Podcasters, bloggers travel here to learn about new media

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A new media conference held over the weekend painted a picture of Pittsburgh as a tech-savvy creative community, where podcasters, Web video producers and bloggers are busy making the city a hub of activity in cyberspace.

PodCamp: The New Media UnConference, which took place at Pittsburgh Filmmakers in Oakland, featured a series of workshops and sessions with both local and nationally known new media creators.

More than 180 attended the free PodCamp Pittsburgh, the second in a series of PodCamps scheduled for cities across the country, including San Francisco, Toronto, New York and Atlanta.

The "UnConference" sessions were informal and lively, with many audience members sharing their ideas as much as panel members did. Plagued only by sporadic -- and somewhat ironic -- Internet outages, the event was geared to both newcomers and the Web-savvy.

The largely 20- and 30-something PodCampers aren't the people posting amateur videos on YouTube. Rather, they're engaged in creating original and compelling Web content in a variety of areas, from news and information to arts and entertainment.

Christine Allen is a Sewickley technology consultant who attended the conference. Allen, who plans to start a culinary webcast, was impressed by the balance between technology and creativity in the presentations. "There was such enormous energy. It was an amazing collection of creative and technological know-how."

Podcasters who've been at it for two or three years are already considered veterans. Because these ventures are so new, there were more questions than answers at PodCamp. But it worked as an exercise in community-building, tearing people away from their laptops long enough to compare notes and ideas, and to begin to look at ways to grow and evolve -- and maybe even make a profit.

The big unanswered question was: How do we make money at this? Some participants want to make a career as new media producers, while others have day jobs and are using podcasts or blogs as a creative outlet.

Much of the discussion centered on the need to develop a standardized way of measuring audiences in a language that potential advertisers accustomed to working with large TV and radio audiences will understand, along with developing strategies for selling a much smaller -- but more focused -- target audience than mainstream media.

Another theme was the need to attract, build and keep an audience. As Justin Kownacki, one of the event organizers and producer/creator of the Web sitcom/soap opera "Something to Be Desired," put it: "You're nothing without your audience. [Without it] you're just a person in a room without that audience. That's kind of sad."

Speakers in the nationally known podcasting community included:

Journalist Brian Conley, whose Alive in Baghdad video site (www.aliveinbaghdad.org) enables Iraqi citizens to share their stories about life in a war zone with the rest of the world in a longer-than-sound-bite format. Conley is also launching Small World News, a similar video reporting project in Mexico, which is also designed to give people living outside the video blogging revolution access to the same technology.

Conley screened some of the "Alive in Baghdad" videos and told session participants: "Not everybody can go to Baghdad. But there are plenty of places we're not hearing stories about. It's really important to use these tools to help other people tell their stories."

Andrew Baron of the New York-based daily news videoblog rocketboom.com talked about different ways online viewing audiences can be measured.

Rob Walch, president of www.podcast411.com, a company that helps others launch podcasts and whose site features a large list of available podcasts.

Luke Ferdinand of the 54 Hour Movie Project (www.54hours.org), a creative site where producers are given a sentence to build a short video around on a Friday evening, which they have to complete by the end of the weekend.

Many sessions provided basic nuts-and-bolts information designed to get newcomers fired up about creating their own podcasts, audio or video blogs -- what hardware and software is needed, how to create podcasts or interactive podcasts, and how to produce a Web series.

Tony Buba, an independent filmmaker based in Braddock, was dismayed that the event didn't attract a more diverse group of people. Internet knowledge is "one of these things that's supposed to democratize everything," but the cost of broadband connections excludes part of the population, he said.

However, "I give them an A-plus on pulling this off in Pittsburgh," added Buba, who attended PodCamp to explore ways of putting his own film work online for new audiences. The "potential is great" for independent and experimental filmmakers, he said.

Adrian McCoy can be reached at amccoy@post-gazette.com .


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