I spent half of my March trying to convince journalists, thought leaders and academics in Boston, New York, and Washington that “something was in the air” on our end of the country. It’s a hard sell in a region that has so many powerful, rich, entrenched institutions (from the media capital, to the federal seat of power, to the Route 128 Corridor). As someone who built my career in the northeast, I always had the sense that they had it “figured out.”
But the digital media revolution, combined with the Great Recession has turned a lot of what we once considered self-evident, upside down. What was once bedrock has been shaken to the point of crumbling — old business models of mass media, faith in Wall Street’s unbridled approach to capitalism, impregnable university endowments. Suddenly, as an ambassador of a self-sustaining graduate program within a state-funded university, far, far away from the corridor of power, I had an opening. I spoke of my own transformation from corporate media journalist to independent storyteller, of how we were partnering private and public entities in our region with our students to produce groundbreaking work (which we call “community scholarship”) and how we were pioneering collaborative methods of education through a re-imagination of the classroom (the “Media Space” — we have a name for everything).
And I spoke of our desire to embody what we stand for in our upcoming event, TEDx Seattle. I’ve always wanted to position our MCDM program at the heart of our community, and its values. I was recently inspired by a blog post by the founder of Seattle startup Knowledge Mosaic, who said:
The most interesting and vital businesses understand and embrace the idea that where they come from determines who they are.
As I considered the author’s thoughts of Seattle’s “swagger and love” along with TEDx Seattle’s tagline — “Convening Community through Social Technologies” — I stumbled across three words: entrepreneurship, engagement, empathy. I thought of our startup mentality inextricably tied to new technologies, from William Boeing onwards. I contemplated our independently-owned media, from the Seattle Times to KUOW, KEXP and the West Seattle Blog that is tied so closely to our unique brand of politics and deep civic engagement. And I see how the region is emerging as a global center of philanthropy and global health. As I look at the powerful lineup of speakers for our April 16th event (and the staggering request for tickets), I believe that it embodies the best attributes of our region. We possess a fearless entrepreneurship (such as Debra Music and Joe Whinney, Ben Huh) combined with a culture of empathy (such as Eugene Cho, Ignacio Mas) and engagement (such as Amanda Koster, the Common Language Project) With these “3 ‘E’s'” we connect to the world through the power of story and technology.
This understanding allowed me to speak as much about who we are, as what we are doing last month. And somewhat to my surprise I noticed: my east coast hosts were paying attention to what I had to say.