Blogger mentality at SXSW

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

AUSTIN, Texas -- During a panel here on whether to quit your job and pursue video blogging professionally, one audience member approached the microphone to ask a question.

Or was he an audience member?

The guy had a video camera and was pointing it at himself as he spoke:

"What advice do you have for aspiring video bloggers?" he asked.

"What's your name?" asked panelist Lindsay Campbell of the online news show MobLogic.tv.

"Brian Agosta dot com," answered the questioner, Brian Agosta.

"Yeah," Campbell deadpanned, her main piece of advice nicely illustrated: "Promote yourself."

This little scene captured a broader theme of South by Southwest Interactive, the portion of the festival here devoted to the neck-snappingly high-growth area of new media and online culture.

In the halls of the Austin Convention Center, you couldn't take three steps without tripping over a blogger, "vlogger," podcaster or online TV show host of some kind. There was so much recording, photo snapping and keyboard tapping that anyone who wasn't wielding a gadget looked just plain weird.

"Everyone's a maker," said Veronica Belmont, the host of Mahalo Daily, a video podcast for techies, in reference to the number of conference attendees who were also covering the event -- or rather, the small number who weren't.

"It happens so often where we get bloggers interviewing bloggers," she said. "It's extremely meta."

Within a few minutes of leaving the auditorium where she had moderated her own panel, Belmont was waylaid by two different interviewers, video cameras at the ready. One was Brian Tong of the online tech-news network CNet TV. The second guy was . . . well, Belmont wasn't sure.

But whatever, right? The more, the merrier. In fact, Belmont explained, the benefit of exhaustive mutual coverage makes sense if you consider the way websites become popular on the Internet: In essence, the more references to your site out there, the more visible it becomes.

"That whole premise kind of transfers into personal interactions," said Belmont. "Like, 'Oh, there's so-and-so, I'm going to go interview them, so hopefully then they'll mention me on their blog, thus elevating my status as a blogger.' "

And status is key to success in a media environment where anyone with a camera and a wi-fi connection can be a walking media outlet.

The problem that today's media aspirants face has less to do with getting published than with getting noticed.

Megan Adams, a press coordinator for "South By" -- as the veterans call it -- said last year's interactive conference had 100 registered press members. But in a survey sent to more than 6,000 attendees, 937 people referred to themselves as media. And, Adams said, there were twice as many registered press members this year. We'll have to wait for the survey to see whether the number of unofficial press doubled too. But no one's going to be surprised if it does.

In the tech world, standing out in a sea of media makers has become a key art form. The people that succeed are part reporter, part performer and part networker.

In other words, get the story, infuse it with your persona and make sure everyone who's anyone knows about it when you're done.

The idea of so-called Internet fame frequently comes up in discussions here -- there was even a panel devoted to exploring what it means to be an online celebrity.

More than a few well-known bloggers showed up to discuss the meaning of "microcelebrity" -- commanding a loyal following among a narrow group of people -- with moderator Alice Marwick, who studies status in social media at New York University. (The idea that Internet celebrities would attend a panel that attempted to hash out what Internet celebrity means speaks to the fuzzy definition of the subject.)

Among the ideas that emerged from the discussion were that traditional fame is a one-way proposition, whereas Web fame depends on an interaction between the celebrity and his or her fans.

But not everyone is sold on this new style of proactive, personality-centric media. Megan McCarthy, a staff writer at Wired.com who covered the festival, said she preferred to avoid the spotlight and just concentrate on the journalism.

"I think there are people who are not only trying to report the story but who want to become the story," she said.

And indeed, the conference's most talked about event was a keynote interview with tech-world rock star Mark Zuckerberg, the 23-year-old founder of Facebook. But it was his interviewer, BusinessWeek columnist Sarah Lacy, who ended up nabbing the headlines.

In an imperfectly calibrated bid to give the interview a personal tone, Lacy repeatedly took jabs at Zuckerberg, including references to his young age, a nervous tic of his and how he'd once been so uncomfortable during an interview that he'd "sweated through his shirt."

During a tangent in which Lacy interrupted the talk to pick out a friend in the thousand-person audience who'd been hanging out with her and Zuckerberg the night before, a heckler yelled:

"Talk about something interesting!"

The crowd, clearly unsatisfied with the interview to that point, erupted in applause, and Lacy was on the defensive for the rest of the interview.

"Can someone send me a message later about why exactly it was that I sucked so bad?" she said to the room.

"What's your e-mail address?" someone replied.

david.sarno@latimes.com

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