Last week, I attended the CIEP annual conference, and by “attended” I mean I sat in my office (and for the first day, my bed) wearing my jogging bottoms while people talked at me through my computer screen.
I wasn’t sure about this online conference thing. I didn’t take part last year, mostly because I was in a bit of a mard (look it up, non-Northerners) that I wasn’t going to get to go to one of my favourite in-person events of the year. But then so many people said such wonderful things about it on Twitter that I ended up with serious FOMO, so I figured I would give it a try this year. (Also, I was invited to take part in a panel about blogging, so I’d be attending at least one session anyway.)
I’m so glad I did. The conference team did a fantastic job of making sure we got as many of the best bits of the “real” conference as we could – brilliant speakers, opportunities to learn things, the famous quiz and, best of all, the chance to catch up with colleagues and make new friends. There were plenty of opportunities for video networking, and the virtual space meant that many were able to attend who wouldn’t have been able to make it in person.
I’m not going to summarise the sessions, because there will be other people doing it better than me, especially on the CIEP’s own blog. But I will give a special mention to Crystal Shelley, whose two talks on authenticity reading and conscious language were a highlight for me, because they were related to a topic I’m passionate about. This year (and this is where I’m going into the “not entirely about the conference” bit), I’ve been involved with the CIEP’s anti-racism working group, because I truly believe that we as editors have an important part to play in tackling racism. As Ema Naito said in her superb lightning talk, English is power. We have, in the words of our wonderful Chair, Hugh Jackson, “the ability to lessen the distance between those who already hold power and those who don’t … We are part of the redistribution of a certain type of power, so we need to tread carefully.” I am grateful to Hugh and the CIEP for acknowledging this so fully. But there are still some in our profession who don’t want to hear it. They take any reminder of that power and our responsibilities with it as some kind of personal affront. But I believe those people are in the minority, and hopefully their voices will sound less loud as we strive to attract and listen to more diverse ones. Those recent days spent in the virtual company of this community have reminded me what a fantastic one it is, full of people who always want to do better and make the world better through words. We’re not perfect, and we have a long way to go. But if we stay as open to learning the whole year round as we are during conference, we can get there.