How we connected at SRCCON 2023, and what we're carrying into next year

A facilitator listens to participant discussion during a session at SRCCON 2023.

One of the many, many moments where we got to listen to and learn from each other at SRCCON 2023. (Photo by Erik Westra)

As SRCCON 2023 ended, we could sense how many of you wanted to keep going by how many of you stuck around to keep talking with each other after our closing remarks. We sensed it in your post-SRCCON feedback, which often praised the opportunities to connect at the conference while looking for more. That’s one thing that doesn’t change about SRCCON whether it’s virtual or in person: doing our best to meet the need for connection.

The relationships that emerge from those moments are often where we start to recognize possibilities for a better future. None of that happens without the community that’s been supporting us all these years and the newcomers who are finding their place within our ranks. Like always, we approached organizing SRCCON with intention and care at the forefront, but you helped make that real. In 2023, that meant taking decision-making about wearing masks off your plate, but it was all of you wearing them that kept people from getting sick. We thought carefully about the number of first-time facilitators and how we would support them, but it was your enthusiasm and your discussions that drove points home. We aggressively sent invitations to journalists in the U.S. Midwest, and they showed up in big numbers. We tried new and old activities during social sessions.

We commiserated, brainstormed, problem-solved, listened and offered advice over those two days. And we got to do it in person again, which made it all the more special and real.

What we did together

For 10 years(!), SRCCON programs have explored two things: how we can use our tech skills to push boundaries in journalism and how we can change the culture of our teams, our newsrooms, and our industry from within. Many of the 37 sessions this year built on years of this community’s work. We carried forward conversations about communication across disciplines and teams, and what it takes for newsrooms of all sizes to bring more data and research into their journalism. We’re still figuring out how to battle burnout, and find better career paths for the next generation of journalists as well as for ourselves.

We also design SRCCON to meet the community’s needs right now, and many sessions this year felt so very 2023. What the @#%J do we do about Twitter? How can we break out of horse-race coverage for next year’s elections? As some of us come back to the office and others stay remote, how can hybrid teams work better and stay secure?

We’ve watched AI become a huge topic this year, and we were excited to explore it in the people-first way you expect from SRCCON. Workshops dug into tech and planning for successful AI projects, how to handle conversations with excited managers and curious teammates, and the principles we need to foreground in any AI project to stay true to our ethics and values.

Our 10 social sessions on Tuesday night were people-first too: We got outside for history walks and hockey games; we stayed inside for games, books, and yoga. We talked about creativity and camping. We made stamps and quilts! More than anything, we brought who we are and what we love into SRCCON, and made it a place about more than just the work.

Creating that space to talk about journalism and build friendships only works when the SRCCON audience includes the entire community. We came together from all sorts of places and backgrounds, and from very small organizations, very large organizations, and everything in between. Among our session facilitators this year:

  • More than 40% were people of color
  • Nearly two-thirds were women
  • Almost half were leading a SRCCON session for the first time

And across all participants in 2023:

  • More than 35% were people of color
  • Almost 60% were women
  • 60% were at their first in-person SRCCON, and nearly half were at the first SRCCON of any kind!

What you told us

  • “I really really loved this conference — I’ve been telling loads of people about it since coming home. This was my first SRCCON. The whole thing worked so well … the downtimes, the name-only badges, the required masking (thank you for making it not have to be a decision), the interactive nature of the sessions, the thoughtfulness of the program as a whole, the welcoming feel of the whole thing.”
  • “I authentically connected with more than 15 people and at least 5 of them I plan to follow up with — for me, that felt like a ton! I really appreciate how the small-group discussions facilitate connection. At this point in my career (the middle) I want to talk to other journalists about problems more than I need to hear lessons from a speaker.”
  • “You didn’t just say you cared about everyone there, you SHOWED it and demonstrated it. The attention to detail and how you thought of small ways of making it more welcoming for everyone… each of those decisions was noticed and appreciated. That was the best part for me.”

What we’re taking away

We’re proud of what we accomplished with you. The kind words and year-end donations you have sent our way reinforce that sentiment. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have work to do.

We’ll keep thinking about ways to improve the SRCCON experience. That’s our M.O. and one that we take seriously. Whether it be offering more opportunities to connect on the second day of the conference, encouraging more affinity group meetups or thinking of new ways to facilitate connections and information-sharing ahead of the conference, we’ll keep exploring what else we can offer or refine to make your experience a more fruitful one. It was the first time Jessica and John planned a SRCCON event, and having one year of experience under their belts can only help make it better.

We’re also aware that the challenges we’re facing as individuals and an industry are only getting harder to navigate and confront. In the four years we spent without meeting in person, the world around us has changed and continues to deal with problems that have heightened our collective sense of anxiety in immeasurable ways. “Doomscrolling” is no longer just the self-inflicted punishment of the frequent Twitter user, it’s part of the user experience of being online. While we will always lead with hopefulness and optimism, we know that there’s a fine line between being a refuge and being derelict to the difficulties around us. With the possibility of more political discord in the course of a presidential election year, we will look to find a balance that centers our community’s resilience and agency.

But we’re also taking away so much more from SRCCON 2023: the recognition that we wouldn’t be where we are without the SRCCON community; the importance of networks, both at home and elsewhere, that offer opportunities and resources; and a devotion to creating time and space for us to have the conversations that will create the journalism industry we need. Thank you for trusting us to make that happen at SRCCON this year. We’ll be there again in 2024 to pick up where we left off. Remember, SRCCON is just the beginning of what we do together, not the culmination.

posted November 15, 2023 | posted in OpenNews