Chicago New Media Summit stuck in an old way of thinking

I’ve been of two minds on this month’s Chicago New Media Summit.

Chicago could really use a place for all of its media folks – be they in content, editorial, marketing, sales or development – to come together and chat about the biz. Like most larger industry groups, we tend to congregate only with like-minded (or like-titled) people for cocktail hours or other networking events. Having everyone together in one place would be a boon, especially if there’s a way to learn from each other. The Chicago New Media Summit seems to want to lead the charge here.

But there are goals, and there is the execution of those goals. And on the latter point, CNMS leaves a lot to be desired. I realize this is the CNMS’s first year, but it seems like they’re missing some of the basics, even as they’re working to remedy their larger problems.

First – an error they realized early on – was the price. Originally $425 for a two-day summit, the CNMS quickly got re-priced to the much more reasonable $250.

Second was the plan for most of the registration spots to be “invite-only.” A cached registration page from its site shows that the original plan was for a 300-seat event.

“We are awarding some seats to the general public (60) and will have (10) scholarships. The remaining 230 seats will be invitation only to insure that the audience includes members from a large variety of industries and backgrounds represented by the Summit.”

On the first point, I don’t think even the full speaker list justified the original price, and clearly I wasn’t the only one who thought so. While there are some local luminaries involved, the omission of others is obvious. And honestly, a few of the planned speakers are people from whom the CNMS’s target audience have heard plenty from already. Finally, others on the bill have no place at a “new media” conference. I won’t name too many names here, but the email I got from them today touting “Matthew Lillard – Hollywood Celebrity” is a case in point, and if someone can tell me what a representative from the 2016 Olympic Committee can possibly teach a group of new media professionals about its industry, I will gladly pay the cost of your conference registration. (I know the 2016 group has co-opted more than a few local bloggers for its 2016 Channel, but that’s no reason or excuse.)

On the second point, it seems as if the “invite-only” plan has been abandoned, either out of necessity (not enough people were signing up/could be convinced to be “invited”) or due to some epiphany on the part of the organizers. Then again, who knows? A later version of the early registration page dropped the mention of the “invite-only” aspect, but there’s nothing on the CNMS blog that says why or whether it’s still in effect (the main page of the site doesn’t mention it at all either). Like most things with the CNMS, the true answers are shrouded in mystery, in a misguided attempt to manufacture buzz. In all fairness, a June launch event had good intentions of openness but as the Chicago Tech Report and the CNMS’s own blog points out, most people were in the dark at the time. (Note that the speaker list in the post I link to in that sentence is no longer current.)

I’m not sure how an event in its first year can justify so many invite-only spots or obscurantism, particularly since it goes against the very nature of the open Web. I’ve heard, anecdotally, that the people running the event have asked for the moon from its speakers, even those with a proven track record in new media (from permission to re-broadcast their speakers’ presentations as they see fit on down to asking them to have others provide testimonials that vouch for their bona fides, even after the CNMS invited them to speak in the first place). It’s as if they’ve assumed their event has a cachet that it doesn’t yet have.

Moreover, where’s the About Us page on the CNMS site or something similar that tells us more about who’s behind the CNMS? Why do I need to play boy detective by going to the CNMS Facebook page then seeking out the Facebook pages of the event’s officers and looking into their backgrounds to get a sense of the people running it? It should be front and center. Again: openness.

Finally, why – aside from the obvious convenience to those who are running the event – is Google Checkout the only obvious way one can pay for one’s registration for the event? I know we’re all supposed to be tech-friendly, but I deliberately chose not to store my credit card information with anyone online, particularly with Google, since the length and breadth of its data trail is long and vast. And since most of this data is used by Google to make money, I’m not interested in contributing to its bottom line at the expense of my privacy.

While Google Checkout is an attempt to safeguard its users from potentially suspicious sellers, I think the jury’s still out on whether Google can be trusted with its users’ financial data or not. While I don’t know how most of the CNMS audience feels about Google Checkout, most tech-friendly people are far more circumspect than the average person when it comes to sharing personal data. So I can’t imagine I’m the only person who has this feeling. This might be a minor point, but it’s another brick in the wall that the CNMS seems be building between itself and its potential audience.

