SXSW 2014: Magic Night

South by Southwest, for all its somewhat dystopian unwieldiness, is also a place where chaos breeds the best kinds of spontaneity and streetside serendipity. Today I ran into dozens of old friends and familiar faces quite literally on the street, but tonight, a string of good luck made for the most magical, memorable and hilarious SXSW night yet.

1) Justin, Reeve and I ran into one another on the street and the guys were complaining about hunger. I was complaining I needed to put my computer down. We three stopped by my hotel room and walked in to find two huge bags of Taco Cabana (my favorite fast food) had been delivered courtesy of my friend Todd, the COO of Taco Cabana. It was the perfect mix of tacos and endless flour tortillas and queso and guac, and delivered at the perfect moment.

2) The weather this weekend is downright shitty, with temperatures hovering around 40 and a misty rain falling all day. Reeve didn’t want to be out tonight without a jacket, but decided to suck it up and join us for a special cast party for AMC’s upcoming drama, Halt and Catch Fire, down at my favorite Austin hotel, Hotel St. Cecelia. The event was intimate but  a clearly well-produced situation. Comfy classic seating, heat lamps and fancy decor were set up with Halt and Catch Fire blankets so the screening for about 60 of us could feel like we were in a really expensive living room together. As we were leaving, AMC handed out jackets. Reeve needed jacket, jacket appeared.

Me: What are we doing? Scoot: Rage partying! YEEEAH!
Me: What are we doing? Scoot: Rage partying! YEEEAH!

3) The one guy I regretted not chatting with at the party was actor Scoot McNairy, who plays a brilliant engineer on the new show and was also in some movies like Argo and 12 Years A Slave. I met him earlier in the day when my pal Voggie was coincidentally interviewing him while I was interviewing the showrunner, and was sad we didn’t get to visit. Only, luck struck again! An hour after we left the cast screening and after attending another event, the three of us decided to do a non-SXSW locals bar. As we walked up, we realized the CAST HAPPENED TO GO TO THE SAME BAR. Fate. Everything came full circle and ol’ Scoot hung out with me and Justin for hours, drinking beers, talking Texas and trying to profile the people in the bar who might have weed. I think Justin is still recovering. I should check on him.

 

A SXSW Epilogue, From My Fave Magazine

She wrote this about music but it works for the whole festival, especially since I’ve attended each year since 2007 and have wistfully watched it evolve:

Every year, this conference gets larger and larger, leaving attendees to pick increasingly specific paths around its girth … Earlier in the week, I said the Interactive portion of the conference was like the Internet, only in person. But then so is the Music part: vast, increasingly centerless, a little daunting, and bound to send you home feeling like you only got a pinhole view of something you wish you could see in its entirety. And also with ads on banners everywhere — just cheaper, dirtier, stickier ones than last week.

I think it’s “cool” to complain about the bigness of SXSW in the same way Austinites say that Austin “used to be cool” the moment they got there, but has been going downhill ever since. It IS too big, but so is everything in Texas, including my high school graduating class (nearly 2,000). Everyone seemed to come out okay in the end.

SXSW 2011: Bloggers vs. Journalists

@JayRosen_nyu and Lisa Williams from Placeblogger.com are here to talk about bloggers versus journalists. The pitch:

I wrote my essay, Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over, in 2005. And it should be over. After all, lots of journalists happily blog, lots of bloggers journalize and everyone is trying to figure out what’s sustainable online. But there’s something else going on, and I think I’ve figured out a piece of it: these two Internet types, amateur bloggers and pro journalists, are actually each other’s ideal “other.” A big reason they keep struggling with each other lies at the level of psychology, not in the particulars of the disputes and flare-ups that we continue to see online.

I’ll try my best to liveblog the action.

3:35pm:“You learn to wear the mask, if you want to join the club,” Rosen says about the psychology behind journalists and the “club” we’re part of.

3:36pm: Disruptions by the internet threaten to expose conflicts within the press. Internet exports inner conflicts to the world outside the press.

3:39pm: On Bill Keller’s piece, which ribs aggregators like Huffington Post and others for “derivative work”, Rosen concludes that there’s something about bloggers vs. journalists that permits the display of a “preferred” or idealized self among people in the press whose work lives have been disrupted by the internet. “Spitting at bloggers is closely related to gazing at your own reflection and falling in love with it again,” Rosen says.

3:40pm: Yikes, I feel like I’m back in journalism school. Jay’s quoting people from Europe and stuff. This is so … academic. My brain is too small.

3:42pm: We’re focusing a lot on this notion of bloggers “replacing” journalists. That there is, or was, a view by mainstream journalists that bloggers versus journalists is a mutually exclusive arrangement. I’m assuming this builds toward the argument (now pretty widely accepted) that we’re not one or the other, but both.

3:47pm: What do bloggers get from hanging on to this divide? “By raging at newspaper editors, bloggers manage to keep themselves on the outside of a system they are in fact, part of. It’s one internet, people. The system now incorporates the people formerly known as the audience.” Bloggers and journos are each other’s ideal “other.” The conflict, for bloggers, helps preserve the ragged innocence by falsely putting “all” power in “big media.”

3:49pm: The press is us, not them, Rosen argues. Bloggers and journalists who refer to the word “traditional” — that tradition is 80-90 years old. But our experiment with is is 250 years old. Whole chapters of that history were rejected in order to claim “elevated status.” “With blogging, they have come roaring back,” Rosen says.

Not Jay Rosen. Lincoln Steffens.

3:52pm: “Something dropped out of journalism between 1902 and 2002. The bloggers are the return of the repressed,” Rosen says. He argues bloggers are the return of muckrackers like Lincoln Steffens and bring back what was lost in the transition from journalism to a business.

