By Jessica Knight

Students and faculty from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication will attend the South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference and Festival March 8-17, covering and participating in the event in a range of capacities.

This is the 12th year that graduate students have covered SXSW at This project provides students with real-world experience in digital journalism and professional networking. Students apply for the class in the fall, are competitively selected and have their first meeting mid-December.

Led by Dr. Cindy Royal, director of the Media Innovation Lab, the project provides access to the brightest minds driving new ideas and real-time experience producing digital content on demand. SJMC faculty Jon Zmikly, Dale Blasingame and Jordon Brown return to assist in execution of the project.

“The SXTXState project provides students the unique opportunity to meet and network with professionals,” Royal said. “And they also get to learn directly from experts about the emerging topics we cover in courses.”.

The SXTXState 2019 team includes Mairi Vannella, Christina Noriega, Stephanie Robinson, Vincent Verduzco and Jessica Knight. Students redesigned the website and launched the social media strategy. They have been interviewing SXSW panelists and posting previews leading up to the event. This year will see an increase in video content including frequent posts to Instagram Stories by students during their time at the conference. Preparations for the course began shortly after participants were selected, with a meeting with SXSW Chief Programming Officer Hugh Forrest and other SXSW personnel at SXSW Headquarters.

“I’m interested in the way augmented and virtual reality will become integrated into our everyday lives,” Robinson said. “And I want to learn how these kinds of new media and technologies will factor into journalism, literature, and music. My career aspiration is to work in music promotions, so I need to be one step ahead!”

This year, three SXTXState alumni rejoin the project in a special capacity. Sean Smith, Logan Self and Megan Boyle were on the SXTXState team in 2018. They were selected through a grant to work on a project producing content for Booz Allen Hamilton, a management consulting firm in its 105th year of embracing innovation and promoting people as the core of a successful business. Returning members are also enthusiastic about their new roles in the project.

“I’ll be specifically covering infrastructure and general government tracks,” said Boyle. “Last year I found myself naturally gravitating toward sessions that were political- or policy- based. I was lucky enough to get an interview with the then Senate-hopeful, Beto O’Rourke. While I don’t know if I can top that rare moment, I do know SXSW offers this magic in-the-moment experience unlike any other.”

SXTXState students will also participate in the Texas State Innovation Lab and Reception, where student teams demonstrate innovation projects utilizing new technology geared toward solving real-world problems. In addition to SXTXState, a group of 20 SJMC undergraduates will directly assist SXSW as interns on social media and event coverage under the coordination of Dale Blasingame and Jon Zmikly.

Blasingame will also be hosting a panel at SXSW titled My Dog is Insta-Famous, along with Amanda Quick of Dogs Around Austin.

“It is wonderful to see how our presence at SXSW has grown over the past twelve years,” Royal said. “Our program values experience learning, and SXSW is a particularly strong platform for launching a range of meaningful interactions and engagement. Our students emerge from these projects full of fresh insight about the emerging technologies that will be influencing their careers.”

Follow the project on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @sxtxstate and #sxtxstate and read coverage at