Thursday, March 19, 2009


What Is

Really Happening



SXSW traffic takes down AT&T’s 3G network downtown. SXSW shuts down streets downtown and next to downtown. I-35 is actually slowed to a crawl during non-rush hours. SXSW makes parking impossible downtown. On the upside, SXSW results in a stack of cash for the City of Austin. (I am told that bartenders and others in the service industry do not fare that well, because out-of-towners don’t have much money for tips. They work harder than ever for less.)

But, what would Austin be without SXSW? Quieter. Poorer. Less Weird. I’d never want to see it go away. I would just like to see some things done better.

The media is in a SXSW digital orgy. Who can get the cool interview with whom? Who can get the best stuff online? Who can do the most entertaining live shot? “Info-tainment” rules.

It seems that everyone in the media has a little camera in their hand, and the results look like home movies, quite honestly. Actually, they’re worse. There are sweeping pans that would give some viewers motion sickness on the spot. There are shaky close-ups that are hard to watch. They worst thing—the thing that is almost always the worst thing online—is the sound. In these hectic, loony, and horribly noisy locations where people are shouting to be heard, no one is using a real, honest-to-goodness professional microphone. They are relying on those sorry little omni-directional mics on top of those sorry little cameras. If you really care, you have to turn the sound on your computer with the sub-woofer really loud. You still might not be able to understand what is being said, but you would, at least, have something of the feeling of being there.

The only SWSW stories that have some depth are those in the early on-air newscasts. These are the stories where the reporters actually took some time working with a photojournalist. Matt Flener’s story on KXAN TV (NBC-36) was useful. He talked about illegal towing in the downtown area. If you’ve been downtown toward dusk, it was useful information. Another useful story talked about the illegal “parking guards”—the guys who stand in parking places promising to watch your car for a fee, if you park there and pay. Of course, what these cons are doing is illegal. If there is a parking place, you can have it. But, it begins to feel like extortion when the guy is standing there. Advice: Pull out your cell phone and call the cops.

While it is hard—very hard—to avoid all of the glitz of SXSW, really the only people who really care are the ones who are there, and they are not watching TV or looking at the web, at least at the time they are downtown. True, thousands of people are in the Downtown Austin area. There are, however, tens of thousands more who are not and would not be there.

So, for the mass audience, perhaps the story hook should be this: Stay Away!!! Further, the audience should be warned constantly of the street closures and attendant traffic. Here is the most interesting thing from any Austin newscast: El Niño may be weakening, bringing our drought to an end. It was almost an off-hand remark from KXAN’s Jim Spencer who was at a live concert on Auditorium Shores. I’d like to know more about that. The University of Texas men did win their game in the first round of the NCAA Basketball brackets. Up next, (gulp) Duke, I think

The Austin City Council meeting for today (March 19, 2009) was cancelled. Good thinking. But several legislative committees did meet. I wonder what happened. Probably nothing, but I wonder.

© Jim McNabb, 2009


Anonymous said...

I saw an entire story in the LCRA predictions on Wednesday on KXAN.

Anonymous said...

KEYE had the goods on the "parking guard" story. It was one of their 10pm sweeps stories.

Anonymous said...

Exactly right Jim! Once these stations figure out what added value is, they'll be back on their way to turning a profit.

Drought Ending = Value
SXSW Traffic Problems = Value
Illegal Towing and Parking Guards = Value

Crappy video of nobody = NO VALUE
Free SXSW Events = NO VALUE

Another example, The 2 Bobs movie premiered on Monday at the Paramount. This is a 100% Austin movie, written, directed, produced, and funded by local Austin folks, using Austin as the backdrop with Austin people, and Austin places. NONE of the big stations covered it. News 8 got an interview with the writer/director. While this isn't breaking news, it is news that local Austin folks might have an interest in. It provides a local tie-in with the SXSW scene.

Christ, do we have to spoon the local stations for them to understand? News doesn't happen in the News Room, get out and find it.

Anonymous said...

Is KXAN the only station you watch?

NewsMcNabb said...

Editor's Note: No, I don't watch KXAN only. I'm watching four TVs at the same time, but the volume is up on only one. If something catches my eye--good or otherwise--I'll mute one station and turn up another one. Some of my comments in this post referred to web-only posts as well as what I saw on the air. While I'm at it, the first comment talking about LCRA predictions didn't have anything to do with the reference to El Nino on the wane. The parking guard story has been done by more than one station. It's true, Gregg Watson, KEYE TV, did do one.
Interesting that this little screed scared up a lot of comment. Jim