resource groups and diversity committees and community groups that offer support to each other and a bold vision for the future.
Because who has the power? We have the power. Together, we already know what we need, who we can trust, and what must be done:
“But I think really what SRCCON has done is bring the other people who are the true leaders, leading from where they are. People who have a stake in the game, you know, putting things on the line.”
At SRCCON, we get to see all of these dynamics in action: dreaming, plotting, leading, powerfully shifting news organizations, and how they serve our communities. In addition, the SRCCON community blew us away with its support of OpenNews, with over 50 people signing up as organizational sustainers during the conference. Sustaining each other and our work takes so many forms, from money to resume reviews and encouraging text messages, each of these pieces of relationship and world building that will enable us to create a new future together.
We’re always here for each other online and in those Slacks, and we’ll meet up as a group again in mid-December. We know that now, and we’ll share more details about what to expect in mid-November. As always, our own experiences and relationships will tell us what we need to meet this moment, and how we can and must wield our relationships and collective power to transform our institutions. To quote our attendees one last time:
“I feel less alone in this industry. It's nice to have a space filled with other journalists who care about and are engaged with the same issues I spend most of my time thinking about. It made me more optimistic about our collective futures, even if that future is still on shaky ground.”
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