By Joshua Morrison
Blog Content Contributor
Each year, thousands of the brightest minds in tech-driven industries flock to Austin to attend SXSW Interactive. The experience is, by all accounts, an electrifying one. Speakers from all corners of the industry come to share their ideas, inspire audiences, network and party. Important things happen at SXSW Interactive. Nearly a decade ago, the conference served as an opportunity for Twitter to take off and this year the conference has even attracted the Obamas. Sounds like the place to be, yes? The problem, then, is figuring out how to get there.
For a select group of students, Texas State has got it covered.
Every spring, the School of Journalism as Mass Communication (SJMC) puts together a team of five graduate students who run a project called SXTXState. These five students are given badges to attend SXSW Interactive and are responsible for comprehensive coverage both in advance of and during the week of the conference. In addition to previewing and covering the conference, the students design and operate a website where their written material is hosted. The project also has a student-run presence of multiple social media platforms, including Snapchat (username: SXTXState), Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
SXTXState was developed in 2008 by Dr. Cindy Royal and since then it has evolved at a rapid pace.
“In 2008, I approached SXSW about getting media passes for a few students so they could blog about the panels they attended,” Royal said. “Since then, the SXTXState project has developed into a full course.”
Students who are part of the SXTXState team receive both college credit and real-world experience interviewing industry leaders and creating coverage. The opportunity allows those who are selected to be part of the project to put what they are learning in their classes to practice in an environment where networking opportunities abound.
“It’s just a great opportunity for students to engage with and become members of the technology community,” Royal said. “Alumni of this project now work in digital roles at The New York Times, NPR, Spredfast, HomeAway, Blackbaud… the list goes on.”
Innovation is a hallmark of Texas State’s SJMC and this program is a sterling example of innovation in action.
“Other programs have attended SXSW with students, but I think our SXTXState.com project provides the most consistent and comprehensive coverage,” Royal said. “I think that any media student and educator should consider attending.”
This year I, along with my colleagues Andrea Alvarez, Candice Brusuelas, Sara Shields and Becca Silvas, am fortunate enough to be a part of SXTXState. Each member of the team has unique responsibilities in addition to generating previews and on-the-ground coverage of the conference. The project’s website was designed by Shields and its content is edited by Silvas. Two members of the team, Alvarez and myself, manage the social media accounts, while video production and other special projects are handled by Brusuelas. Our team, however, collaborates heavily across many of our tasks.
“The project has prepared me for working in a group setting and collaborating with others,” said Shields. “I love working in a group setting because great ideas bounce around when you’re collaborating with a team.”
With the conference right around the corner (it begins March 11), members of the team are gearing up for a new experience and excited to make the most of it.
“SXSW Interactive offers us an incredible inside look at the future of digital technology and media,” Silvas said.
Each student on the team is currently busy preparing for what will be an intense five days of non-stop reporting and networking. Team members have to come up with a game plan for what panels they will attend and cultivate a backup schedule in case panels they hope to attend are too packed. Comfortable shoes are being purchased, and plans to be able to charge electronics on the go are being hatched.
“I’ve been eyeing new backpacks,” said Brusuelas. “I feel like the week will be high-stress.”
The opportunities provided by attending the conference, however, will make the hard work more than worthwhile.
“I have never been to SXSW so I am beyond excited for everything,” said Alvarez, who is particularly excited to hear presentations from Kerry Washington and Kendra Scott. “They have influenced my personal interests and motivation to start my own business.”
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