SXSWi 2012: Notes For the Good of the Order

Notes from SXSW (3).pdf - Adobe Acrobat Pro

VOA’s Elizabeth Pfotzer has collected great notes from the conference! See below her roundup for our blog!

I-I. Use of Photography / Video in News and Storytelling
Session: Photo Madness and its Impact
This session discussed whether the prevalence of photographic images is diluting its effectiveness in news and storytelling. Someone produced a graph showing the meteoric rise in the number of digital photographs available to the public over the last few decades, asking whether we are polluting the world with images.
Richard Koci-Hernandez, an iPhoneographer, multimedia journalist and lecturer at UC Berkley, doesn’t think so at all. He is a proponent of street scenes, catching his subject in a completely natural state. He dislikes perfection in a photo and feels that the app Instagram is an opportunity to create an image and share it with the world instantly. He presently has almost 89,000 followers. Instagram allows comments and “like” from other users, though he says he disregards the “like” way of thinking. He produces for his own purposes, not considering how many “likes” his image will attract.
Insightful link to his ideas on photojournalism:

NYT link on Richard’s Instagram work:

I-II. iPhone Pocket Film Studio
Already well-recognized as a tool for journalists, the iPhone is now the pocket film studio with the use of iMovie and other applications. One of the panelists, Michael Koerbel, produced a multi-series episode as a mobile series. It is a thriller, not news, but it could be news.

As mentioned in the session, the iPhone is a great tool for both eye witness accounts and for journalists, particularly since it can alleviate some security concerns and needs no satellite transmission.

I-III. Enhancements for Video
This session covered some methods of video enhancements that are primarily relevant to video content. The measured responses from those polled overwhelmingly expressed more interest, more engagement and much greater likelihood of sharing video content that is well-crafted, highly saturated color and content that utilized graphic enhancements. Those graphics could be special effects or something as simple as color correction or visualization graphics.

I-IV. Cinematic Storytelling

The premise of this panel was that both amateurs and professionals are using innovative approaches to covering news stories.
Panelist Jonathan Watts shot this video in the aftermath of the tsunami in Japan last year using a DSLR camera:

It illustrates how simple, but compellingly shot video can tell a story without using a voice over track. It is part of movement to push story telling in different directions.
There are also many different perspectives to the same story. Viewers go to Vimeo or YouTube to see a range of content sometimes piecemeal, rather than digesting it from pre-packaged network news outlets.

There is increasingly greater acceptance toward Citizen Journalist content. The value of the contributed material continues to grow especially since the quality is improving so rapidly. CJ stories add color to other forms of journalism. This opinion converges with another panel that I attended, “Vetting in the Age of Social Networking: Who Do You Trust?” At that panel, some of the contributors contend that user generated content adds to the 360 degree perspective of a viewer who wants to understand the story. Ultimately, the panelists said while they ultimately believe that content consumers are interested in stories from citizen journalists, they still respect the investigated and researched story that trained journalists produce.

I-V. Vetting in the Age of Social Networking: Who Do You Trust?
Panel discussion opened by asking panelists where they turn for news as they start their day. Most answered by saying a series of their sites or aggregated sites: Twitter, blogs; CNN’s Alicia Stewart mentioned and because she is looking for different angles to stories. They all said that they routinely turn to Twitter for breaking news, then look to other trusted sources to verify.
Most of the big news outlets consider citizen journalists as their partners in covering a story in an authentic way. While not precisely defined, one panelist mentioned that Gen Y and Millennials trust is based on a whole different set of criteria.
Trust was a recurring theme, because once they have lost the trust of their viewers, then they lose those viewers. The traditional reporting values of disclosure, ethics and transparency do matter. As many have said, everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.
Do the news outlets fear they may be replaced by amateurs shooting video? Their response was not as long as they do their craft well and strive to be the best. Content is the new advertising; when content is good, viewers spread the word.

I-VI. Rise of Analytics: Impacting the Editorial Process
This panel raised the question of whether the pursuit of higher page views impacts the nature of the content that gets published on the web. The answer seems to be it depends: on the one hand, it is important to keep your core audience coming back by delivering the content that you know interests them, but the close observation of analytics day to day is most useful in situations where editors are reactive to breaking stories.
When asked the question of how big a role analytics plays in the overall content decision making process, panelists seemed to agree that they paid closer attention to their instinct as an editor, listening to their gut when determining what they publish.
All editors watch for red flags in analytic trends. They know whether they’re gaining or losing an audience over time, not paying as much attention in the day to day cycles. They feel this is the greater value of analytics.
Conde Nast Executive Director of Analytics, Chris Reynolds, said that his strategy is to spend time on content that gets social media commentary, as they get about 20% of their traffic through social media. knows that they’re audience comes to their site to learn about gadgets and software and that photo galleries are popular. They know their demographic and they produce targeted content. Their mobile traffic is growing rapidly and so they spend time making their mobile content appealing. uses the newsroom model: publish longer form stories but stay reactive to other (shorter) stories.
Takeaway: Don’t rely too heavily on analytics day to day, but be reactive to stories that can generate social media commentary. Know your demographic and provide content to keep them returning. While no one speculated why The New Yorker has such impressive numbers for viewer time spent on page rate, I believe that it is the quality of the content whether fiction, feature or poetry, coupled with a good balance of illustrations and humor.

