Everything that converges must be workshopped: New York media flees town for SXSW conference
Sultan Al Qassemi, the Dubai-based Arab affairs commentator who was one of a handful of online personas to make a name for themselves last year via their 140-character coverage of the uprisings in the Middle East, had this message for his loyal readers Wednesday afternoon: "I am traveling to Texas for @SXSW in five hours and I haven't packed anything. #procrastination."
"Jesus, EVERYONE's going," tweeted Nick Rizzo, a freelance journalist, in response.
In fact, everyone is going to the South by Southwest "interactive" conference in Austin, Texas this weekend and early next week.
SXSW Interactive is no longer the redheaded stepchild of the 10-day festival's historically more popular music and film programming. It's like the much warmer, far less wealthy, infinitely-tweeted, beer- and barbecue-drenched version of Davos for Future-of-Media types both real and self-styled.
Between minute-by-minute Twitter documentation of the participants' every move at the festival (which tends to provoke some outrage among unlucky media people stuck here in New York), there are the panels, presentations and "conversations" about things like innovation, aggregation, curation, "social," "search" and, of course, "convergence," which is apparently the meeting's perennial buzzword.
The New York Times is sending a formidable fleet, including its captain, executive editor Jill Abramson, who on Monday will sit down with Texas Tribune editor Evan Smith to address a topic with timeless appeal for those who accord her newspaper the same scrutiny others might of the U.N. or the White House: "The Future of The New York Times."
The rest of the Times crew, for the most part, is precisely who you'd expect: David Carr in a Saturday session on curation that also includes Longform.org co-founder Max Linsky; Brian Stelter weighing in that same day on the whole SOPA thing; Jenna Wortham grilling Andreessen Horowitz on Sunday; and interactive editor Aron Pilhofer, also on Sunday, talking about "new forms" of storytelling.
On Monday, Matt Bai will share the stage with Joe Trippi and others for a discussion of "How Social Media Imperils Political Parties." Also Monday, associate managing editor Jim Schachter is emceeing the "Accelerator" panels on news-related technologies. And Times chronicler Andrew Rossi, director of the documentary Page One, will be at the festival, too, offering a Sunday mentoring session for aspiring film producers.
Times panelists should expect to bump into their Conde Nast neighbors from back home. The magazine-publishing titan is likewise offering up a full complement of speakers, including C.T.O. Joe Simon, Lucky director of digital content Caroline Waxler, and executive director of analytics Chris Reynolds, who will be presenting Saturday, along with Wired managing editor Jacob Young, on how analytics impact the editorial process. Other Wired staffers on the docket include senior writer Steven Levy ("The Wars of Tech"); Senior Editor Bill Wasik ("Surprise and the Social Media Age"); and founding contributing editor Jaron Lanier, who on Monday will tackle that age old question, "Is Technology Making Our Lives Richer or Poorer," with newly-christened NewYorker.com editor Nicholas Thompson.
New Yorker television critic Emily Nussbaum is slated on a Sunday panel with fellow TV writer James Poniewozik of Time about arts criticism in the age of Twitter, while the magazine's deputy editor, Pam McCarthy, and Lucky editor-in-chief Brandon Holly will tackle "Digital Age Editing" on Tuesday. Susan Orlean talks about women in the digital age with some HuffPosters on Satuday, and there will even be a New Yorker cartoonist on deck!
Bold-faced New York TV personalities on the schedule include Soledad O'Brien, Tom Colicchio, Andy Cohen and Anthony Bourdain, who's on a Tuesday "Digital Debauchery" panel with Reuters social media guru Anthony De Rosa.
Also appearing from Reuters will be columnist Felix Salmon, who on Tuesday will chat with Week editor Bill Falk and Ad Age writer Simon Dumenco about whether aggregation is theft. (Slate boss Jacob Weisberg and New York Observer editor Elizabeth Spiers had originally been listed as panelists but appear to have dropped off.)
The Manhattan pro-blogging elite will be out in full force, too, least not of all Gawker overlord and recent "Rock Center" profile subject Nick Denton on "The Failure of Comments." Then there's Gawker's Maureen O'Connor and Fleshbot's Lux Alptraum on "Sex in the Digital Age"; Salon's Irin Carmon on "Curing a Rage Headache"; Tumblr's Mark Coatney on "Social Discovery"; and Rachel Sklar, these days an editor at large at Change the Ratio, on "Tech Detox."
SXSW of course would not be complete without some cameos from the establishment media. Among those representing that contigent are NBC News chief digital officer Vivian Schiller and new Wall Street Journal digital editor Raju Narisetti.
Some other odds and ends, including journos from New York and elsewhere: Esquire editor-at-large A.J. Jacobs; Slate senior editor Dan Kois; writer Dana Vachon; columnist Mona Eltahawy; Mental Floss magazine co-founders Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur; celebrity gossip queen Bonnie Fuller; New York City chief digital officer Rachel Sterne; and Poynter managing editor Steve Myers.
Which leaves just us.