48 Hours at SXSW

I Went To 1 Session and 1 Party, and It Was Awesome


Last week, I spoke on The Future of Automated Journalism at SXSW, on a panel that included folks from the Washington Post, the New York Times, and Norwegian News Agency NTB. The panel was amazing, and I'll be following up from the inbound avalanche for at least another week.

I've been to SXSW several times. In fact, just last year I spoke there about the future of sports. I was there for four days, I went to a ton of sessions. I went to bunch of parties, I even went to a handful of VIP events. It was fun, but it was kind of empty.

So this year I approached SXSW a little differently, because this year, I'm on a mission. Actually it's several missions, but it all rolls up into one greater mission: Democratize the way we communicate to an audience.

The mission started with a number of meetings I had set up around the panel before I had even left for Austin. My flight arrived an hour and a half late, so I was already a half-hour late for my first meeting. But that person was forgiving and that meeting and the rest of the meetings were excellent.

I'm no longer talking about how automated content isn't a threat to news, I'm talking about how automated content can expand, fortify, and even save news. Newsrooms and journalists and broadcast media outlets are finally coming to an understanding about automated content. They're no longer seeing it as a threat, but as a tool. Now, they just want to get started, even if they're not 100% sure how.

That's where I come in.

And then there was the panel.

To summarize, my message was that I believe automated content should be in every newsroom in the world, standing side-by-side with and complementing traditional journalism. It's not about replacing journalists, it's about removing the hours of data science that's now necessary to write robust stories about any number of topics: Sports, finance, healthcare, crime, government, almost everything.

That message resonated. There was applause. That was unexpected. One woman even raised her hand and asked "How much is your product and how do I get started?"

I mean, you couldn't ask for a better setup.

When I wasn't in one-on-one meetings with media people -- and SXSW opens the doors to get to some pretty big names in news and television -- I was giving press interviews, including this one for MediaShift, where we sat on a rooftop overlooking downtown Austin talking about the future of newsrooms and how automated content can boost their reach, depth, and speed.

I also got several chances to talk about Teaching Startup, thanks to a little bit of virality that The Show is starting to catch. Teaching Startup wants to democratize startup, and we're doing this by educating entrepreneurs and communicating in the way the young folks are communicating and getting educated.

I was able to meet with a number of broadcast and digital video people -- from late night drinks to early morning coffee.

The message in these meetings: On Teaching Startup, we talk about startup by not talking about startup. And in that, we wind up talking about the startup in EVERYTHING.

That goes hand in hand with how we're communicating, which is mainly video over the web. We're all moving from written to video faster than we think we are. I've seen a revolutionary shift here as well. Much like when the Internet first dawned over written content and the content-controlling powers that be were still trying to play by the same rules, much like with music and how the record labels fought tooth-and-nail to stick to the old system by trying to crush the new system, we're seeing the same thing in video.

Only this time, there's YouTube and Facebook, and the kids don't watch anything else anymore. It would be as if, when the whole Napster thing was happening, if we all had said, "Well, wait, if we can't get Metallica on Napster, then eff it, we'll just find another band."

That's happening this time. No one is getting sued.

The tools of Democratization are coming to video content the same way they came to written content. And what you put on that screen is as important as how the content is delivered. We get that with Teaching Startup, and we think we're on the right track -- well, at least for a show that talks about startup.

I got one quiet moment, late on the second night when the dude I was meeting with had to hurry off to meet his wife. I sat in the luxurious bar in the JW Marriott, finished my drink, ordered one more, and then went back to my hotel, feeling anything but empty. My mission is far from accomplished, but it's off to a raging start.

I'll continue to spit these messages at NAB Show, the annual mega-event for the National Association of Broadcasters in Las Vegas when I speak there on April 23rd. And note, I'm setting up meetings now, so go here and get in touch if you're in broadcast media and you want to talk about the future -- because I want to talk to you.