I-VII. Real-time Newsjacking & a Cold-Blooded Tweeter
What is newsjacking?
Quoting panelist David Meerman Scott, author of “News Jacking, How to Inject Your Ideas into a Breaking News Story”:
The traditional PR model model — sticking closely to a preset script and campaign timeline — no longer works the way it used to. Public discourse now moves so fast and so dynamically that all it takes is a single afternoon to blast the wheels off someone’s laboriously crafted narrative.
Enter newsjacking: the process by which you inject your ideas or angles into breaking news, in real-time, in order to generate media coverage for yourself or your business.

How to NewsJack

Examples given:
When the rare and very poisonous Egyptian cobra that went missing from the Bronx zoo became headlines, a thread on Twitter snowballed to about 200,000 followers. In the meantime, a global competition based on the lost cobra was initiated by an agency.** The team or individual that created the most buzz with their version of the story, won the competition.

Another offbeat story:
The boy asking candidates which superhero they would like to be. This kind of story Introduced a human element into the otherwise pretty humdrum campaign cycle.
The takeaway here: have some fun with offbeat coverage.

I-VIII. How Comics Journalism Is Saving Your Media (captured on iPad camera, movie yet to come)
Comics Journalism is a rising form of storytelling for good reasons:
• artists can go where cameras cannot go
• primed for sharing
• readers stick with it
• on the web, hand drawn graphics have a tactile appeal
• two words: enormous traffic; goes viral very quickly
Example of the kind of story that can be covered with comics journalism:
One of the artists went to nine crisis pregnancy centers pretending to be a woman in crisis, speaking to the resident counselors. This was not an advocacy story, but an objective story relating her experience. She believes that the people she interviewed would not have related to her the same way had she brought in a camera crew.

Her candid comic journalism piece was enormously popular partly, she believes, because of the authenticity of her storytelling. The comics journalists are clear that they embrace the usual standards of journalism including objectivity and honesty in reporting.

I-VIII. Barry Diller

Barry Diller demoed his web-based television service, Aereo, at SXSW during a keynote address hosted by Ali Velshi. As Mr. Diller explains it, subscribers pay $12 per month to view live broadcast television from all of the major networks with the possibility of scheduling DVR-like recordings without any hardware or wires. Because content is stored on Aereo’s cloud servers, and streamed over the internet to Aereo-compatible devices, you can watch TV on any screen you prefer, even your laptop or mobile phone. As Diller described it, “Aereo allows you to receive broadcast programming without an intermediary.”
Although Mr. Diller announced his intention to launch Aereo in April of 2011, it was not until days ago that infringement lawsuits were filed by the major networks, attempting to block the launch.
On March 15, after the New York launch,, an online media publication wrote:
A lawsuit by CBS, NBC, and ABC, led to this terse joint statement:
“This service is based on the illegal use of our content. Beyond that, we believe the complaint speaks for itself.”
Initial reviews for Aereo have been favorable and according to writes: “Overall, despite my limited ability to use the service, and my encounters with a few glitches, using Aereo was an exciting experience.”
The lawsuits will determine whether Aereo’s usage of network material is an infringement, much the way cable stations fought for the distribution rights to provide broadcasters’ content.
Takeway: interesting emerging technology that could potentially impact the way VOA content is distributed.

I-IX. Your iPhone is Political: Mobile Democracy
This panel was focused on an obvious point, but one that is easily overlooked.
It was stated that by the year 2020, almost everyone in the world will have a cellphone. This gives the providers of those cellphones enormous power to control or suppress information.
As it now stands, about 80% of cell phone users in the US are engaged in the political process. Who determines what information will be permitted to be viewed through the cell phones?
In lower income countries, often times the person in power will designate who the service provider is. There may be little opportunity for opposing points of view to be accessed.
It is for this reason that the cellular phone will become an even greater instrument of political control.
One of the favorable aspects of Facebook and other multi-platform methods of distribution is that it can connect a great number of people with one message, unlike a cellular phone, which only permits caller to caller information to be spread. This is part of the reason it is used in times of political activism, for instance during the Arab Spring revolution.
Unfortunately, when the Mubarak regime felt threatened, it did shut down communications in an effort to thwart organizers of the opposition. Further, the information from the cell phone service providers enabled the police to apprehend, intimidate and torture those who were involved in the opposition movement. This is the extreme measure, but demonstrates the enormous power of those who control information.
Takeaway: as VOA expands its mobile services, strategizing channels of information becomes increasingly more important.

I-X. Baratunde Thurston – How to Read the World

Baratunde’s keynote address summed up the broader message from SXSW this year:
“There is a need for a storytelling narrative, for a humanity and a voice, for humor…Comedians have always played a role of communicating truth directly…making people more receptive to what you have to say.”
Of course we realize the power of humor through the success of Parazit and other VOA programs. It continues to be a way to deliver a message in a way that conventional coverage fails to do. What we need is cultivated wit, which, as Baratunde says, upgrades the world.

(more to come!)

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