25 South by Southwest Interactive panels that journalists won’t want to miss

February 28, 2012
Category: Uncategorized

This year’s South by Southwest Interactive conference has more than 900 panels, meetups and mentor sessions, many of which would interest journalists.

As I read the panel descriptions, I was struck by the lack of mobile-related sessions, the repeated pairing of the words “sexy” and “data,” and the emphasis on how social media is changing the way we tell stories. I was also happy to see that several of this year’s presenters are women. SXSW has struggled to get female presenters, prompting discussions about the need for more women in technology. (When I asked SXSW’s Kelly Krause about this year’s speakers, she said she didn’t yet know the percentage of women.)

Below, I describe the 25 panels that I found most interesting for journalists. 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.

Crowdsourcing, curation & aggregation

Crowdsourcing community projects like Tom Sawyer
Dave Olson, vice president of community at HootSuite, will share tips on how to tap into the audience for help with stories. He’ll talk about the importance of setting boundaries; understanding types of contributors and what makes them want to contribute; thwarting confusion and conflicts; and avoiding “cat herding.” He’ll also offer crowdsourcing examples that involve helping victims in disaster zones and organizing citizen reporting at the Olympic Games. || Related reading: 5 ways to get people to contribute good content for your site

The curators and the curated
This panel will explore the relationship between influential curators and publishers of original content. The panel will break down this relationship and talk about how content creators can be curator friendly (and vice versa), what makes a curator influential, and the distinction between curation and aggregation. There’s a good lineup of panelists: The New York Times’ David Carr, Longform.org’s Max Linsky, Percolate’s Noah Brier, Flipboard’s Mia Quagliarello and Maria Popova. || Related reading: 5 provocative ideas sparked by women in media, which features a section on Popova’s curation techniques

Reported aggregation: A truce in the content wars?
Clara Jeffery and Nick Baumann, both editors at Mother Jones, will talk about the rise of reported aggregation, “a form that offers the chance of a truce in the battle over original reporting vs. aggregation (aka Bill Keller vs. Arianna Huffington).” Reported aggregation, they say, blends traditional shoe-leather reporting with social media and curation. During the panel, they’’ll look at what makes this form of reporting work well, share ideas and best practices and discuss how reported aggregation could become “the new gold standard for breaking news.”

Social media

“Can You Tweet That? Social Media & the Law”
In this panel, Texas State University’s Dara Quackenbush will look at how legal issues — including copyright, the First Amendment and defamation — apply to social media. Quackenbush will present recent court cases involving social media and will answer questions such as: “Do old-school laws apply to new technology? Don’t we have First Amendment rights online or should we be scared about what we post?” These are important questions for journalists who are increasingly turning to social networking sites to get information about sources, and to gather information during breaking news. || Related reading: What journalists need to know about libelous tweets

Tweeting Osama’s death: From citizen to journalist
In this panel, my colleague Steve Myers will talk with Sohaib Athar (@ReallyVirtual), the IT consultant who unknowingly live-tweeted the raid that led to Osama bin Laden’s death. Myers will talk about how Athar’s tweets illustrate the role of citizen journalists in today’s media landscape, where citizens sometimes find themselves at the center of news events. Athar, who is visiting the U.S. for the first time since bin Laden’s killing, will discuss how the incident has affected his thoughts about the media and changed the way he uses Twitter. (Also check out Jennifer Preston’s and Brian Stelter’s session on citizen journalism.) || Related reading: Why the man who tweeted the bin Laden raid is a citizen journalist

Longform & other types of creative storytelling

140 characters v. 14000 words: The new longform
As much as technology as can distract us from longform journalism, it can also be a gateway into it. In recent years, news sites have been using new forms of technology to revive longform journalism. Slate Editor David Plotz and Evan Ratliff, founder and editor of The Atavist, will share examples of some of the interactive features that are redefining longform journalism in the digital world, and will talk about how this form of storytelling can continue to prevail. || Related reading: How technology is renewing attention to longform journalism

Storytelling beyond words: New forms of journalism
This session will explain why “journalistic storytelling remains trapped in the Stone Age,” even though we’re in the midst of a digital revolution. My colleague Stephen Buckley, dean of The Poynter Institute, The New York Times’ Aron Pilhofer, PolitiFact’s Bill Adair and The Journal Register Company’s Jim Brady will offer examples of how journalists can harness digital tools to reinvent storytelling and think about stories in non-traditional ways. The panel will be aimed at both techies and traditional journalists who care about the future of journalism.

