SXSW: In Conclusion

News Literacy, Privacy

Earlier this month, OIF Director Barbara Jones attended her  first SXSW in Austin.  Here’s the fourth and final installment of her blog posts from the event.  See the other three herehere and here.

This is my last blog post on SXSW.  Thank you to those who wrote me about the other three!  Upon one week’s reflection, I believe that Springsteen’s keynote was the highlight of SXSW for me.

Bruce Springsteen’s Keynote

In a way The Boss’ keynote address related to everything else at SXSW, but I’m not interested in formal exploration of those links.  I simply enjoyed his talk!  If you have an hour for this passionate lecture, please treat yourself.  Springsteen’s reflections apply to all of us with career paths or life plans.  Even rock stars have to work hard at the beginning, be inspired by those who come before them, and take risks.  And there is a certain amount of luck and talent involved, too, though Springsteen was unbelievably modest about that.  Parents and relatives:  we must let our children have the privacy to practice being a star in front of a mirror!  It was so clear that Springsteen got a lot of family support–to be a creative person comfortable in his own skin.  I wonder if his parents ever filtered his reading or listening or viewing?

News Literacy

The Office for Intellectual Freedom received a $750,000 two-year grant from the Open Society Foundations to teach “News Know-how” to high school students.  For questions, please contact me.  I will post further information soon on the OIF web site.  We will be working with four libraries and library systems to apply library information literacy principles to the news in all formats.  And so I have become an even worse “news junkie” than ever and was delighted to see so many journalism programs at Interactive.

Jill Abramson and The New York Times

Hundreds turned out for The New York Times Executive Editor’s on-stage discussion with fellow editor Evan Smith of The Texas Tribune.  The talk was covered by a lot of bloggers, so I’ll focus on how often she used the phrase, “deep stories.”  It made my heart sing!  The Times is actually finding a big audience for their in-depth series on such issues as child autism or even apple picking in New York State.  For news literacy supporters this is welcome news–our high school students will be able to delve into complex issues and not just sound bites!  And, The Times is actually opening more U.S. bureaus and are going global with initiatives in India for starters.

How Not to Die: Using Tech in a Dictatorship

There is a dark side to communications technology, so well described by Evgeny Morosov in The Net Delusion.  The assembled SXSW panel found this out firsthand.  Mark Belinsky, Co-Founder and President of Digital Democracy, told how social media worked in Egypt:  YouTube to tell the world; Twitter for revolution leaders to coordinate among themselves; and Facebook to let everyone know the schedule for demonstrations.  He talked about the importance of understanding technology in the country you are covering; in his view, for example, strong encryption saves lives.

Sabrina Hersi Issa has had a dangerous but satisfying life.  She used the Somali diaspora to infiltrate the refugee camps when the Red Cross and other NGO’s weren’t allowed in.  They used ANALOG technology to record people at feeding centers.  These tapes (with no tracking or photos) were then delivered to relatives worried about the status of their loved ones.  She emphasized that “sneakernet” is still vitally important in war zones.

Bryan Conley of Small World News reminded us that “an email is a postcard.”  He has met so many idealistic but naïve journalists who get killed because they don’t understand that.  He has developed a manual for photo-journalists to stay safe in war zones.  He gave the example of Marie Colvin, the journalist who was killed in Syria.  Before her death she had told friends that she was going to start using Skype because it was more secure.  In fact, Skype requires a satellite connection and her whereabouts were easy to trace.  He is calling for “coding for dictatorship” methodology and training so that journalists can stay safe.

For those of us concerned about the growing surveillance society right here in the U.S., there was much to learn here about how that information can be “used” in extreme situations.  All panelists called for written standards on how to use technology safely, and for tying them to the U.N. International Declaration of Human Rights so that journalists can’t be accused of bias by hostile governments.

News literacy must include technology literacy.

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