Fifteen Journalism-Related Panels for SXSW Interactive 2012

Earlier this week, the colossal film, interactive, and music festival known as SXSW announced the opening of the 2012 SXSW PanelPicker, a community-driven voting portal that allows people to vote on panels which they wish to see at the upcoming conference. The PanelPicker votes and comments comprise 30% of the decision-making process for any given programming slot, with the SXSW Staff and SXSW Advisory Board accounting for 30% and 40% respectively. Voting is open from now until 11:59pm CT on Friday, September 2, 2011.

For those of you who may not be familiar with SXSW, here’s a brief video from SXSW that gives an overview of the conference:

While there are three distinct portions of the conference, SXSW Interactive offers the most diverse group of topics, especially for journalists. Currently, there are over 50 journalism-related panels up for voting in the PanelPicker. I’ve culled through them all, and here are fifteen which I think would be great for journalists of all kinds. Each panel description also includes a link to vote for the panel on the PanelPicker (voting does require registering for a free PanelPicker account).

Content and Coding is Not a Commodity

Description: Geeks see code as art and content as stuff. Journalists see code as stuff and content as the art. Geeks may say “provide me content” while journalists are like “build this site.” With that kind of attitudes, it’s hard to get buy-in from the other side and why the web is plagued by low-quality aggregators or clunky news sites. What coders and journalists should understand: they have more in common than not. Both sides are motivated by their craft and a desire to feel that an audience is experiencing their work, whether though prose or programming. Coders and writers are not interchangeable, that great talent can be an order of magnitude more effective than mediocre talent. Though discussions of case studies and mistakes, this panel will explain from both the journalists’ and the programmers’ perspectives how to speak a language they will understand. Successful projects form partnerships with advice and consultation from the earliest stages, rather than as an afterthought.

Speakers: Raju Nariestti, The Washington Post; Benjamin Balter, FCC

Vote for “Content and Coding is Not a Commodity”


Digital Voices, Meet Media Consolidation

Description: The political adage, never get into a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel, rested on the tremendous capital costs involved in running a newspaper. Those costs have been swept away by a cheap digital media tsunami that has unleashed millions of voices. Media conglomerates are shuttering newspapers, buying digital upstarts like the Huffington Post and TechCrunch, and launching vertical hyperlocals like Patch. The nature of the power law means that A-list sites get a disproportionate share of eyeballs. As Clay Shirky wrote in 2003, “the greater the diversity, the more extreme the inequality.” So much for millions of voices. Let’s talk about the impact of media consolidation on public interest (political) journalism and civic life and explore our role as disrupters of the status quo. Examples include crowd-sourced visualization of media consolidation and digital media literacy modules, modules that need you for maximum impact.

Speaker: Kathy Gill, University of Washington

Vote for “Digital Voices, Meet Media Consolidation”


Election 2012: Campaigns, Coverage & The Internet

Description: It’s not just the politicians who are turning to social media to announce candidacies, influence public debates or galvanize volunteers, but also activists and pundits are rethinking how they monitor, measure and influence the campaign from grassroots to grasstops. From fact checking smear campaigns on Twitter to special interest e-mail listservs to owning a domain before the opposition does and simply interacting in real-time with a campaign, social media has changed campaign culture and elections for good. This panel will examine the ways in which social networks have redefined the political landscape of the 2012 presidential election with viewpoints from journalists, scholars, and campaign practitioners.

Speakers: Michael Scherer, TIME Magazine; Micha Sifry, Personal Democracy Forum; Mindy Finn, Engage DC; Zeynep Tufecki, technosociology

Vote for “Election 2012: Campaigns, Coverage & The Internet”


Immersive Journalism

Description: Journalism in the 21st century has followed a pattern of shrinking offices and overstretched producers despite the new tools made available through emerging technologies. It doesn’t have to be this way. Danfung Dennis, CEO of media tech startup Condition ONE, discusses how journalists can and should harness new tools to immerse audiences into powerful, emotional experiences. The application the ethics and research of traditional journalism to technology borrowed from the military and video games could spawn a new breed of ‘broadcast’ networks.
Speaker: Danfung Dennis, Condition One

Vote for “Immersive Journalism”


Journalism’s Got 99 Problems, Design is #1

Description: Will ________ save journalism? It’s a typical, and tired, question with everything from paywalls, iPads, programmers or hyperlocal, microlocal, over-aggregation filling in the blank. But the subject of design is often absent from these conversations. Why? Design is one of the most crucial ingredients; it’s the glue between intent and engagement, between content and comprehension. Yet news design on the web feels stagnant. From the perspective of three designers in the newsroom trenches, where the headlines meet the HTML, we want to look at design’s successes and failures and examine what’s next for this still nascent field. We look forward to the input of many voices before, during and after this session. Let us know what you think.

