August 13, 2010

This year, for the first time ever, more people attended South by Southwest Interactive than the music festival, which has attracted people to Austin, Texas, every spring since 1987.

Though South by Southwest Interactive is best known for highlighting emerging technologies such as Twitter, many panels this year focused on journalism. And many of the 2,344 panels proposed for the 2011 conference have a strong journalism component.

SXSW opened up the voting for the proposed panels last week, asking people to pick the sessions they’d like to see at the festival, which will be held March 11-15, 2011. Voters can search the panels by categories, including journalism, online video, social networking and user-generated content.

Several of the 49 journalism-related panel proposals revolve around how technology is changing the storytelling process and why it’s important for journalists to think like “geeks,” or at least come to a better understanding of how programmers think and work.

You may have already heard about some of the panels on Twitter. That’s because the selection process is fairly democratic: Online votes account for 30 percent of the final decision, a SXSW advisory board accounts for 40 percent, and the SXSW staff account for the remaining 30 percent. Online voting closes on Friday, Aug. 27.

I looked through the panel proposals, including those that were not listed under the journalism category, and selected 20 that I think journalists would find worthwhile. Given how many panels there are, I’m sure I’ve left out some good ones. If I’ve missed any that you think should be on this list, feel free to add them to the comments section of this piece or respond to @Poynter via Twitter.


I’m So Productive, I Never Get Anything Done Spacer Spacer

Media columnist David Carr of The New York Times will look at how technology contributes to, and detracts from, journalists’ productivity. He raises relevant questions for journalists who want to strike a better balance between consuming media and creating it: “Is your desktop a window on the world or just a view of the prison yard?” and “What specific steps have you taken to bifurcate your world into productivity and recreation?”

Predictions and the News: Getting the Future Right
Matt Thompson of NPR plans to look at the predictions that are a key part of news coverage. He’ll address how new approaches to journalism are making it easier to assess and follow up on predictions about what’s to come. He also plans to talk about how to help the public make better sense of claims about the future.

Why Journalism Doesn’t Need Saving: An Optimist’s List
Dan Gillmor’s panel is focused on the future of the media. He’ll talk about innovative projects from startups and traditional media companies and will explain why they make him hopeful about the future. Given all the innovation that’s taking place, he says, there’s good reason to be optimistic about where the profession is headed.

Ordering Design: Grid Design for the New World
Khoi Vinh, who left his job last month as design director of, will talk about how grid-based design is changing along with new media and platforms. He’ll look at best practices, common mistakes people make when using grids and what you need to know about grids to use them well. The panel is a sequel to his 2006 panel, “Grids Are Good.”

Information Architecture as Storytelling
Geoff Barnes of Elliance Inc. will discuss the similarities between information architecture and storytelling. This panel, which is likely to attract user experience designers, will address questions such as: “How does knowing the user’s story affect project definition, content strategy, site map development, wireframes, copyrighting and visual design?”

Crazy, Cool and Interesting Uses of Geodata
As the title of his panel suggests, Elad Gil of Twitter will discuss weird and cool applications that were built with geodata. He’ll also look at geolocation datasets that have recently become available and will address unexpected ways that geodata is being used.

The Grand Challenges in Media
“The state of the media” is a phrase you’ve probably heard a lot. Twitter’s Robin Sloan wants to bring it up again, but in a way that’s “more focused, constructive and engaging.” He plans to describe significant, unsolved problems in media as they relate to journalism, such as those related to technology, organization and economics. He’ll include a “starter kit” for figuring out these problems and will talk about who seems best positioned to tackle them. 

Better Web Experience Through Anthropology
News sites talk about creating a better experience for their users, but their approach to doing so may not be as effective as it could be. Chris Bailey of Bailey WorkPlay will show why code isn’t the only important element of websites and Web applications. He’ll introduce tools that anthropologists use to understand their subjects and then explain how you can use them to assess how your site design impacts the user experience.

Pulitzer 2.0: Building News Apps
Drawing on his experience as an interface engineer at The New York Times, Tyson Evans will describe how news organizations are using Web frameworks to build news apps that tackle major investigations and increase government accountability. He’ll also talk about how visualization and design can make data easier to understand, and how journalists can help the community engage more effectively with this data.

