[There are so many ways that SXSW could change the way we think, operate, and organize around big ideas, exciting new tools, important issues, and as a community of smart, passionate people. There are so many ways that SXSW is already disrupting the ways that we think about how technology can be utilized, creativity should be applied, what communications can achieve – but that mostly/only happens on site, during the event, and the momentum behind so many potentially exciting things is lost when everyone flies back home to the rest of their lives. I want to see SXSW get to that next level – and I have four quick ideas that I think can help. This is #4.]
SXSW Suggestion #4: Be Your Own Media
I requested a media credential for SXSW for two reasons:
1) I am, in fact, a member of the media (of sorts) – I host a weekly podcast that is distributed by a national news network and I contribute regularly to various blogs and online publications. And by attending as a member of the media I am given special access to people, and information at SXSW – and some assistance in arranging for interviews or meetings that I would not necessarily be able to get on my own. For example, I get press releases about every movie being released and band launching a new project as well as a flood of emails and calls from PR shops and technology hoping to set up a demo or meeting. Membership does have its privileges. In other words, having a press pass is a
2) I think there is a valuable role for the media to play today – not just covering what is happening at an event like SXSW, but actually helping to shape the ways people think about new technology, changes in communication, creativity and innovation, and other issues that SXSW regular addresses. Unfortunately, most of the media coverage of SXSW is just that, coverage, a description of what happened without sufficient insights into why it is important. I figure that if I attend as a member of the media, and arrange for people to distribute the content that I create on site, I can do my small part to contribute to the discussion in ways that are needed.
Here’s the problem – SXSW doesn’t need me, as media, to cover their event, and may not benefit much from the coverage that is provided. The accredited media doesn’t do a good enough job covering the issues and happenings at SXSW – at least not enough to ensure that SXSW gets the full credit it deserves for organizing a wonderfully exciting and influential event (criticisms of the content that I posted aside). Moreover, each year, more and more people create blogs, log on to twitter, and share their observations about what is happening at SXSW. The vast majority of these content creators don’t request a media credential, and don’t need one. They get access to the same smart people that I might be able to reach because I have been given official accreditation. They reach an audience and influence the way people think about, and respond to, what is happening at SXSW without having to run information through an editor or conform to existing set of editorial standards. In other words, they do the job that the media should be doing.
Still, both the accredited media and the chattering class fall short. As a regular attendee of SXSW and someone who writes about and covers the event each year, I can’t find enough good, smart, helpful insights from the conference in what is available to read. As a professional, working in the arena of communications, innovation, technology, social impact, etc. I don’t have very many articles or other information to share with clients, integrate into my thinking, or serve as evidence of a trend that I hope to pursue or explore. There is a huge gap in what is covered and a huge opportunity for that information to be created. The obvious answer is that SXSW should be its own media. Beyond just streaming and promoting different sessions, SXSW should deploy people to cover, and analyze, the discussions taking place across the festival. SXSW should create more original content – interview every speaker, tap into the audience to provide specific insights and ideas, publish a book each year that summarizes the happenings and sets the tone for the discussion that needs to take place in advance of next year’s event. Organizers should float themes, push stories, suggest approaches that media and non-media alike can explore, helping to shape and advance a set of topics that capture the behind-the-scenes thinking that went in to setting up the annual event.
Unless, or until, SXSW becomes its own media – creates more content, focuses more attention on certain things, supports the existing content creation (accredited or not) in ways that ensure a more thoughtful and forward-looking discussion, the full potential of the festival can’t be reached. If it would be helpful, I would be more than happy to be accredited as a member of the SXSW Media next year, and write/record/create coverage through an operation that serves to further expand the reach and impact of the conference – and I think others would as well.