SXSW: A guide for journalists

The country’s biggest digital media conference, SXSW Interactive, is this week in Austin. (If you’re on Twitter, you’ve certainly noticed.) It started as a small, niche offshoot of the more popular music conference but has grown exponentially over the past 10 years and, thankfully, so has the presence of journalism at the confab.

Many of you enjoyed my post on how to navigate the ONA conference in DC. So I thought I’d do a reprise for those journos heading to Austin this week. Last year was my first SXSWi, when I spoke about Journalism Next, but I think a learned a thing or two that might help you better navigate this intense but completely awesome experience.

DO: Take advantage of the fact that there will be a ton of great content for journalists interested in interactive. There’s an entire track focused on The Future of Journalism so you could fill up your schedule with nothing else. (Personally I liked last year’s track name, Journalism 2.0.)

In an attempt to capture some of the intimate feel of the earlier iterations of SXSWi, the conference will feature “campuses,” meaning similar programming will be scheduled in one location to gather those “birds of a feather.” This will be a great opportunity for like-minded digital journalists to network.

Mallary Tenore of Poynter wrote a great overview of 20 SXSW Interactive panels that journalists should attend and was nice enough to mention my presentation of my next book on entrepreneurial journalism on Sunday.

Limit yourself to just the journalism content. Expand your horizons and drink from the firehose of SXSWi by attending sessions that have nothing to do with journalism, too. Some of my favorite sessions last year were focused on seemingly obscure topics. The wealth of different perspectives on interactive at this conference means you will enrich your experience if you force yourself out of your comfort zone.

Some of the sessions I have pegged include Conference Startups: Grassroots Innovation Rocking the Event World, The 4-Hour Body: Hacking the Human Body
and Haters Gonna Hate: Lessons For Advertisers From 4chan.

DO: Get some fresh air. The forecast calls for temps in the mid to upper 70s so if you’re coming from a northern climate, you’ll do yourself a favor by getting some Vitamin D. The Lady Bird Lake Trail near the convention center is a great place for a walk or jog. You can also walk the grounds of the state capitol or University of Texas.

DON’T: Be a wallflower. The people attending this conference are interesting and willing to chat, so introduce yourself and start conversations. You’re a journalist, after all. This is what you do. The first person I introduced myself to last year worked for Google. The second person worked for Facebook. I also met people from Israel and Australia and found myself at breakfast the first day with Jeff Pulver and his crew.

DO: Attend the parties, whether that’s your thing or not. Austin is one of the best cities in the U.S. for nightlife. Plus, this is where some of the best “networking” happens and where you’ll meet even more interesting people (thanks to that great social lubricant: alcohol.) And unlike most of the journalism conferences we all attend, the parties are a part of the official schedule. This is Spring Break for Geeks, after all.

DON’T: Stress out over the fact that there are too many good sessions to attend and you can’t possibly be in all of them at the same time. The opening slot on Friday has at least six sessions I wish I could hit, but there’s only one of me. If you’re not 100% sure on a session, pick one that is near one of your second choices. The sessions area spread out all over Austin so if the one you pick is lame and you want to duck out (totally acceptable at SXSWi), you’ll want Plan B to be nearby or you’ll spend too much time walking back and forth between venues.

If you are not attending the conference, follow along on Twitter. You might actually be in a better position to sample from all the great content of the sessions from your desktop than those of us “stuck” in one session at a time. Of course, you’ll miss out on all the “networking,” but there’s always next year.

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