August 25, 2009

Last week, the organizers of the annual South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas opened up the voting for panels and presentations at next year’s conference.

Unlike most digital media conferences, South by Southwest, or SXSW, chooses its programming in a pretty democratic way. After soliciting suggestions a few months ago, organizers posted more than 2,000 proposals online at and encouraged people to vote (thumbs up or thumbs down) for which panels and talks they’d most like to see at next year’s conference, which is slated for March 12 to 16. Online votes will account for 30 percent of the final decision, with an advisory board accounting for 40 percent and SXSW staff accounting for 30 percent.

If you’re thinking of attending SXSW, I highly recommend it. Although it’s not a journalism conference, SXSW brings together some of the most important and thoughtful people from the technology, social media and digital media worlds. Attending SXSW will help you figure out what tools and services will be hot before they hit the mainstream. For instance, at SXSW 2007, Twitter was the talk of the show.

Registration for South by Southwest Interactive costs $395 if you sign up by September 25, and you can also reserve a hotel room through the festival site. If you can’t go, there are lots of ways to experience SXSW from the comfort of your home or office. You can access podcasts and videos of some of this year’s presentations here, and you can check out the suggestions my fellow Tidbits writer Will Sullivan gave earlier this year.

Voting lasts until September 4, but because there are so many panels, I’ve put together a list of 20 that will be of interest to journalists. You have to register to vote for a panel and not all of these picks may end up on the conference agenda.

And if 2,000 panels aren’t enough to choose from, on Wednesday, SXSW will accept new panel proposal ideas.

(Disclosure, I’m slated to appear on a panel with other technology writers — if it gets picked — called “RIP Jeff Goldblum: Truth vs. Web BS.” You can vote for that panel at ideas/view/4493.)

Many of the panels play off the theme “mainstream media is dead,” and have provocative titles such as “Media Armageddon: What Happens When The New York Times Dies,” “Future of News: CNN is So Yesterday” or contain questions in their descriptions, including “How much trouble are print newspapers really in?”

There are also a number of panels aimed at exploring the sometimes fractious relationships between citizen journalists, bloggers and mainstream media reporters. Others seek to examine what it means when people learn major breaking news, such as the death of Michael Jackson, not directly from a news source, but from their Facebook or Twitter friends.

Each proposal I’ve highlighted has a URL which includes a brief description and then 10 questions that panel hopes to answer. In some cases, the person who submitted the panel idea already has panelists lined up and has listed them in the comments. In other cases, the organizer will wait to see if his panel gets picked before nailing down participants.

Here are my picks, grouped into three areas.


“Your Friends: The Newest Breaking News Channel”
Notes: A thought-provoking panel discussion led by Randi Zuckerberg, a Facebook employee who is the brother of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg makes this bold statement in the description of the panel: “We used to ask, ‘When you heard the news…where were you?’ But now we’ll be asking, ‘When you heard the news, which social media site were you on? And who of your friends did you hear it from first?’

“Publishers Look to E-Reading to Reach Digital Consumers”
Notes: Gartner media analyst Allen Weiner, who was responsible for building The San Francisco Chronicle‘s first Web site, proposes a presentation about what e-readers like the Kindle and the forthcoming device from Plastic Logic and Barnes & Noble mean for publishers.

“The Life Graph: You Are Your Location”
Notes: One of the biggest trends in technology and digital media is the use of location-based information to let people learn more about the places nearby (restaurants, hotels etc.) and easily discover when friends are close. This has enormous potential for the news business. The panel will be led by Sam Altman, the founder of Loopt, one of the first mobile location-based applications.

“Can The Real-Time Web Be Realized?”
Notes: Google engineer Brett Slatkin will lead a panel discussion about the challenges to indexing a “real-time Web” made up of Twitter posts, Facebook status updates, Flickr photos and other pieces of information. This panel might be a little too technical for some, but it’s worth checking out if you can.

“Influence and Innovate: Transforming Media Education”
Notes: Journalism professor Cindy Royal of Texas State University will lead a discussion about the future of journalism education. Panelists include Aron Pilhofer, who leads a team of Web and code geeks at The New York Times and Jeremy Rue, a mulitmedia training instructor at the Knight Digital Media Center.