How comics journalism is saving your media
This session will look at how comic journalists have helped tell complicated stories in a variety of forms, including interactive Web pieces and traditional paneled storytelling. It will also address how comics journalism can impact public policy and help news organizations reach a broader audience. The panelists include Matt Bors, a comics journalism editor at Cartoon Movement, and graphic journalist Susie Cagle. || Related reading: An introduction to comics journalism in the form of comics journalism || Should editorial cartoonists follow same ethical guidelines as journalists?

Data journalism

Maps of time: Data as narrative
This panel looks at the connections between visualized data and the stories we want to tell. The panelists — Burt Herman of Storify, Alex Graul of the Guardian, Drew Harry of the MIT Media Lab, Jenn Thom of IBM Research, Nicola Hughes of ScraperWiki — plan to address some intriguing questions: “Which events were the most important in my last year or decade of tweets? How would I know? What would a map of time look like, fashioned out of the data? How would one map one’s own life?” Sounds like an interesting session for journalists who want to use technology to tie together history, time and context. || Related reading: In real time, journalists’ tweets contribute to a “raw draft” of history

Data visualization and the future of research
This session will cover the basics of data, as well as developments in data visualization strategies, theories of visualization and major issues with data analysis. The session isn’t geared specifically toward journalists, but it could help journalists get up to speed on techniques of data visualization. Panelists include Lee Dirks from Microsoft Research and Johan Bollen, associate professor at the Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing. || Related reading: How to use fun (and free) data visualization tools for online storytelling

What journalism can learn from science
Matt Thompson will talk about the gap between the scientific method — which helped revolutionize the world of truth-seeking — and journalism, which is less rigorous. Thompson, who is editorial product manager at NPR, will explain how this gap has led to distrust in journalism and what journalists can do to restore that trust. He’ll also discuss how the rise of database journalism and the emergence of accountability projects help journalists better discern the truth and be more scientific in their methods. || Related writing by Matt Thompson: What journalists can learn from science and the scientific method

Open Web, open news: Reporters and developers remix
This session’s panelists — who include Columbia University’s Emily Bell — will look at how newsrooms have taken advantage of the open Web to enhance back-end technology, data visualization and real-time reporting. Drawing on lessons learned from the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership, they’ll talk about how reporters and developers can innovate together and broaden the scope of the stories they tell. Sounds like a good session for journalists who want to learn how to work better with developers, and vice versa. || Related reading: Tips for strengthening communication between reporters, developers

Politics coverage

Election 2012: Campaigns, coverage and the Internet
In this panel, journalists from the BBC and Time Magazine will talk about the convergence of traditional and new mediums on the campaign trail. They’ll look at how new media has affected coverage of the 2012 presidential campaigns and analyze how campaigns are using social networking sites to promote their candidates and platforms. This panel could give journalists ideas about how to better use social media in their election reporting, and could give them a better understanding of how candidates are using it. || Related reading: 25 ways to use Facebook, Twitter & Storify to improve election coverage

Reporters & evangelists: Politics of online news
Reporters from the BBC, the Guardian, Politico and Ohmynews.com in Korea will discuss the role of ideological journalism in online news. Among the questions they plan to tackle: “Do more traditional media outlets use ideology as a way to make their brands stand out more online? Does taking an ideological position on the Web damage a reporter’s credibility? Is selling your ideology a good way to make a living on the Internet?” These are all interesting questions worth exploring as we cover the upcoming election. || Related reading: Study: Most nonprofit news sites clearly ideological or partisan in nature

Developing digital strategies

Give me an invite! Creating user demand at launch
Sites such as Pinterest set up beta invites for new users before publicly launching. Former TechCrunch Editor Erick Schonfeld, Michael Seibel of Socialcam, Jason Goldberg of Fab.com and Eric Vishria of RockMelt will talk about the “psychology behind exclusive access, the benefits of an invite system, and how gated access helps you attract the right users.” Could be an interesting session for journalists who are looking to create startup sites.

Copy matters: Content strategy for the interface
This panel would be good for journalists and programmers who are working on news apps. The speakers — who include Facebook content strategists Amy Thibodeau and Tiffani Jones Brown — say that when dealing with space-constrained interface content (such as smartphone apps), “every word has to communicate something and create value.” The problem, they say, is it’s hard to apply typical content strategy techniques to interface copy, and language is often thrown together at the last minute. The panelists will look at how to adopt content strategy tactics to an interface context and will share workable strategies.

Journalism’s got 99 problems: Design is #1
Miranda Mulligan, design director at The Boston Globe, and David Wright, lead interactive designer at National Public Radio, believe design is often missing from discussions about the future of journalism. They argue that design is “the glue between intent and engagement, between content and comprehension,” and yet it feels stagnant online. During the panel, they’ll look at design’s success and failures and talk about its future online.

