Building a Digital Community at TechCon
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DMAC member Jess Snyder of WETA presents at TechCon 2018

Attendees at this year’s PBS TechCon had the opportunity to reflect on the many changes in our industry since the first one was held on folding chairs in the facilities at KLVX 40 years ago. TechCon itself has also undergone some pretty huge changes. This year’s had a record number of attendees, and covered a wide variety of topics – including maybe the most robust Digital track ever. What’s remained the same in those 40 years of TechCon? The importance of sitting face to face with one’s peers to share with each other our struggles, successes, and strategies.

I came to Digital from Programming, and one thing programmers are great at is sharing information with each other. The Public Television Programmers’ Association convenes calls, holds biannual meetings, and has set up an online chat forum for its members to swap tips, updates, and opinions. (Sooo many opinions.) There’s a real sense of community.

Working in Digital can be lonely. You might be a department of one, or a small group tucked away in a remote corner of your station. Even if you’re part of a good-sized department and have the full support of your station, you may sometimes find yourself struggling with questions that make you wonder, “Does every other station have this question, too? Does anyone have this figured out?”

One of the best things for me during various sessions at this year’s TechCon was hearing MY questions asked by DIFFERENT people at different stations. Many of the answers we got were great, but equally meaningful was just knowing that someone else out there also struggled with knowing which platforms to focus on, or how to begin getting a handle on analytics, or how to get others within a station to see Digital as a partner. I was happy to be able to bring a young Digital Media Producer from my station along with me, and it happened largely because she told me, “I just need to talk to someone who does what I do.”

The community of Digital professionals is growing within the system, thanks in large part to the Facebook groups and forums set up by the PBS SPI team, the DMAC Outreach Network, and other online venues. But nothing fosters the spirit of community like the face time (lower-case “f,” not the app) with your peers within the system that a meeting like TechCon provides. And that sense of community can have real benefits to one’s performance, and therefore to a station. KUED’s Webmaster returned from the meeting and immediately began implementing practices related to our analytics that I know he would not have been nearly as enthusiastic about had he learned about them from a post.

Station budgets and priorities vary, and the opportunity to travel to a meeting might not be readily available. It’s worth (politely) making the request. Have a goal that you can present to those who make the decisions, such as attending in order to find out how other stations are producing digital-first content with limited staff and resources.  Look for opportunities to apply for scholarships or to be part of programs like the Digital Immersion Project. If TechCon is just not a possibility, perhaps a Digital Voltage workshop may be more affordable. (*Ahem* There’s one coming up in Salt Lake City June 5-6. Just sayin.’)

In the meantime, get to know your DMAC rep. Be active on the Facebook groups. Find a station whose work in Digital you admire and reach out to them through email. The exciting – and terrifying – part of working in Digital is that NO ONE has it all figured out.

But we do all have something we can share.