“Future of Context
Notes: Matt Thompson, the interim online community manager of the Knight Foundation (and Poynter board member), Jay Rosen of NYU and others look at how, despite the short attention span of news consumers, there is still a desire for big picture and detailed explanations, such as the ones provided by Wikipedia.


“Why Self-Promotion Will Save The World” ideas/view/2467
Notes: This is a solo presentation by Peter Shankman, the founder of the popular and super useful “Help A Reporter” service. Shankman is a dynamic speaker and with journalists being told to market themselves and their stories these days, a presentation on the right way to self-promote will be beneficial.

“Old Media Surfs the Google Wave”
Notes: This fall, Google will unveil “Google Wave,” a unified communications tool that combines e-mail, instant messaging, wikis, file sharing and other functions inside of a Web browser window. The program could have major implications for how journalists do their jobs. This panel will feature Robert Quigley, the Internet editor of the Austin American-Statesman and Andrew Nystrom, the senior producer of social and emerging media at the Los Angeles Times.

“Ten Best Practices for Online Community Management”
Notes: Jen Burton, the community manager at Digg, leads a panel discussion that should be useful to news organizations that are trying to figure out how to best engage and manage the readers of their Web sites and members of their online communities.

“My Shiny Object Of The Web Obsession”
Notes: Tech blogger and AOL employee Frank Gruber will attempt to explain 100 products and services that can help “better tell the story of your business to become thought leader in your niche.” Gruber will cover video tools, location-based services, mobile apps and more.

“API’s — Is Your News Content Portable Enough?”
Notes: Daniel Jacobson of NPR leads a discussion on the increasing need for news organizations to build APIs, which can allow third parties to use a news organization’s content to create their own programs and applications.

“Web Development at Newsroom Speed”
Notes: Andrei Scheinkman, an interactive news developer at The New York Times, looks at how developing data-driven Web applications can help newspapers.

“Shut Up and Code! (Hacking the Future of News)”
Notes: In a similar panel to the one above, Jacob Harris, a senior software architect at The New York Times, looks at what it takes to be a “news hacker.”

“Lifestreaming: The Next Great Social Media Frontier”
Notes: Daniel Honigman, who created the “Colonel Tribune” online persona for the Chiacago Tribune, leads a discussion of “lifestreaming,” a new phenomenon in which all of your online activities are documented on a Web site, such as the ones offered by

“My Three Year Old is a Usability Expert”
Notes: A solo presentation by Dave Stanton, a visiting professor of online journalism at the University of Florida, on how to design sites that are easy for visitors to view.


“Taking News from Fishwrap to Mobile App”
Notes: Mobile applications for the iPhone, BlackBerry and other platforms are all the rage, but small news organizations often lack the in-house talent or budget to make their own apps. Christian McDonald of the Austin American-Statesman (which recently launched an iPhone app), will lead a panel discussion on some of the issues with distributing news on a mobile platform.

“Making Lemonade: Building Digital Brands With Smart Content”
Notes: Lots of news organizations are starting to focus more on consumer oriented, news you can use, how-to type features. This presentation will examine the success of, one of the most popular sites for explaining, well, how stuff works. It will be led by Kathryn Kelly, the vice president of media and marketing for One interesting question this panel seeks to answer is “How can marketing, editorial (IT, product, etc..) work together more effectively?”

“News 2.0 — How Old Media Companies Are Inventing New Models”
Notes: A look at new media models with Laura Conway, the editor of NPR’s “Planet Money” podcast, Matthew Ingram, the communities editor of Globe and Mail, and others.

“Growing Up Bloggy: Should Blogs Be More Mature?”
Notes: Despite the fact that blogging is the norm for most news organizations, there are still tensions between mainstream journalists that blog and independent bloggers. Weblogs Inc. (which is owned by AOL), runs some of the most popular blogs on the Internet, including the blog Engadget. This panel, hosted by Victor Agregda Jr. of Weblogs Inc., will explore blogger credibility, the lines between an “amateur” and “pro” blog and other issues.

“Community Funded Reporting
Notes: One of the most interesting experiments in journalism is David Cohn’s, which solicits donations to fund the stories its reporters produce. Cohn will examine the benefits and perils of community funded journalism.

If I’ve missed some panels you think would be interesting to journalists, feel free to list them in the comments.

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