What You Missed at SXSW This Year

The South by Southwest conference and festival celebrated its 30th anniversary this past week in Austin, Texas. From March 10 through 19, the annual pilgrimage of entrepreneurs, artists, businesses and interactive organizations  proved the conference has grown even larger and more influential over the past three decades.

Often referred to by its shortened acronym, SXSW, the conference considers itself to be “an essential destination for global professionals, features sessions, showcases, screenings, exhibitions, and a variety of networking opportunities.”

From former Vice President Joe Biden to other guests, including country music star Garth Brooks, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Senator Cory Booker (D.-NJ), actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, comedian Fred Armisen, actress Jenny Slate and “Game of Thrones” showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the conference was not lacking in big names, or big ideas.

Amidst the celebrities and CEOs, SXSW also featured a journalism “track,” with many prominent organizations and media titans participating. The journalism track was composed of 69 separate sessions and talks, ranging from discussions on non-profit journalism to the role of GIFs in reporting. This is not to mention the many parties and unofficial events held by media organizations throughout the festival.

Couldn’t make it to Austin and feeling some serious media FOMO? Not to fear – here’s everything you need to know about media and journalism at SXSW 2017.

The journalism track featured a number of well-known journalists and media professionals throughout the week. Poynter Institute’s director of fact checking, Alexios Mantzarlis, gave a lecture on how bots are “automating fact-checking” for journalists. Affinis Labs’ Wajahat Ali was featured on a panel on Muslim media in the age of Trump. Lymari Morales from Atlantic Media Strategies discussed “recycling” content to direct readers to what’s relevant. The New York Times’ Deborah Acosta, Vice’s Adam Banicki and Vox Media’s Joe Posner held a conversation on consumption and video journalism. And that’s just to name a few.

The conference was chock-full of media-focused talks and sessions. Instead of having to dig through the entire schedule, here are a few more highlights:

  • Nick Denton, CEO of Gawker, gave a talk on “Life After Gawker” in spite of his loss in court to former wrestler Hulk Hogan over a leaked sex tape and the company’s ultimate demise.
  • New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet and Media Columnist Jim Rutenberg discussed how their paper is gathering news in a “post-truth era.”
  • CNN’s Jake Tapper was interviewed by MTV’s Ana Marie Cox about reflections on the past year’s election.
  • Three drone and tech experts debated the ethics of drone journalism.
  • Mark Cuban and other tech executives discussed whether the government is “disrupting disruption.”
  • Van Jones dissected social and political issues with a SXSW edition of his special, “The Messy Truth.”
  • Chuck Todd hosted a live taping of the Meet the Press podcast.
  • Even the Vatican sent its social media guru as a representative to the conference this year.

There were also ten “mentor sessions” held early on in the week, which boasted “one-on-one interaction” with professionals from the music, film, and “interactive” industries.

And of course, there were plenty of media parties to go around. CNN set up a media bungalow, with talks, food, and music galore. Buzzfeed, on the other hand, built a studio, where celebrities got candid with polaroids. National Geographic even established an interactive “base camp” themed around geniuses.

Additionally, this year’s conference awarded the first ever David Carr Prize, honoring the late journalist’s interest in the convergence of new media, technology and culture. The contest was essay-based and asked for bloggers, journalists and writers to describe what they thought being “human” would mean in the age of artificial intelligence. Copywriter and Content Specialist Mike Armstrong was awarded the prize for his essay, “The Heart of Something Heartless.”

This year’s SXSW continued the tradition of facilitating the merge of media, journalism and technology. Between the week of talks, networking, partying and more, SXSW’s 30th iteration not only left attendees with great gift bags and fun memories, but with a challenge to continue innovating in whatever industry or community they’re in.

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