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SXSW Tales: Random Tidbits from the World of Journalism

March 13, 2012

A few journalism-related ideas that stuck with me from yesterday's panel presentations here at SXSW:

1. People aren't buying newspapers because that are considered to be trusted sources of information anymore. They are buying papers because they want to see their lives depicted. Justin Ferrell, a panelist on a talk about the business side of journalism and a fellow Knight Fellow at Stanford, told a compelling story to illustrate this point: He was once browsing the newspaper and magazine aisle in a North Carolina Barnes & Noble and overheard someone talking to the attendant about wanting to buy a local paper. There were none left, apparently -- a lady had come in and bought the entire stack in one go. Why? Because there was a picture of the woman's dog in that issue.

2. Developers are the new kings of journalism. You cannot start a media organization without having an IT director. This is the only key position. Content people come second. And legacy media organizations are also employing programmers in much greater numbers these days. While it's hard to get a job as a journalist, there are far more opportunities for code monkeys.

3. The Onion's editorial process is fascinating. Each edition of the satirical newspaper starts with the process of culling around 500 headlines from staffers and freelance contributors. These get whittled down and then assigned to writers. Each piece is developed in two drafts and four rounds of edits. Also, John Randazzo, who runs The Onion, says that the publication doesn't seek to trick readers but there are still some people who are fooled. One example, which beggars belief, is the Louisiana Governor, who was so shocked by an article from The Onion about a mega-abortion center in which women slid down water slides etc, that he republished it online.

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