March 12, 2015

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None of the sessions journalists may enjoy at South by Southwest Interactive actually use the word journalism as a theme. Most of them are called “content and distribution.” Whether you’re going or just hoping to follow along virtually, SXSW has a lot for journalists.

“I think that for 2015, this is probably the most extensive collection of what we’re calling content-related sessions that we’ve ever offered,” said Hugh Forrest, SXSW Interactive’s director and a member of Poynter’s National Advisory Board.

Sessions include one on metrics, what drives social traffic and “what BuzzFeed, what Vice, what a lot of these kind of news startups are doing and how that is changing the game.”

And many of those sessions, including “The Art and Science of Shareability” with BuzzFeed’s publisher, Dao Nguyen, and Lessons from BuzzFeed from BuzzFeed’s co-founder and CEO Jonah Peretti, aren’t just interesting to journalists, Forrest said.

“Something like that certainly crosses many of the lines of intersect at South by Southwest,” he said. “It spans from big data to journalism to new distribution channels and really hits the sweet spot with a lot of our registrants.”

Another session Forrest is excited about this year is “Breaking the News in the Age of Snapchat” with Dan Rather, Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior advisor at the White House and New York Times columnist Nick Bilton.

“Journalistic themes like storytelling, distributing good content, holding the powerful accountable, getting people’s attention and making the world a better place all run through SXSW,” said Kelly McBride, Poynter’s vice president of academic programs and a presenter this year, too. “There are dozens and dozens directly related to journalism and democracy. And there are hundreds tangentially related.”

McBride has been to SXSW four or five times, she said, and “the journalism sessions have become stronger and more sophisticated in that time. And there’s a lot more demand for the media stuff.”

That means longer lines, so if you’re going, plan ahead. Here are just 10 of the sessions at SXSW Interactive that journalists are presenting at or might learn from:

The State of Surveillance, with Bill Binney, a whistleblower who retired from the NSA

How to Remain Relevant in Today’s Digital Age, with Charles Barkley and Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch

Editors and Engineers: New Ideas at Washington Post, with Washington Post editor Martin Baron and Chief Information Officer Shailesh Prakash

New Media Ethics: Journalism in the Age of GIFs with Fusion’s Jane Spencer, journalist Jessica Bennett, Nieman Lab’s Justin Ellis and Susie Banikarim of Vocativ

And While We Are Asking, Is Media Dead Too?, with NPR’s Bob Garfield, Guardian US CEO Eamonn Store and The New York Times’ Meredith Kopit Levien

Can Photojournalism Survive the Smartphone Era?, with Flipboard’s Gary Hershorn and photographers Kenneth Jarecke, Scout Tufankjian and William Philpott

Creating Local News in a Connected World, with Billy Penn’s Jim Brady

Social Media: Breaking News or Fixing News?, with The Wall Street Journal’s Allison Lichter, The Associated Press’ Eric Carvin, Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal and The New York Times’ Michael Roston

How Can Journalism, Civic Tech Hack Politics 2016?, with BuzzFeed’s Ruby Cramer and TurboVote’s Seth Flaxman

New Journalism: Black and White and Reddit All Over, with Corrin Foster of Oh Hey and Kristin Sheppard of Giant Squid Media

How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times, with Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark

In case you’ll miss it

Forrest recommended four ways that you can still learn from SXSW even if you can’t be there.

1. Watch livestreams of the keynotes: You can find them here.

2. Follow along on Twitter: That’s “a good way to get the tone and feel of the event and what’s trending and what’s not trending,” Forrest said. Here’s SXSW’s Twitter account, and search the hashtag #sxsw2015, too. Each session also has its own hashtag, which you can find on the schedule.

3. Listen in: Most sessions are audio recorded, Forrest said, and are available as free podcasts about a month after the festival.

4. Read it: For the first time, most of the transcripts of keynotes and other sessions will be posted on Medium after the event.

Previously: Here’s Poynter’s coverage of SXSW Interactive from last year.

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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