During the first weekend of SXSW 2023, Austin Woman magazine was out and about capturing the magic of the first few days.
By Cy White, Photos by Cy White
SXSW 2023 is well underway. Opening on Friday, March 10, the festivities start strong. Conversations about the future of journalism, uncovering the sins of the past and, as ever, giving a voice to the voiceless pervaded the first few days.
Friday, March 10
The first day of SXSW 2023 wraps for me. I’m beginning to contemplate the easiest way to escape the Downtown early-evening rush. Suddenly, a man walks his bicycle on the sidewalk. Al Green blares from his portable speaker; he clutches a glass with a finger of whiskey between his right thumb and forefinger.
Yeah, that seems about right for South by.
Today was a day of both inspiration in the form of Priyanka Chopra Jonas and alarm in the form of a panel discussion about data security in the wake of the Dobbs decision (which effectively overturned Roe v. Wade). It’s this second panel that closed the first day of SXSW 2023; to say I was eager to find answers and a bit of hope is an understatement.
Data Privacy After Roe
If you’ve been halfway conscious over the past few years, you understand that human rights are being directly targeted. Particularly for those historically oppressed and silenced. Adding more insult to an ever-increasing list of injury, it seems local government entities are attempting to make it legal (and customary) to use the internet against U.S. citizens. Cases have begun to crop up around the country where people have had their private messages and search histories used against them.
Alexandra Reeve Givens, president and CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology; Cecile Richards, former president of Planned Parenthood; and Nabiha Syed, CEO of The Markup and the panel moderator discuss the repercussions of government agencies using consumer data for legal matters.
The women reference the recent case of a man filling a wrongful death suit against those who helped his ex-wife get access to abortion pills. The divorcee gained access to his ex-wife’s texts to friends and used the messages as evidence against her. The women go on to discuss the Mife case in Amarillo, Texas. (Trump-appointed Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk could strike down FDA approval of mifepristone, a medical abortion medication.)
“When you look at the language surrounding the legislation, they’re targeting, not only abortion providers, directly. [They are also targeting] advice websites that help guide you to access different resources,” Givens reveals.
In the End, Hope
It’s a scary time to be a human with a uterus. However, even in what appears to be an eminent dystopian future, the women are very hopeful.
“We’re now having a reckoning,” Reeves says. “Having these public conversations in a meaningful way.”
Richards adds, “We used to say at Planned Parenthood even a right-wing Congress can’t un-invent the internet. The power of information, the power of linking people with services is so incredible. Another thing is 85% of all OBGYNs are women, and a lot of them are mothers. They are on the front lines of fighting for their patients. The courage I am seeing from the medical community to speak up and speak out about, not only their patients, but the care that they provide and their right to privacy is incredibly empowering.”
Saturday, March 11
Variety Rising Native Voices, Presented by IllumiNative
In 2021, The New York Times reported the history of children dying in the care of Canadian Indian residential schools. The world was absolutely stunned. How could anywhere from 3,200 to 6,000 children dying in the care of residential schools go unnoticed for so long? Quite simply, because they were supposed to. Canadian residential schools is certainly a more savory description of what these schools actually were. This was a network of schools that Canada’s Department of Indian Affairs created in collaboration with Christian churches to remove Indigenous children from their homes to “reform,” or indoctrinate, them into Canadian society. Essentially, these schools stripped Native children of their cultures, languages and identities to systematically eliminate those indigenous to the land. As we know, the United States was complicit in both the actions and the subsequent cover-up.
Since the Times story broke, Indigenous Canadians have made it their mission to uncover the absolute truth. Taking the Canadian government to task and forcing it to take responsibility for its crimes against humanity. Variety magazine’s Rising Native Voices series highlights the women at IllumiNative, “a Native woman-led racial and social justice nonprofit organization dedicated to building power for Native peoples by amplifying Native voices, stories and issues.”
Founder and Executive Director Crystal Echo Hawk (Pawnee) conceived of and co-led the Reclaiming Native Truth Project. This year, IllumiNative launches the American Genocide podcast. The six-episode series aims to finally pull back the curtain on the horrific truth behind the U.S. and Canada’s deliberate attempt to eradicate Indigenous peoples. Crystal reveals the podcast’s teaser and speaks about what the show aims to accomplish.
IllumiNative’s Director of Communications and Storytelling Lashay Wesley (Choctaw) opens up about her personal stake in the project. “Everybody in this room, you think back to school. When did you learn about Native American boarding schools? Chances are you didn’t,” Wesley says. “If you’re a Native person, there’s a very strong chance you grew up with these stories in your family.”
The podcast trailer is a harrowing look at the centuries-long pain every Native person has carried with them. Hearing Lashay and Crystal talk about the impact these stories had on them has an immediate effect on all of us. This story is painful. But it’s necessary to shake up the establishment and finally get some much-needed justice for these families.
AI in Newsrooms: What’s the Impact on Journalism?
The second day of SXSW 2023 proves both informative and a bit frightening. Something every journalist needs to pay attention to is the push for AI in the newsroom. In fact, it is an issue that a huge contingent of conference-goers are interested in. The room for this session is one in, one out. Meaning, the room is already full, and as one person leaves, another is able to go in. Truly, this is a topic with high stakes.
AI in journalism has become a more prevalent phenomenon, with the latest version of ChatGPT and more industries adopting AI tools. Dalia Hashim, program lead at Partnership on AI, moderates a panel with Laura Ellis, head of technology forecasting at the BBC; Aimee Rinehart journalist at the Associated Press; and David Smydra, senior curation lead at Twitter. The discussion is a practice in cautious optimism. While all three panelists share a certain level of excitement at the possibilities AI could open up, they are also cautious of the ways in which AI could potentially cause issues with dissemination of information.
“The thing…we mustn’t fail [on]is transfer,” Ellis says. “These new tools, as they are brought in, made, adapted, whatever we choose to do with them, who then lands them and makes sure they land properly? So that the person who’s working on the rotor at 8 o’clock in the morning knows that the thing they have to do is this. It’s that level of regularity that if we don’t get that right, that’s when these things sort of fade away and become a nightmare.”
“I think small and local newsrooms, under-resourced newsrooms are the biggest beneficiaries of this technology,” Rinehart adds. “If they don’t have a marketing team, they do now; if they don’t have anybody to create social media threads, they do now. That is going to be a huge win for them.”
For now, I’ll err on the side of the panelists: cautious optimism. I do love the way technology continues to evolve and provide mere humans the ability to work outside of traditional constraints. But as with all technology meant to mimic human ingenuity and creativity, I’m wary of the moment the human element becomes obsolete. Only time will tell how much newsrooms go on to depend on this new technology.
Check out all of our coverage of SXSW 2023!