Journalism + community at SXSW12

It’s PanelPicker time for South by Southwest Interactive, and I’m starting my dive into the craziness that is 3,232 proposed sessions for Interactive alone.

Typically, the sessions I get the most out of aren’t on the journalism track. Two years ago, I was teaching multimedia design and went to several design and interface sessions that rocked my world.

Last year, I focused on community, social media and influence. I blogged about Doreen Marchionni’s session on conversational journalism, my frustration with ridiculous claims about social media ROI, and my advice for SXSW presenters.

This year, as I apply my community learnings back in my newsroom, I’m going to start by looking for true innovation among the journalism sessions and expand from there. As I do, I’ll keep a list here of the sessions I most hope to see.

First I’ll share the two proposals I’m involved in, both about (shocker!) audience:

How to get your newsroom talking about audience: “Who’s the journalism for? If news organizations — from the largest legacy to the newest startup — want to succeed, they need to keep their focus squarely on the users. Who are they? What do they value in us? How do they want to interact with us? How can we invite them into our processes and products? How can we be more accessible to more kinds of users? The challenge is that journalists are creatures of habit, and making these questions part of our daily routines is hard. Let’s talk about disrupting routines with focused discussion strategies that will help you inject the all-important audience into a more traditional culture.”

How to talk to your audience again: “Engagement with your audience can happen in a Google+ hangout and in a neighborhood pub. Anywhere your community is, you want to also be — especially if your goal is to recruit new users and foster loyalty in the ones you have. We will take a look at how content creators can leverage digital tools and older, tried-and-true methods to create a deeper, richer experience for both the journalists and the communities they serve. ” The awesome Andre Natta came up with this one, and Kim Bui, James Janega and I are along for the ride. The three of the have tons of boots-on-the-ground experience with online and offline engagement, at tiny shops and huge ones.

Some other journalism sessions I’m psyched about:

If You Love Journalism Set It Free: “Web vs. Print. Blogger vs. Journalist. Citizen vs. Professional. The debates are over. The distinctions are dead. The best journalism happening right now is not bound by platform or process – it is built to spread, to be set free.” Amen, brothers. An in this case, the brothers include Josh Stearns and Elise Hu, among others. Can’t go wrong.

Philanthropy is not the future of jouranlism: “While donations play a key role in community support and engagement, the writing is on the wall regarding how much government, private and foundation funding will continue to be available to public media.” I could listen to Nicole Hollway and Janet Coats talk about just about anything. They know their stuff, and they don’t hold back. This’ll be great.

Journalism’s Got 99 Problems, Design is #1: “Design is … 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.” From Tyson Evans, Miranda Mulligan and David Wright.

Journalism is dead. Long live journalism!: “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.” Robert Hernandez is sure to bring it.

Second Screen Dashboard: Cover Live Events Better: “The Oscars, Superbowl, Presidential Debates — all live events where your audience is probably focused on a screen that you have no control of: their TV. But they’re increasingly picking up a laptop or a tablet device, which is your opportunity to reengage. We’ll walk through how and why we put together and staffed a live events dashboard that dramatically increased traffic to our live coverage. This is not a theoretical survey of second screen projects, but a detailed walkthrough of the technology, editorial decisions, and process behind our projects. We’ll share what we’ve learned, what worked and what didn’t.” So much potential here.

What journalism can learn from science: “Description The scientific method revolutionized the world of truth-seeking. Yet journalism – which, like science, seeks truth – is far less rigorous. We’ll walk through why this gap has led to record levels of distrust in journalism, and why journalism that’s replicable, trackable, and reviewable can help to restore that trust.” I long ago accepted that the rest of us will always be a year, or five, behind Matt Thompson. So when he talks, I listen.

Online Commenting: Conversation Friend or Foe?: “Few issues vex newsrooms these days quite the way online story commenting does…. 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?” I mentioned above Doreen’s session from last year on conversational journalism. She blends research and practice together beautifully.

Education + community:

My community knows more than I do: Let them teach: “Community has worked its way into journalism education as our students are now using social media like pros to build and transmit news. The question is whether we’re aiming too low. Is community merely a data source to be mined? This presentation will focus on the “Classroom Without Walls” concept that I have been building as a journalism professor.” From my friend Jeremy Littau, who rocks. Yes, please.

Teaching the Facebook generation: “College students grew up using social media, so surely journalism students are naturals when it comes to using the tools, right? Wrong. Most do not have Twitter accounts, think Facebook is for party pics only, and are reluctant to open their personal, social life to the public. The challenge for educators is showing the value of social media in a journalism context, and getting the students to let the public get a peek at something that previously was their private domain.” If anyone on the planet can pull this off, it’s Jen Reeves. Unless you feel like you could teach it yourself (and maybe even then), you should be there.

Maintaining Relevancy Through Collaboration: “This panel will discuss the ways that librarians and journalists can work together more effectively (efficiently) to contribute value added content to our communities. Librarians and journalists both thrive on the same mission of providing information to the masses. Yet, in this digital renaissance, both professions are called into question.” I went to a fantastic workshop on this very topic last spring, and I came away so psyched about possibilities.

Stranger Than Fiction: Why Story Matters: “You built a product. It’s amazing, brilliant, even earth-shattering. You know it, your team knows it, your mom knows it. So why doesn’t anyone else seem to get it? The answer may be that you haven’t told them the right story. As it turns out, good writing is hard to come by, and people who are good at making things aren’t necessarily the best at telling their story. But don’t worry: you can learn! In the world of fiction, we’ve been thinking about story–and how to make it powerful, visceral, and beautiful–for a long time. This panel will bring the practices and structure of fiction to help you transform your idea, product, or service from the mundane to the sublime.” A look, from a storytelling perspective, at community. I’m there.


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