One especially interesting part of the conference was the kickoff dinner on Thursday evening, when McLellan and Rosen did a roll call of the attendees, asking each one to stand up and sum up what they wanted to learn while they were there, and what lessons they thought they could share. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the most common skill they said they could share was “collaboration,” and what they most wanted to learn about was “money.” One publisher after another stood up and said a variation of “I’ve figured out how to do this, but I don’t know how to make it last.”

Although the spirit of the conference was overwhelmingly positive and inspirational, there was just one tense moment when someone said that she came to the conference to see what other publishers thought about AOL’s quickly expanding hyperlocal network Patch, and whether they, too, felt threatened. (Someone from the next table over hissed at the mention.) It was unclear whether she knew that representatives from both Patch and Yahoo were present; they hadn’t been included in McLellan and Rosen’s roll call. But when they got all the way through the alphabetical list, after Brad Flora of Windy Citizen had graciously welcomed everyone to Chicago, a spontaneous shout came from a table in the center of the room: “Why doesn’t Patch stand up and tell us what we can learn from them?”

Tim Windsor, a regional editor at Patch, was a good sport: “I want to learn about how to do a better job of listening to our communities…and I think what I can try to share is some of our thoughts about how we can carry journalism forward into the twenty-first century, how we can make it a sustainable business.” Anthony Moor from Yahoo was next: “I’m here to learn how you guys are making this happen, and what you need,” he said. “Yahoo is in sort of an exploratory mode about local news, and we’re really not sure what we’re going to do, so we’re here to learn. And what I can share, I hope, is the largest website on the Internet. So I think we know something about gathering audiences.”

The prevailing concerns expressed at the outset of the conference (money and corporate takeover) weren’t universal, however. One woman shook her head when talk at the dinner table strayed too long on the question of money, saying quietly to me, “I’m so tired of people asking me about my site’s ‘sustainability.’ It’s such a conversation killer for me. It would be like my giving birth to my daughter and then immediately asking her how she planned on feeding herself.” At another point during the dinner, the man on the other side of me leaned over and whispered, “What’s Patch?”

Lauren Kirchner is a freelance writer covering digital security for CJR. Find her on Twitter at @lkirchner