Speakers: Miranda Mulligan, The Boston Globe; David Wright, NPR

Vote for “Journalism’s Got 99 Problems, Design is #1”


Journalism is Dead. Long Live Journalism!

Description: If all you hear about are furloughs, layoffs, and doing more with less, you might think journalism is dead. But many young journalists who have been battling to change and improve the industry think the future is brighter than ever. From innovations in storytelling to a culture shift around how to present and contextualize information, learn what the next generation of journalists thinks could save the industry and how you can help.

Speaker: Robert Hernandez, USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism

Vote for “Journalism is Dead. Long Live Journalism!”


Local Legit: Who Blogs Local Best?

Description: From mom bloggers to foodies, parenting to restaurant reviews, art to sports – people are creating and reading local blogs. Where people get local information has been rapidly changing – there has been a shift from the printed local paper to online news. In many communities local bloggers have replaced the traditional newspaper. Some things are well covered by traditional media, but there are other topics that local bloggers are taking the lead on. Local blogs are creating and changing communities from urban neighborhoods in bigger cities to smaller towns across the United States. While blogging has created an accessible, free way for anyone to share information about their community. There are still areas of reporting that traditional media channels are better suited to cover – for example, more traditional newspapers have the financial and legal resources to file right to know lawsuits to obtain information. Do independent bloggers have the same resources? This panel will explore the idea of who covers local communities best, the rise of local blogging and the impact on those communities as well as what the local blogging landscape might look like in the future.

Speakers: Kate Giammarise, Rust Wire; Anthony De Rosa, Neighborhoodr; Angie Schmidt,

Vote for “Local Legit: Who Blogs Local Best?”


New Career for Journalists: Online Video Producer

Description: Writing is never going to die. Crafting thoughts into clear and useful communication is always going to be important online. But aspiring writers these days would be smart to enhance their skill set to include online video production. As online journalism evolves into video, writers have a new career opportunity: translating their journalism skills into strong online video production. This panel will feature some of the best online video producers out there who can share their insights in this nascent field and discuss how to make the jump from writer to video producer. What’s worked? What hasn’t? 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? How can good online video support media sites and tell a different yet unique perspective.

Speakers: Emily Calderone, SlateV; Meredith Arthur,; Kyle Ryan, The A.V. Club; Chris Albrecht,

Vote for “New Career for Journalists: Online Video Producer”


No Office, No Problem: Running a Virtual News Team

Description: Discovery News was born online in 1998 and maintains a virtual newsroom kept afloat through emails, web chats, IMs and speakerphones. Editor-in-Chief Lori Cuthbert has developed a remote digital workforce that must come together as a team despite being in five different locations across four different time zones. This expert panel will take a deep dive into the strategy, tools and mindset used to keep an online newsroom cohesive and on the leading edge of news coverage – while producing quality content under pressing deadlines. Whether it’s editing guest news bloggers, dealing with breaking news or overseeing the production of original web videos, this group has mastered the art of working remotely. The discussion will include the pitfalls (“My Internet just went DOWN?”) and challenges (“I’ve been talking all day but haven’t said a word out loud!”), as well as specific guidelines for those scratching their heads over how to find and nurture the best talent, regardless of where they live. And while the genre is news, the approaches used to manage these dynamics are universal and applicable to anyone trying to build a team from afar.

Speakers: Lori Cuthbert, EIC – Discovery Communications; Amanda Onion, Managing Editor – Discovery Communications; James Williams, Senior Video Producer – Discovery Communications; Rob Pegoraro – Tech Trends Analyst – Discovery Communications; Juliet Dervin, Content Manager, Digital Media – Discovery Communications

Vote for “No Office, No Problem: Running a Virtual News Team”


Online Commenting: Conversation Friend or Foe?

Description: Few issues vex newsrooms these days quite the way online story commenting does. On the one hand, allowing readers to comment on stories on news sites carries the potential of an engaged citizenry envisioned in Western democracies. In theory, comments provide a forum for citizens to converse with each other and potentially content producers around issues of the day. Remarks may take the form of follow-up story tips, clarifications and corrections. Yet that potential is thwarted time and time again by noxious speech potentially damaging to content producers: Far from its print counterpart, the carefully vetted letter-to-the-editor, online story commenting represents a dramatic departure from traditional editorial standards and controls in citizen feedback. Newsrooms are responding in myriad ways, from banning anonymous comments to turning online comments off on all or potentially controversial stories to contracting with third parties to moderate comments, or even solely relying on audience members to patrol each other. This panel draws on recent experimental research to answer two key questions central to debates about commenting: Is commenting a type of conversational journalism that builds community and enhances journalists’ relations with the public, at least in the eyes of the audience? Does commenting hurt or help journalists’ most treasured values, perceived credibility and expertise?