Whiteness on the Web: Racism or Culture?
In his panel about diversity on the Web, The Root’s Joel Dreyfuss will look at how the Web creates racial separation and whether we need a campaign to desegregate it. Dreyfuss plans to address questions that are important for all journalists to consider: “Are we repeating old racial exclusivity patterns in new media?”; “Should content managers make an affirmative effort to diversify their content?” and “How should sites handle offensive and racist commentary?”

Real-Time Streams Need Real-Time Feedback
ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick will explore the challenges with real-time information and what’s wrong with current methods of managing it. He’ll explore the future of real-time curation, filtering and feedback, and he’ll describe how consumers can customize their data streams with real-time feedback.

Social Games: Manipulating Your Brain Chemistry, For Good
Michael Fergusson of Ayogo Games will challenge the notion that casual games are a waste of time. He’ll look at how social games can lead to significant behavioral changes and give examples of games that are doing this. One of the key questions he’ll ask: How can we design games that add value to the world at large?


Why Journalists Need to Think Like Geeks
This panel will address the fundamental differences between how programmers and journalists think and work. By thinking more like “geeks,” The New Yorker’s Blake Eskin argues, journalists can learn to communicate and collaborate more effectively with programmers — and ultimately create better digital projects. 

Hacking the News: Applying Computer Science to Journalism
This panel, which will be led by Burt Herman of Hacks/Hackers, will focus on “re-engineering” the storytelling process. Herman will talk about how journalists and programmers can work together to re-engineer the future of journalism, and why this matters. He’ll also talk about terms you may not fully understand but want to learn more about: object-oriented programming, model-view-controller frameworks and social code repositories.

Girl Developers++: Getting Women Equipped to Ship
Sara Chipps of Girl Developer LLC says there’s been a lot of talk, but not a lot of action, about the gender gap in software development. She advocates for educating women to be software developers and empowering them to teach themselves, and she plans to talk about some of the roadblocks women face when learning how to code. Among the questions she’ll address: “How can I start an initiative to educate women in technology in my community?”

Our Media: Building an API for Public Media
This panel is especially relevant to journalists working in public media. Robert Bole of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting will talk about public media’s efforts to build an open API called the Public Media Platform. (An API, in this sense, facilitates the use of a news organization’s content by third parties who want to create their own applications.) Bole will discuss how independent publishers and content creators will be able to use the platform.

Entreprenuerial Journalism

TBD: Engaging Local Blogs in Your News Startup
Lisa Rowan will apply some of the lessons she’s learned while working for TBD, a D.C.-area news site that launched last week. The site has a network of more than 100 community bloggers who contribute news, visual content and conversation to the site. Rowan will offer details about how the bloggers were selected and recruited, and will talk about what TBD has taken away from the experience so far.

Crowd Funding Your Startup — Without Going to Jail
If you want to create a news startup, consider this panel, which will teach you how to tap into the community for funding. Fred Bryant of WealthForge will explain how to overcome challenges that stand in the way of getting people to invest in your startup. He’ll also look at what industry leaders think about the future of crowd funding and will offer thoughts on how long it’ll take for crowd funding to become a viable way of raising capital.

Newstopia: The New Business Models for News
Mark Briggs, an author and a Ford teaching fellow at Poynter, will lead a session about how to use digital tools to launch and run a successful news business. He’ll answer some key questions about how digital news startups fit into our democracy and why sites such as The Huffington Post thrive while traditional media outlets struggle. He’ll also address what these startups mean for people who are looking for jobs in journalism.

How Brands Form Partnerships: Headscratchers and Natural Fits
Often, we hear about partnerships after they’re made. But what happens before the partnership is finalized?’s Brian Dresher will share details about what happens beforehand and will describe how to evaluate potential partners. He’ll also discuss how to use internal resources to support a partnership and how to measure the success of a partnership. This panel could be especially good for news sites that want to innovate but don’t have enough resources internally to do so. It could also be good for universities that want to partner with media outlets.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
As managing editor of The Poynter Institute’s website,, I report on the media news industry, edit the site’s How To section, and moderate the…
More by Mallary Jean Tenore

More News

Back to News