All Have Been Disrupted. Now what? SXSW: Thoughts

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Nearly everything has been disrupted by the rise of digital technology and the effects of global warming. We live in an age where disruption is not a cliché, but a constant reality.

Last week, I was in Austin, Texas for South By Southwest Interactive. This conference captures much digital zeitgeist. SXSW showed me that despite the many changes we are seeing in the world, there is still room for optimism. “Disrupted” systems such as traditional media companies are adapting to a new norm, reestablishing their value, and sometimes even getting ahead of the disruptors.
In recent years, newsrooms have been facing shrinking staffs and smaller ad spends. There has also been a rise in new media companies that attract readers with cat videos rather than current events. Experts have written many obituaries for traditional media. However, well-reported and high-quality journalism is still alive and well. This has been demonstrated by the rise of “disruptive new media companies.” In a panel discussion I attended, two examples were cited: Mashable recently appointed Heidi Moore, formerly of The Guardian as its new business editor. Buzzfeed has begun to publish original, in-depth coverage, such as coverage on events in Ukraine.

The resurgence in “long-form” articles, original stories that exceed several thousand words, is another sign traditional journalism is still alive. Susan Glasser, Politico Editor, referred to this era as the “Golden Age of long-form content.” Traditional media companies The New York TimesThe Washington Post have begun to integrate digital elements into long-form stories in order to create interactive multimedia features. This is to respond to the diverse audiences who consume content on different platforms and devices and want to immerse themselves in their stories.

Glasser and the other panelists stressed that long-form stories are not as easy to digitally digitize in a world of 140-character tweets or 10-second Snapchats. However, they can be very useful. Glasser stated that you can “Snowfall” anything. He was referring to The New York Times Avalanche Story, which is widely believed to be the pioneer in the use of multimedia elements and high-quality reporting. However, it is possible to make a huge mistake if the reporting falls short.

We are seeing a shift both in the way climate change is covered in the media and in how people perceive it. Huffington Post’s Kate Sheppard spoke on the panel ” Digital Age Climate and Extreme weather Reporting” and Climate Central’s Alyson Kendall discussed how the distance between climate reporting and the lives of readers was a major problem in the early days of reporting on climate change. Most of the coverage focused on the Arctic ice melt, polar bears and Climate Central. Scientists and reporters are now more open to blaming climate change for extreme weather events, as they have been increasing worldwide. Reporters are now able to get to the bottom “what’s happening outside [readers]’ windows,” including the California drought and floods in the United Kingdom. This makes stories more personal, tangible, and more relatable.

There has been an increase in climate solutions. Al Gore, former Vice President of the United States, brought his usual senses of urgency and apocalypse to but he also highlighted the rapid growth of renewable energy. Gore cites Bangladesh as an example. A new solar panel is installed in Bangladesh every 30 seconds.

Gore’s optimism, which is far from his days of “An Inconvenient truth”, is refreshing. It’s also a very effective approach to a subject that can seem overwhelming. This shift in climate reporting and communications is actually changing the conversation. Gore expressed optimism about the COP21 climate talks in December, predicting that “there will be a yes’ in Paris.”

Companies that are concerned about sustainability can learn from these shifts and adaptations. Companies that view disruption as the first sign for progress, regardless of whether it comes from an environmental phenomenon, technology, or upstart company, will win. They can turn themselves into resilient companies by embracing the disruption methods. This will change the conversation about the sustainability challenges we all face.

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