Hard News by Russell Brown


Keeping Austin Weird

The city of Austin, Texas, is unlike most of the rest of the state -- and they like it that way. Bumper stickers and t-shirts famously urge everyone to "Keep Austin Weird".

One of the key things that keeps it weird is South By Southwest, a clsuter of music, interactive and film conferences held in the city every year since 1987. Thousands of people attend every year -- either to get notice, or to see who's getting noticed.

Every year, New Zealanders go there too -- some of them with the assistance of the taxpayer. Most are musicians or people with some role in the music business, but this year film guy Ant Timpson and interactive marketing dude Vaughn Davis attended the film and interactive streams respectively.

Ant wrote this boisterous post for his mates' blog and Vaughn provided this highly readable first-timer report for Idealog magazine. SXSW is, he discovered, an exclusivity economy:

Technology is their friend; the SxSW social schedule is online and constantly updated, and private networks circulate the scoop behind the scoop, the parties you’d like to say, the next morning, that you went to.

Human intelligence has a place too: one New York agency team has brought a young staffer to do nothing other than make sure the top dogs’ names are on the very best doors. It’s a full time job. Through a friend of a friend I’ve coat-tailed the group and enjoy the bizarrely recursive experience of following them not just into the private, bouncer-guarded bar of one of Austin’s hottest hotels, nor the roped off private room behind that, but the room that from the outside looks like a niche next to the bookshelf but actually opens onto the actual back bar.

This exclusivity is carefully crafted, of course, and it’s all part of the fierce competition tech brands fight here for the eyeballs of the 20,000 or so people who turn up to SxSW every spring in Austin, Texas.

Also there this year, the APN contingent: Herald Online entertainment editor Hugh Sundae and Volume magazine editor Sam Wicks. Hugh wrote some vivid blog posts from the event, including this one:

The scale of this event is mammoth. When you walk through the city anytime after about 1pm you get a different genre of music coming from a different direction every few steps. It's like walking through a radio station dial.

Every one of those gigs has a different sound system, sound operator, a half-dozen bands and tour managers all tripping over each other to achieve their respective goals.

Sam has a special SXSW issue of Volume on the streets today. It'll cover the local artists who made up the fairly small contingent at the New Zealand showcase this year -- Cairo Knife Fight, Electirc Wire Hustle, Avalanche City and Kimbra, all of them aiming to get noticed the way the Datsuns did in their year -- as well as the wider music events, including the guest lecture and showcase by Bruce Springsteen.

Sam and Vaughn will also be joining us on Media7 this week to talk about the event and what it revealed.


The other guest on Media7 this week is National Business Review publisher Barry Colman, who'll be discussing his newspaper's new "open door" freelancing scheme, under which experienced journalists not currently employed elsewhere are invited to contribute stories and be paid according to those stories' online performance. That is, page views rule:

NBR head of digital Chris Keall said the scheme would allow more casual freelancers to contribute stories. The performance scheme will guarantee a minimum payment of $50 if it is accepted and posted online by chief reporter Jock Anderson. The payment rises to $150 if the hit rate reaches 400 and $350 if it exceeds 800.

“We believe there are many freelancers who come across good business-related stories during the course of their routine work who would benefit by an open door scheme like this,” says Keall.

The response from most experienced journalists we've spoken to have ranged from scorn to, well, scorn. They're contemptuous of both the money on offer and the reliance on page views as a sole measure of merit. (Check out the comments under this not-exactly-business NBR story.)

But one or two thought they could make such a system work for themselves. And Colman will be offering a robust defence of his new scheme on our show.

If you'd like to join us for tomorrow's Media7 recording, we'll need you to come to the Victoria Street entrance of TVNZ some time between 5.15 and 5.40pm. As ever try and drop me a line to let me know you're coming.

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