All this having been said, I still plan on going to the networking/social event during the conference (even if it means paying the $20 door price instead of $10 in advance). As I said at the top, I support the idea of what they’re doing, even if I think the way they’re going about it is pretty misguided. Here’s hoping they spend that socializing time listening to their audience, rather than dictating to them.

Edited to add: Just found this post with a quote from CNMS organizer John Patterson.

“‘There will be movie stars,’ Chicago New Media Summit organizer John Patterson told me this afternoon.”

Sigh. Granted, their epiphany happened after this, but I’m starting to think Patterson doesn’t really know his market, much less his audience.

Update 9/9/08: And the hits just keep on coming. I just got an e-mail this morning announcing Chicago New Media Summit’s mission. It’s the same boilerplate on their main page (with the same “member’s” typo) and includes this gem:

Q: What might happen if we took CNMS08, poured it over a Tech Cocktail, added some MGFest, a twist of HDExpo, glammed it up with the Mid West Independent Film Festival, powered it by Microsoft and promoted it through the Chicago Tribune?

What if this was just the beginning of some new and powerful alliances?
What if you were part of it?

A:The Midwest just became little more SXSW

Sigh again. Aside from the typo that confuses the issue, I don’t think the CNMS benefits from the SXSW comparisons at this point.

Update 9/16/08: I attended the CNMS social event. More on that here.

5 comments for “Chicago New Media Summit stuck in an old way of thinking

  1. September 8, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    Thanks for writing about the event. I agree with some of the points you make. But I also think the ‘walk a mile in another man’s shoes’ rule applies here. First let me tell you I’m not a CNMS founder or council member, but I am lucky enough to be one of the speakers (and I chose to do my 18 minutes as a panel discussion with 2 others I invited). So here’s my take:What a hell of a chore these people have taken on! And in such a short time (less than 6 months) they have done quite a bit. Whereas others sit around and say ‘what if’, this group of people were daring enough to try to create something – something good for Chicago.Will mistakes be made? Will things get overlooked? Of course they will. This is brand new and as far as I can see, has never been done. The people running this are doing it in their spare time, without personal remuneration and without any capital. They’re doing it out of idealism, and that’s why I got involved. We’ll learn from our mistakes but ultimately good will be done and no one harmed (miffed maybe, but not harmed).New Media encompasses a very large and vastly different group, and the CNMS has the unenviable task of trying to reach and please all these different groups. The fact that I AM involved speaks volumes about this group. I did not know anyone in this group, but I attended their first event. I had some ideas, some questions, thought I had some valuable insight, so I spoke up. I sought out the founders and talked to them, asked what I could do to help.You can do that too. If you see problems and have ideas on how to fix them, then contact the group and offer to help.–Judi Wunderlich

  2. September 8, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    Thanks for the response, Judi. While the tone above might not suggest it, I wrote the above in an effort to point out the ways that CNMS could improve things. I would have loved to go to the June event, but alas I didn’t find out about it until…yesterday. I’ll share the blame for my lack of awareness with the CNMS since both of us probably could have made more of an effort to keep me informed. And my planned attendance at the networking event is to do just what you’ve suggested: To seek out the founders and see how I fit into this new group, and where I might be able to help.But the fact remains that a lot of what the CNMS has been doing so far smacks of a closed system, rather than the open one that it could/should be. I’d argue that more of this openness would make their jobs easier as well.

  3. September 9, 2008 at 8:10 am

    Regarding that last bit (the marketing BS): I think I just threw up a little.Is it me or are they trying too hard?

  4. Anonymous
    September 17, 2008 at 2:23 pm

    To clarify: the Founder & President of the CNMS was most definitely NOT doing this in his spare time. He has dedicated his full time job to this event. A minor point, but it makes his hyperbole a little more difficult to swallow.

  5. Anonymous
    September 21, 2008 at 1:37 am

    Initially, I was interested in attending this summit because I wanted to believe that it was being organized out of “idealism” as Judi wrote. Mr Patterson issued a request for suggestions to attendees asking who they would like to see attend. There were requests for Andrew Huff of Gapers Block or Geoff Dougherty of Chitown Daily News to represent the rise of local citizen media. I was disappointed to see Citizen Kate and the Redeye (the major sponsor) positioned as the future of journalism when each represents a glorified People magazine-style. Credibility was lost.

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