Jeffery Simpson at #Nash72: the sessions recapped

From January 14th through to the 18th the Canadian University Press (CUP) held their 72nd annual national conference [cup] bringing university and college newspapers from around Canada together.  After a few years away I returned to the conference, this time as a guest speaker.  Here are the sessions I gave and what you may have missed either by not attending or because you were hung over from the night before.


Title: Managing PR in Tech Writing
Speakers: Matthew Atwood (Senior PR Manager for Bioware), Jeffery Simpson (freelance tech writer for, The Georgia Straight)

Summary: This session had started off just being about tech writing, and I had a talk which I'd previously given twice at regional conferences in Vancouver prepared to give.  The main focus of what I was going to say is that tech writing is one of the more stable fields in writing, and that it's not as difficult as it might appear from the outside.  You don't need to know the coding behind Twitter to write about it, and just because you can't build an iPod doesn't mean you can't cover its development.  I was also going to talk about how tech writing can be done really well by focusing less on the technology and more on the impact to its users, and how it can be done badly such as when writers focus rumours or pundits above reputable sources.

However since the conference was being hosted by The Gateway which is the student paper at the University of Alberta, and because the conference was actually hosted in a hotel connected to Bioware's headquarters and because Gateway alum Dan Lazin works for Bioware as a producer, CUP managed to get MattAtwood to join.  That transformed the tech speech into a talk on how to deal with press relations department when working on tech stories.  Having written stories involving Google [tgs] and Mozilla [tgs] I've some experience dealing with pr departments, and Matt was able to offer a view of the other side.  

Take aways:

  • be honest when dealing with PR firms

  • don't be a dick and remember that pr people are people too

  • be able to articulate what you're looking for and how working with you is in the company's best interests

  • look at dealing with a pr department as a relationship that could and should extend past just one article

Title: New Media Panel Discussion
Speakers: Bryan Murley, Jacques Poitras, Mathew Ingram, Matt Frehner, Jeffery Simpson

Summary:  Even before the new media panel started we were trying to pin down exactly what new media meant.  Does having a blog make me a new media outlet?  If The National Post has a Twitter account are they now new media?  With so many people on the panel there was no real preparation beyond the initial discussion.  I also don't know if we accomplished much during the session apart from pointing out that most "old media" still doesn't understand the internet though we did not really have any specific ideas for how to make money from being online.  I think my role on the panel was to argue that as exciting, and useful, as tools like Twitter and Facebook can be they're not exactly reinventing the wheel.  The standard rules of how to conduct yourself still apply.

Take aways:

  • build your own personal brand so that you can bring your Twitter, Facebook followers with you to where ever your work is

  • don't Tweet drunk

  • ummm...

Update: Bryan Murley provides a much better re-cap of this panel on his own blog [iicm] that is not coloured by my own views on new media nor my stage fright.

 Title: Freelancing and finding a job panel
Speakers: Karen Unland, Erin Millar, Nick Taylor-Vaisey, McMillan Elizabeth, Iain Ilich, Jeffery Simpson

Summary: I think at some point this was a panel on freelancing and then it turned into how to parlay a freelancing gig into a job.  That worked for people like Iain Ilich who parlayed a freelancing career into a full time post with The Edmonton Journal, but it wasn't a particularly good fit for me who has parlayed a side-career in freelancing into a side-career in freelancing.  Apart from a few jokes about selling organs on the black market and working in my kitchen, I actually learned more about freelancing than I think I taught.  

Take aways:

  • file on time

  • check a publication's articles against its masthead to see how much of the content is written by freelancers versus staff writers

  • network

  • be reliable and easy to work with for the editors

  • proof read your own work