Posted in Conferences & Conventions, Education, journalism, Social Media

SXSW Panel: 100% Viable, 1% Visible – Minority New Media Entrepreneurs, By Kiratiana Freelon

By Benét J. Wilson, DJTF co-chair, Online Managing Editor-Business Aviation, Aviation Week Group

Back on Feb. 18, I did a profile of travel blogger Kiratiana Freelon.  Tomorrow is the first day of the annual South By Southwest Interactive conference, and Freelon is one of a handful of minority presenters at this year’s event.

The interactive part of SXSW has quickly become THE place to come to hear the latest in digital/social/new and multimedia.  A virtual who’s who from influential companies and media organizations are at SXSW, participating on panels, offering exhibits and hosting evening functions. Below we chat about her SXSW presentation.  I also have links below that will help attendees navigate SXSW.

NABJDigital: you have a panel at SXSW: 100% Viable, 1% Visible – Minority New Media Entrepreneurs.  Why did you feel it was important to present this topic?

Kiratiana Freelon: for the past year and a half, I have been heavily involved in this digital and new media world. That means I’ve been going to interactive conferences, blogging conferences, and development conferences and just creating stuff on my own. I’m so enamored with people who create new digital applications and technologies, but when I go to even slightly more techie conferences, the number of minorities dramatically dips.

Yes we can blog. We tweet our behinds off. But why aren’t we creating more new media companies? Is it because young people don’t even THINK to develop something in the digital space?

But I always wonder: why aren’t there more black or Latino new media entrepreneurs? So I want to use this panel to call attention to this issue (as already has) and have a call to action. What social media has taught me is that big things happen when you can get a lot of people together for a cause. Getting more minorities to be entrepreneurs is a cause that I think will move a lot of people.

Why can’t I create a photo sharing application? Why can’t I create a new way to look at a travel guide on your phone? I may not have the developer chops but I have the creativity, passion and will. That’s why I’m turning my book, Kiratiana’s Travel Guide to Black Paris, into a mobile application. Mark my word, it will be available by July 14, 2011 of THIS YEAR.

ND: Who will appear on the panel with you?

KF: That’s a really good question. Even though I applied for the presentation to be a panel, I am actually giving a Future15 talk, which is a 12.5 minute presentation. I will be one of four Future15 presenters that will talk about diversity. That basically means my stuff has to be TIGHT. It also puts a lot more pressure on me as well.

ND: SXSW has been called out in past years for not having enough diversity.  How do you think they’re doing in trying to bring more diversity to the conference?

KF: Well I definitely think it was good to include my panel in the mix! From my experience of only a year, I think they are doing a good job. I know that this year, they are having affinity meetups and one includes a black technology meetup. There are other many other panels that are being led by people of color as well. I think the representation of minority panels is good this year because we all just took control of our destiny and knew that they best way to get into the conference is lead a panel.

But I STILL think black people and NABJ people in particular need to do a better job at attending conferences like these and pitching panels. There should be at least 50 people who belong to NABJ at the SXSW Interactive. There should be NABJ people leading panels.  It shouldn’t just be black bloggers and tech heads.  If done ahead of time, you can do SXSW with $1,000. It’s not cheap but you have to look at it like an investment.

ND: If a person of color asks you why they should attend SXSW, what would you tell them?

KF: It will change your life. Last year, I was unemployed and I had just returned from the Vancouver Olympic Games when I realized that I needed and wanted to go to SXSW Interactive. I paid more than $2,000 of my own money to attend the conference and it was worth every penny. That $2,000 did the following for me:

1) Allowed me to interact with the leaders of social media and got me up to speed on who the big dogs were.

2) When I left SXSW, I had a good idea of what were going to be the “hot” interactive technologies for the next year (location-based social media, cause social media (a la Pepsi refresh).

3) Allowed me to personally interact with people of color who are leaders in the field. When I arrived at SXSW last year, I was nobody. After going to a couple of panels that featured people of color, I was able to connect with leaders like blogger Gina McCauley (What About Our Daughters) and comedian/techie Baratunde.

4) Soon after attending SXSW, I really started to follow social media and digital media more closely. I knew what publications to read. I knew what people to follow.

This year I am going to have more of a targeted approach and focus on entrepreneurship and mobile technologies.

SXSW Interactive Links



Home of the National Association of Black Journalists's (NABJ's) Digital Journalism Task Force

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