Journalists discuss the future of games
This panel will address what news sites can learn from emerging trends in video game development. The five panelists — who include Buzzfeed Editor Matt Buchanan and The Verge’s Ross Miller — will talk about adaptable artificial intelligence, movement-based interfaces and connectivity across gaming platforms. Journalists will take away ideas about how to create news-driven games that would give people new ways of interacting with their content. || Related reading: Nick Kristof explains why he’s working on a Farmville-like game

Browser Wars V: The Angry Birds Era
This is the fifth year that SXSWI has featured a “Browser Wars” panel, which features folks from Mozilla, Google, Microsoft, Opera and possibly Apple to talk about applications on the Web. They’ll address questions such as, “What’s the story with browser-based app stores? …Why hasn’t HTML5 video changed our lives already, and why aren’t there any real peer-to-peer apps on the Web yet?” Even though it’s not aimed at journalists, this panel could give journalists ideas about how their news sites could take better advantage of new opportunities.

Shaping your role & presence online

New career for journalists: Online video producer
This panel focuses on how reporters can expand their skill set to include online video production. The panelists — who include Chris Albrecht, creative director of GigaOM, and Emily Calderone, senior producer at Slate.com — will share insights on how to make the transition from writer to video producer. They’ll also look at how online video can support media sites and will address questions such as: “What skills are needed most? How many people should be on a video production team? What types of online video work best, and how and where do people see them?” Sounds like a good panel for journalists who are looking to diversify their skills. || Related reading: 9 key elements that can help journalists be better video storytellers

How women present themselves in the digital age
This topic returned to the spotlight last week when FishbowlDC editor Betsy Rothstein wrote a controversial column that seemed to accuse female campaign and White House reporters of going for the “sexpot look.” This session will highlight some of the challenges women face when building their online identity and will address questions such as: “Who should you be on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+? What parts of yourself should you expose, when do you draw the line, and what if you cross it?” The panel, which is being led by author Susan Orlean among others, is sure to stir up some debate. || Related reading: Women journalists confront harassment, sexism while using social media

Tips on creativity, rejection & multitasking

How to be an idea factory
As New Yorker cartoonist Matthew Diffee says, “the creative life is a numbers game. The more ideas you have, the better a few of them will be.” For every one of his ideas that makes it into print, he says, nine are rejected. Diffee, author of “The Rejection Collection” will talk about how to be consistently creative, and how to deal with rejection. He hopes to offer practical tips, “nuts and bolts, hands-on, day-at-the-idea-factory stuff that you can really use to increase the quantity and quality of your creative output…”

Your brain on multitasking
This panel isn’t directly related to journalism, but journalists can certainly relate to the topic: multitasking. The session includes a good lineup of speakers — a psychologist, a neuroscientist, a time-management professional and Rachel Emma Silverman, a Wall Street Journal reporter who covers workplace, management and career issues. They’ll explain how to work more effectively while juggling numerous activities and will address question such as: “Does multitasking help you work more efficiently and productively? Is it better to focus on one task at a time and then move on quickly to the next? What does multitasking do to our brains?” Sounds like a good session for journalists and newsroom managers who want to be more efficient as they tackle a growing list of tasks and responsibilities. || Related reading: 10 ways to create more time to do the work you want

Navigating the digital divide

Popping your bubble: stories of the digital divide
Journalists spend a lot of time reaching audiences online, but what if their audience has limited access to the Web? This panel will look at how those who work and live in communities with limited access compensate and cope, and will offer solutions for getting broadband access. The four panelists, including Center for Rural Strategies President Dee Davis, will also talk about how folks running websites can reach and engage with audiences who have little to no Web access.

Big ol’ babies: Why baby boomers = public media fail
The panel’s speakers, who include NBC News’ Vivian Schiller, will discuss “the ongoing faceoff” between baby boomers and digital natives. The two groups “seem to constantly disagree” about how public media should approach storytelling. Among the questions the panelists will address: “Are the decisions made by the older generation too safe? Conversely, where are baby boomers’ decisions risky but misguided?” They’ll look at conflicts that are emerging between the two generations at various news organizations and identify 10 challenges that are contributing to the stagnation of public media. Seems like a panel that could stir lively discussion among those who are concerned about the division, those who aren’t, and those who have found ways for the two groups to work together.

How to follow SXSW from afar

If you’re unable to attend SXSW, you can follow it from afar. The panels won’t be live-streamed, but you can keep track of the conversations about them on Twitter. In addition to the #SXSW and #SXSWI hashtags, there are individual hashtags for each panel. (Just click on the links to the panel descriptions to find them.) You could also create a Twitter list of speakers and attendees whose updates you want to follow. If you attend any of the panels I’ve listed and are interested in writing about them for Poynter.org, please email me at mtenore@poynter.org. You can look at our previous coverage to see how we’ve covered panels in the past.


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