National Tech Media’s SXSW Coverage Obscures What a True Ecosystem of Innovation Looks Like

Dave Manzer, courtesy photo

By Dave Manzer
Sponsored Post on Silicon Hills News

Here’s an opinion that won’t be popular among our friends in the technology news media: It’s coverage of SXSW risks perpetuating a very narrow and biased view of what a true startup ecosystem looks like.

Don’t believe me? You need only look at the headlines coming out of the event, which are dominated by “Big Tech” stories, celebrity founders/investors news, and a handful of “hot takes” either proclaiming SXSW to be past its prime or just not very interesting. But most of these publications only send a handful of people to SXSW, and then don’t return to Austin for at least another year.

Mind you, there are some exceptions out there, most notably Silicon Hills News, which focuses on the Austin-San Antonio tech scene and devoted over a dozen articles to this year’s event.

Among those that covered SXSW, what you aren’t seeing much of are stories about innovation from lesser-known startups and organizations that aren’t in the unicorn club (aka don’t have outrageously large funding rounds), or have the good fortune of counting celebrities like Ashton Kutcher as an investor. I worry that the tech press is losing its hard-earned reputation as an authority on startups, and instead taking us down the proverbial rabbit hole — giving us an incomplete vision of startup reality tinged by celebrity, biased by a Silicon Valley startup model, and warped by Big Tech.

In dismissing SXSW, or taking a very high-level perspective where only major brands and Elon Musk are worth their time, the major tech press outlets are not only brushing aside Austin and its robust startup ecosystem, but also the startups coming from around the globe. To be sure, Austin has its share of challenges — access to funding is the most frequently referenced. But the thing is, large VCs have been looking outside of the Valley for a while, and lately have been more vocal about it.

The problem for non-Silicon Valley- or NYC-based startup ecosystems might not be a matter of being enough like the larger markets, but rather that the national tech media isn’t there to cover and report on the innovative things happening every day. How many other cities without a SXSW anchor are going unnoticed? It’s been my most frequent thought at this year’s SXSW.

With SXSW, Austin was an easy draw for the greater technology industry and its attendant media to take notice of. With a large population and a crop of major tech companies (Dell, National Instruments, Indeed, Apple, etc.), the city has a nice pipeline of talent and is an attractive relocation spot thanks to its unique culture (breakfast tacos and BBQ y’all!). Austin also has a dozen or more incubators/accelerators in town, with Capital Factory even putting on an “ATX Startup Crawl” featuring over 100 startups or startup-adjacent organizations the first night of SXSW.

But the interactive portion of SXSW isn’t just about Austin. It brings together exciting and innovative startups from around the world. Where else are you going to see people get excited and talking about a perfect bread maker appliance, a company that could render plastic surgery as unnecessary for looking younger, a 3D-printed house, or a backpack that doubles as a motorized skateboard worthy of Back to the Future Part II? It’s a shame there aren’t more headlines from major news outlets celebrating this side of the conference.

Here’s what I do know: Where there is a strong tech media presence there is more awareness of innovation and a greater likelihood of investors and users embracing the new startups. What Silicon Valley and NYC have in common is a very strong media culture, which works in lock step with the entire startup ecosystem — from startups and tech talent to angels and VC firms. The popularity of SXSW was aided by a national tech media hungry for exciting stories of startups and their disruptive technology, and the media’s coverage of SXSW helped put Austin in front of a global audience that helped propel its growth, making it a destination for startups and established tech companies the world over.

Now, with the tech media in retreat across all media outlets — traditional news outlets like CNN and WSJ have fewer tech stories, tech blogs like Mashable have radically scaled back operations — there is a pressing need for Austin to grow its own startup media ecosystem that looks and feels like Austin. Eventually, the rest of the world won’t be able to ignore it.

Dave is the president of Manzer Communications, a marketing communications and PR agency serving technology startups and fast-growth enterprises. Dave founded PR Over Coffee, is a mentor at Startup Aggieland and launched Startup Over Coffee, a crowdsourced map for startups and startup professionals in Austin.

This is a sponsored post.

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