SXSW Conference: Breaking News In The Digital Age

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

The increase in day parties seems to have hit South By Southwest’s music conference hardest. While the interactive conference has helped launched influential companies like Twitter and FourSquare, music panels tend to rehash the same worn out topics. An interesting addition to 2011’s programming was a panel discussing news editorial for Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, VH1 and MTV.

MTV’s Benjamin Wagner discussed the challenge of covering music news since MTV’s dominance in the era of the Kurt Loder MTV News updates, while Rolling Stone’s Nathan Brackett discussed the problem facing old media companies entering the digital space.

Most of the discussions hinged on getting exclusives and the ephemeral nature of news scoops in the age of quickly-disseminating information through social media.

“Do what you do best and link to the rest,” Pitchfork’s Scott Plagenhoef said, re-quoting a popular blogger. He said Pitchfork doesn’t always feel the need to cover larger artists and is willing to put smaller artists up on a pedestal. While Pitchfork started as a reviews site, they’ve moved towards longer features and news, as well as video with Pitchfork.tv.

The nature of the internet has brought even more difficulty to covering news. “Things are exclusive for about 2 seconds,” says Plagenhoef. “If you can have it first and broadcast it that you have it first [via social media] then it matters.”

The panelists said the goal was to answer questions with some sort of professionalism and hope that news reaches a “watercooler moment.”

There’s also the added risk that artists with Twitter accounts and social media will scoop themselves. Plagenhoef said oftentimes it’s the media outlet who is expected to put the genie back in the bottle when a unexpected piece of news hits the internet from an artist’s camp.

The editors discussed analytics and trying not to make decisions based on hits. “It’s a big myth that covering the big artists will lead to big audience,” said Plagenhoef.

He said chasing numbers could ultimately lead to giving away your brand’s identity, even though it may bump traffic in the short run.

Veteran music journo Jim Derogatis spoke up from the back of the room, asking the panelists about the lack of investigative reporting. The answer, simply, was economical. Limited budgets have ushered out older-form jounalism in the digital age.

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