It was also intriguing to see how many representatives of the traditional Charlotte media cropped up in the PPL’s newsroom. Working among bloggers were Frank Barrows, a former managing editor of The Charlotte Observer; Mary Newsom, a longtime editorial board member of the Observer now with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte; Craig Paddock, a communications professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and Becky Kuhn, a retired regional editor at the Observer. They shared space and conversation with new voices like James Stewart of Detailed Block; Jenifer Daniels of Charlotte, who presented the “Ask A Sista” panel for Netroots; and Grant Baldwin, a local freelance photographer who has been documenting the Occupy protesters and covered the convention for several media outlets. (Along with Vancouver-based photographer Kris Krug, Baldwin also documented the PPL’s efforts; their images are Creative Commons-licensed and posted on Flickr.)
Alongside that emphasis on openness was an effort to change the narrative of politics from one of negativity to one focusing on positive change. “We even changed the titles of our panels to be solutions-oriented,” said Ruckman. In the same spirit of optimism, both the PPL and Netroots were focused on creating a “safe place” for different types of people in an environment where the streets can seem crowded and confrontational. A 7-year-old blogger for the Girl Scouts came through the PPL on Wednesday with her mom and siblings, one in a stroller. On Tuesday, a group of activists stopped by to use the space to organize posters decorated with cannabis leaves.
I spent a lot of time in the PPL newsroom during the week too, even with a house nearby and credentials that gave me access to the official media space in the Charlotte Convention Center. At the convention center, the wi-fi cut in and out and the hordes of media made one feel like one cow in the herd. The wi-fi sometimes slowed at the PPL newsroom too, and distractions mounted as the convention came to a full roar. But chance encounters made up for the chaos. Chris Kromm of the Institute for Southern Studies came by at one point, and I got to watch UNC’s Daniel Kreiss at work, studying the influence of new voices in politics. And I had moments to chat with former colleagues I hadn’t seen in years. Support for the PPL spanned generations.
Grant Baldwin, the local photographer, told me that the project provided a place to connect with people passionate about their crafts, and to pass along opportunities to others. And a tweet from Generation Engage in Charlotte, a group that encourages youth civic involvement, captured the PPL’s potential as a hub of networking and learning. “HS student reporting on #dnc2012 says she learned more at @ppldnc this wk than in any sch semester,” it said.
With the DNC over, one of the trio of founders is moving on: Ruckman’s new wife is working on her doctorate in Atlanta, though he stuck around in Charlotte for the convention. In an interview before the big week, he said the plan is to leave PPL site online, serving as a blueprint for those who want to create any similar projects. The group Flickr pool will stay up too, of course, documenting the culmination—and, maybe, the beginning—of a remarkable community effort.