3:55pm: So, people become journalists largely for some social justice reason, i.e., making the world a better place. But then the professional codes in place often prevent this. “It’s hard to fight for justice when you have to master he said, she said. Voice is something you have to take out when you want to succeed in the modern newsroom,” Rosen says.

3:56pm: Bloggers, on the flip side, jump straight to voice. Points to dumping on Dave Weigel by WashPo staffers as an example of bloggers vs journalists struggle absorbed into newsroom.

3:57pm: Rosen gives us a helpful heads up that he’s almost done with his general expository talk. “I’m coming in for a landing. Five minute and we’ll have questions.”

3:59pm: In pro-journalism, the terms of authority have to change. The practice has to become more interactive, and this has to happen during a time of enormous stress. The story the press has been telling itself has broken down. It no longer helps journalists navigate the conditions today. We have to tell ourselves a new story about what we do and why it matters. Bloggers vs Journalists struggle is a refusal to change. “It’s fucking neurotic,” he concludes.

4:04pm: HEY it’s Q and A time! He says he’s for “mutualization.” We have something to contribute to journalism (as we’ve seen with all the video of the earthquake, etc), and journalists have something to contribute, namely, discipline, to bloggers.

4:06pm: Rosen: If you are accurate, and fair, and deal in verifiable information, you can write with voice or practice institutional voice. There’s no separation from truthtelling and attitude. The people telling us about the world must understand importance of accuracy, transparency, intellectual honesty. “Whether or not you voice your opinion in my view is a stylistic question.”

4:08pm: On the rise of Fox News’ agenda-driven journalism: We have to hope for building trust is more important than grabbing mindshare. This is a permanent tension.

4:11pm: Are we ever going to get beyond the conflict between bloggers and journalists?, Stacey from Paid Content asks. “In psychology, you don’t get over the things that have wounded you. You don’t dismiss the neuroses that formed you. Instead, what we can hope for is to create a lot more room for maneuvering so we aren’t trapped by these things anymore. By going right at this conflict, I’m hoping we can transcend it.”

4:16pm: We’re on shield law now and how the law should protect acts of journalism instead of journalists. Unpacks the notion that the journalism profession is the only one protected by the First Amendment.

4:18pm: This is so meta. Clay Shirky asking a question of Jay Rosen. Question is about the role of journalism schools. Rosen essentially argues there are two kinds of journalists – those educated in j-school, and those educated in the school of life. “[Journalism school] about taking something that was a working class trade and elevating it to the status of a profession,” Rosen said. “That’s where the notions of objectivity come from.” … Then we get a comparison to the phone sex industry.

4:21pm: A question from Twitter on the projection screen is about “the NPR vs. sting video fracas”. Waiting…

4:25pm: Rosen says James O’Keefe is a blogger in terms of using tools of self publishing. But he thinks of O’Keefe as a performance artist whose work objective is to create panic in institutions. “NPR gave into his performance by panicking and firing its CEO,” Rosen says. (See his argument on PressThink.) Rosen argues that if NPR doesn’t realize there are enemies out there, they won’t do enough to counteract it. “I think there’s lots of people in public media who know that, but it’s the people at the top who don’t know how to reconcile that.”

4:29pm: Rosen gets a paywall question. He says he’s not religious about it. He thinks it’s a practical question. “It’s really hard to tell people who are producing commodity content that they’re producing commodity content, so that’s a huge barrier right there. He says we need journalism to bring attention of something to the community of the whole. But paywalls threaten to make journalism, which is about informing the public, more like private newsletters. That then creates the “insider class.” What’s at stake is that if we go to a world where newsletter model supports professional journalists, then we say that informing the public as a whole is something we’ve left behind.

4:34pm: More Rosen advice for NPR, namely to embrace transparency of individual views and “pluralism,” which is explained in his post linked above.

4:38pm: With our remaining time, we look at how money relates to blogging and bloggers. “What makes a big difference is whether you need to keep doing what you’re doing. An accidental journalist who doesn’t need to continue to do that, is in a different position than a person who’s trying to make their living at it. The investment needing to pay returns changes the relationships with the user.”

4:41pm: Something about phone sex workers again. AND WE COME FULL CIRCLE!

I think that does it for me … off to SXSW parties galore. More to come tomorrow.

SXSW Odds and Ends

It’s my first year to formally attend SXSW Interactive (previously I only attended the film part of the Film/Interactive/Music fest and then crashed the evening interactive parties to mix with interesting tech people). Spare observations so far:

1.) You can’t walk fifteen feet without someone trying to hand you a.) a Zone energy bar or b.) a Monster energy drink.

2.) Microsoft really can’t catch a break here. People snicker when the Bing promotional folks try to offer free rides or talk up their product, the “It’s All About the Browser” presentation only introduced Internet Explorer 8 to be nice and Stiles won’t even go into the Silverlight “lounge” (one of many sitting areas around the convention center to recharge your phone and chillax) for fear it’s seen as implicit approval of Microsoft.

3.) Why do I keep seeing people wear sunglasses indoors?

4.) There are parties galore, but the sponsored, please-present-your-badge elements are turning bars that are considered fratty or dumpy or otherwise lame ANY OTHER DAY OF THE YEAR into faux-elitist locations. FAIL.

5.) So far the only journalism panel I’ve attended is one called “Media Armageddon: What Happens When the New York Times Dies”, in which The NYTimes’ David Carr played the role of traditional media punching bag to Daily Kos’ Markos Moulitsas’ fist. For a stretch there, they tussled while two other panelists and a moderator sat there. Carr sounded far more reasonable. Both wound up agreeing on most points. But overall, what a sorry, wasted opportunity for a good panel. That moderator did not organize or direct that conversation in any discernibly interesting or productive way.