The website for the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, bills the annual event as a "unique convergence of original music, independent films, and emerging technologies."
It's not exactly your average Brookings Institution or Heritage Foundation symposium, but the festival, which takes place in March, has increasingly become a destination for politicos despite its history of primarily attracting techie and creative types. The latest proposed lineup for the 2012 festival features a heavy dose of panel discussions that seem tailor-made for Washingtonians. (Whether a proposed discussion ultimately makes the cut is based on the following formula: 30% public votes, 30% staff input and 40% advisory board input.)
"How Social Media Imperils Political Parties," with the New York Times's Matt Bai and political strategists Mark McKinnon, Joe Trippi and Nathan Daschle.
"Reporters & Evangelists: Politics of Online News," featuring Roll Call's Shira Toeplitz.
"Poli-Sci-Fi Punditry: Nerdy Political Bloggers," featuring Slate's David Weigel, The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen, The Washington Post's Ezra Klein, the American Prospect's Adam Serwer and the Center for American Progress's Alyssa Rosenberg.
"Big Data: Powering the Race for the White House" with The Winston Group's Kristen Soltis.
"2012: Social Media's New Role in Politics," with The Huffington Post's Mark Blumenthal.
"Election 2012: Campaigns, Coverage & the Internet" with TIME magazine's Michael Scherer.
Voting to determine the final panel line-up is underway and ends on Sept. 2, so we'll soon see whether any of these panels will ultimately see the light of day. In the meantime, politicos are keeping their fingers crossed and launching their own get out the vote efforts.
"Y'all only have a week left to send me, @mattyglesias @daveweigel @AdamSerwer and @ezraklein to SXSW, so hop to it: http://bit.ly/nP0els" tweeted Rosenberg.
"Please send me to SXSW for the @partisanmedia panel! Vote here," tweeted Toeplitz. She said she'll make her first trip to SXSW next year either way, explaining that the conference has "become more popular among political media types."
Benen said, "It looks like there's a growing interest in political media at the interactive portion of the conference. It's encouraging, and it seems to speak to a larger trend."
That trend? In part, the possible inclusion of these panels at SXSW is a reflection of how intertwined technology and politics have become. While Washington may be stereotyped as a slow and stodgy, politicians — especially those campaigning — and news organizations are increasingly embracing technology to reach larger audiences. The growing popularity of such online-focused political events as Netroots Nation and RightOnline illustrate the ongoing dialogue taking place between politicos and plugged-in types.
Shawn O'Keefe, SXSW's interactive producer, says that he's "definitely seen growth over the past two to three years with government-focused or journalism sessions," in part because of the increasing role that government has played in shaping the technological playing field. (The amped up presence of both Google and Facebook in D.C. is just one example.)
"I think those who work in government and politics are realizing more and more that technology is changing how we campaign and make policy," said Soltis. "Especially in a presidential campaign year, it's no surprise that the intersection of politics and tech would be front and center."
For journalists - from Washington and elsewhere - the conference offers a forum to discuss improving readership online.
"I think that most bloggers care about communicating to a national audience, not simply a Beltway one," said Rosenberg. "If your primary interest is in, say, national security policy, but you're also interested in the technology you use to communicate your ideas and find powerful metaphors for them in pop culture, SXSW is a great place to be, and a great audience to get in front of."
Despite what seems to be a politicization of the Austin-based festival, don't expect SXSW to be moved to Washington anytime soon. Although O'Keefe said that political panels are "definitely popular," some disagree.
Garrett Graff, editor of Washingtonian magazine has attended SXSW since 2005 and said that many of the political "sessions are still pretty poorly attended, comparatively, and generally a pretty good reality check on how little the tech community cares about the political sphere." He added, "There's a lot more street cred to be had for being a politico who is a geek than there is in being a geek who is into politics."
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