Speaker: Doreen Marchionni, Pacific Lutheran University

Vote for “Online Commenting: Conversation Friend or Foe?”


People’s Voice: Journalism and Digital Cacophony

Description: Back in the not-so-olden days when a reader wanted to complain to a reporter about her story, he wrote a letter to the editor or marched into her office, slammed down a paper and yelled. It worked. But how many voices went unheard because it took too much effort? Reporters kept government in check and these citizens kept reporters in check – in theory. But their influence was limited. These days, when a reader wants to complain, she sends an email, tweets, blogs or takes to social networks. Journalists are kept in check all the time, thanks to wisdom of the crowds. But do crowds really know better? And do they work better? Sure they can uncover wrongdoing, collectively calling out a repressive regime. But can crowds take the place of a lone reporter sitting through a boring city council meeting to discover council members have given raises to themselves? Is the level of journalism higher? When so many voices sound off at once, are the important ones heard? Should they be heard? What have we gained and what have we lost in this transition? We explore this with a panel of esteemed journalists at every level.

Speakers: Janet Kornblum, The Daily Dot

Vote for “People’s Voice: Journalism and Digital Cacophony”


Pitches: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

Description: Ever wonder why some pitches work and some don’t? Want to know what you can do to get the attention of journalists? Learn the dos and don’ts of pitching straight from a panel of top tech journalists.
Speakers: Jon Swartz, USA Today; Ben Parr, Mashable

Vote for “Pitches: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly”


Skills & Bills: Can News Be A Product to Sell?

Description: You know how to do great journalism, but how do you find new ways to make it pay? How can journalist look at stories as products that could serve both the public interest and the bottom line? With everyone from start-ups to legacy media competing to deliver information, what are some ways of developing more value from stories? This session will feature journalists and entrepreneurs focused on finding a new creative side to the business of news.

Speakers: Justin Ferrell, The Washington Post; Ann Friedman, GOOD Magazine; Evan Smith, The Texas Tribune; Tom Hulme, IDEO

Vote for “Skills & Bills: Can News Be A Product to Sell?”


The Data Dilemma: We Have Tons of It, Now What?

Description: Whether we’re aware of it or not, we are awash in data. Today, with every mouse-click a transaction, data is piling up more quickly than anyone can track or interpret. It could be useful, it could be enlightening; it could even hold solutions to world problems. But until we have a way find meaning in it, this snowballing data is little more than an expanding cloud of digital waste. On this international panel, data entrepreneurs hailing from Latin America, Canada and the U.S. will discuss strategies they’ve embarked upon to help unlock value in data. Representatives from Junar, BuzzData and Infochimps will discuss how they believe we can make data more useable and accessible, and whether or not a data-focused world can lead to a more informed and engaged society.

Speakers: Momoko Price, BuzzData; Diego May,; Nick Ducoff, Infochimps

Vote for “The Data Dilemma: We Have Tons of It, Now What?”


Why Are Media Products So Unusable?

Description: The most popular mainstream news media products — like the Wall Street Journal, MSNBC and Fox News — all look basically the same and function similarly. But new entrants like Google News, FlipBoard, and Zite are threatening their dominance. These mainstream media product copy each other’s user experiences and that similarity does not ensure usability. Why do all news consumption experiences really need to be the same? Will new platforms like tablets and mobile devices offer more usable experiences or just more of the same? Media companies are beginning to answer the basic needs of their customers: usability testing, adaptive designs and innovative new products that target audience needs. To be successful media companies need to create new products that appeal to customers lifestyles and better fit match content. Designers need to create new interfaces and modes of presentation. Stories much be richer and more engaging. But how can this be accomplished? Can media accompanies reach new consumers by creating innovative apps and news experiences? By studying their users or by concentrating on better content?

Speakers: Mario Garcia Jr., Garcia Media; Ryan Mark, Chicago Tribune

Vote for “Why Are Media Products So Unusable?”

The 2012 SXSW PanelPicker will be open until 11:59pm CT on Friday, September 2, 2011. Press credentials can be obtained starting on Tuesday, September 6, 2011. For more information on scheduling, lodging, and registration prices, visit

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