What I learned at my first SXSW

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What I learned at my first SXSW

Mateen Kontoravdis, Editor-in-Chief

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Walking into the registration center a day before the events started, I started to realize how phenomenal the next few days would be. While very excited for what was to come, I was also a bit nervous. This would be my first time attending SXSW (South by Southwest) and I was not sure exactly what to expect. However, after talking to some friends and a few other people I had met at the registration center about the festival, my enthusiasm continued building up.

As I began planning my first day at the Interactive Festival, I started to become aware of the hundreds if not thousands of panel discussions, movie screenings, concerts, and other events that would be happening over the next week. On a mission to learn more about journalism and how it will evolve in the future, I filled my schedule with events relating to the industry.

To my surprise, just two minutes after the session started, the ballroom hosting the panel discussion was already at capacity, with a line of people waiting for anyone who decided to leave. The next event I planned to attend didn’t start for almost two hours, so I walked around and managed to get into a session focusing on data journalism and its role in accountability journalism before it filled up. The panel of four speakers included professionals from the Associated Press and Vice News, and the audience was made up of almost 1,000 current and aspiring journalists, like myself, from around the world.

Throughout the hour long session, the four panelists highlighted the important role data plays in journalism and how to properly source, handle, and publish data in news. Having walked in knowing virtually nothing on the topic, by the end of the session it felt like I had attended a lecture for a class I was genuinely interested in. You could say I’m an expert. And just like passing periods at school, with little time between sessions, I rushed through the streets of downtown Austin. I made sure I could get in to my next session before it filled up, making a pit stop for only a few minutes at a food trailer park, where you could pet goats who were also attending at festival.

Over the four days that I was at SXSW, I had the chance to attend 14 different panel sessions and hear over 35 speakers covering a multitude of different topics. Additionally, I had a chance to stop by the Trade Show, where nations from all corners of the globe had come to display their best technology and ideas on the floors of the Austin Convention Center. From a pillow made to simulate a cat for those with allergies, to an app to track your favorite food trucks, to robots capable of rapping and lightsaber fighting, the new tech was truly impressive and endless. My inner techy was going crazy as I witnesses all of the new technology being shown off and realizing the positive impacts they would soon have in our lives.

Though I attended events covering various different topics, one constant remained the entire time: the enthusiasm was through the roof. No matter where I went or who I met, everyone was excited about what they were doing, even the volunteers guiding the thousands of people waiting to watch the next keynote speaker. This created an experience like none other.

One of my favorite sessions I had the opportunity to attend was titled: “Shredding the Newspaper.” I was shocked by the title initially as I’m an avid supporter of newspapers and their importance in journalism, even as our world depends more on technology. To my surprise though, the panelists actually created the session to help journalists understand the balance between technology and print news that needs to exist in news rooms.

Experiencing all the great events was something I will never forget. In just four short days, it felt as if I had accumulated over a year’s worth of knowledge from experts in different fields. SXSW almost felt like a dream school for me, giving me the freedom to learn about things that interest me from experts around the world. After being immersed in the festivities of SXSW for four days, I was inspired to keep studying subjects that fascinate me. Who knows, maybe one I will be a part of a panel, discussing and inspiring others about a something I’m passionate about.