In so many words (in quite a lot of words)

Thursday 4.30 at The Press Christchurch Writers Festival saw a small but select group attending a panel discussion about social media. Donna’s already talked here about her fellow panellists, and interviewed them as well, so I will just try to give you a bit of a flavour of the actual event. Cheating, I know, but hey, it’s the new social media, where everyone shares everything, and no-one owns anything. That’s right, isn’t it?

Just before we begin, in a happy little piece of meta, panellist Moata takes a photo of the audience and tweets it, turning the tables on those of us who think we are there to report on them.  I find this train of thought so distracting that I completely fail to take a photo of them. You will have to picture for yourselves, then, the small geodome in Hagley Park, a couple of comfy couches, and a lineup that includes Chair Graham Bookman Beattie, and guests Moata, Donna, Lara and Will, all looking and sounding incredibly calm and relaxed.

Each of the panellists here today spend a large part of their lives online, personally and professionally.  The first question (How has your internet life changed from five years ago?), brings some great comments. Lara points out that the small black portable notebooks she always carried have now changed to a small black portable phone that she always carries; and that F Scott Fitzgerald (the inspiration for this habit of hers of recording the “cognitive surplus” of her life) would have been brilliant on Twitter.

Moata notes that where the internet used to be a kind of “go, look, read” kind of place, there’s now a real depth to it, and you can go, look, read but then keep going, get deeper in, be more involved and interactive. Donna talks about starting with her own personal blog, but then very quickly developing the CCL blog – launched at the 2007 Auckland Writers Festival, it had a sense of immediacy that was new in terms of coverage of festivals and events. She also makes the point that we used to think that technology was cold and impersonal, but the events of 2010 and 2011 have shown us that social media brings the ability for us to share more, help more, and build community in ways that wouldn’t have been possible in the past.

Will notes that the biggest change for him professionally has been the speed at which The Press has had to move – the expectation now from readers is that the news is being reported as it happens. He also notes that online comments have changed the game: where the Letters page of the newspaper is a very groomed product, online commenting is a completely different animal.

Looking five years into the future, Lara quotes Gibson and Mieville, talks about a crackdown on online piracy and DRM, and points out that although we think the internet is free, when we agree to the terms and conditions of websites like Facebook and Twitter, these sites are then able to monetize our thoughts and ideas for their own profit.

Moata hopes that the future will see bloggers recognised as ‘real’ writers, rather than being thought of as vaguely unsavoury lower ranks. Donna thinks that the idea of the death of the book is a load of bollocks, and that libraries will become a place of increased connectivity and interactivity, with more collaboration between galleries, libraries, archives and museums. Will asserts that The Press will still be here, still be on paper, and still be delivered to the door of anyone who wants it; but also that most people will get their news on a device, that they will happily pay for it, and that the best and most successful papers will be the ones that deliver intensely local news.

A round  of mostly great questions, with the seemingly mandatory That’s-Not-A-Question as well, and the session is over.  I must just run out now and see if I feature in that photo that Moata took …

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