For about a month and a half, starting at the beginning of February and ending less than a week ago, my whole life was pretty much South by Southwest Interactive.
The festival takes place in Austin every year and for the last two has been growing at a rate of more than 35 percent, year-over-year. Like smartphones and apps, it’s become one of those things that only becomes a bigger and bigger part of my job. It’s not just a national tech story that publications like Wired, CNet, The New York Times and others pay attention to, it’s a local story for us. And as the lead reporter on it for my paper, I get really, really competitive and territorial about our coverage. It’s probably the only time of the year that this journalistic bug hits me, where I turn into one of those guys with the hat with “PRESS” on it and bark things out like, “You’re not gonna scoop me, ya out-of-towner, see?”
The “See?” is probably unnecessary.
But it really does take over my life for a good while. I turn down freelance assignments and other offers to do stuff with, “I can’t. South by Southwest.” We coordinate a schedule of babysitting help for my wife with the explainer, “South by Southwest.” When I go to get a bite to eat at a restaurant and they ask what I want, I say, “South by Southwest.” Then they bring me back a soggy sandwich and I wonder if perhaps I’ve gone too far.
What is the festival? I don’t really know anymore. It was once a funky, centralized festival for CD-ROM producers, digital artists and people dabbling in online porn (“dabbling” is a good word for that, don’t you think? It’s dirty-but-not-quite-dirty-sounding).
Today, it’s a massive social media event, a place where start-ups try to get a foothold with early adopters and a place where huge companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get their brands in front of bloggers, top Twitterers and the press.
For me, personally, it’s the hardest I work all year on any one project. It’s also the only time of the year I have a free pass to stay out as late as I want for a whole week and to really throw myself into coverage.
I won’t bore you with the play-by-play because I pretty much did that with Twitter for a whole week (and then some) to the point where I wondered if one more post with the hashtag “#SXSW” was finally going to drive my friends away for good.
I took last Thursday and Friday off after the fest and am scheduling some vacation time soon. You’ll see why below.
Here’s a lot of what I wrote in that blaze of pre-festival, mid-festival and post-festival activity.
- The Monday that the festival ran, I did a piece with NPR on trends at the fest. We recorded it via Skype from the press room of the Convention Center (which was much more convenient than going to the studio where we usually record).
- Before the fest, I did a profile of 4chan and Canvas founder Christopher Poole that ran in our Insight section and covered the actual keynote. I also profiled SCVNGR chief ninja (and founder) Seth Priebatsch, who ended up doing a great job on his keynote.
- On the Saturday of the fest, I had a story/essay run about so-called “Social Media Gurus” that featured a photo of me that all my editors found very amusing. I just tried very hard to avoid making eye contact with the photo. Overall, I thought it turned out really well. It’s a piece my editor and I have wanted to get into the paper for a while.
- I also wrote about the backlash against the festival in 2010 and how Interactive is dealing with growing pains and emerging as a huge social event. (2011 would eventually prove a lot of this even truer). I was surprised to see that piece pop up on Techmeme.
- A Tweet I posted about Apple’s surprise pop up store became a Twitter top Tweet, featured on the front page of Twitter.com! (It wasn’t even linking to a story I wrote. Our great real estate writer Shonda Novak covered that.)
- We covered a ton of panels, posted lots of photos and just did a lot of write-ups on the fest programming.
- Post-festival, I wrote about how it grew to more than 19k attendees and how SXSW Interactive can be fixed for 2012 (not that it’s broken).
- At the fest, I was in videos for Access PR and Gen Connect, being interviewed about SXSW Interactive.
- I created a Flickr set of some of my SXSW photos as well as the Statesman Texas Social Media Awards, where I was a judge. I’m still tweaking pics and putting more of them up.
- I shot a video of Trey Ratcliff’s amazing downtown Austin photowalk. Bonus was that I got to hang out with Jackie Danicki, a long-time Internet friend. You can also see a video I shot of an IBM Watson demo and a stand-up I did wrapping up the fest embedded below.