SXSW 2011: On moderating the Blogger Centipede panel

Kate Erbland

by: Kate Erbland
March 21st, 2011

When the astute-beyond-his-years William Goss asked me to moderate his SXSW panel, The Blogger Centipede: How Content is Eroding Credibility, I actually thought he had lost his mind. I also thought he had sent out a mass text to anyone he thought was remotely up for the job. Little did I know, I was Goss’ first pick to moderate the panel after his co-creator, Badass Digest’s own Moises Chiullan, had to back out after a scheduling conflict. I’d say that Goss’ belief that I was the right blogger for the job was the main reason that I also became convinced that I was the only one to do it, even if it was my very first panel.

Goss had gathered a wonderful cross-section of bloggers for the panel, including Pajiba’s publisher Dustin Rowles, freelancer extraordinaire Matthew Patches, and IndieWIRE’s own Editor at Large, Anne Thompson. Such a great line-up, paired with a topic that I am personally and professionally incredibly interested in, guaranteed a great panel, even if I feared I was going to spend about half of it feeling as if I may pass out. Spoiler alert – I did not pass out.

We gathered before the panel to discuss exactly what we wanted to cover, an extension of a detailed email we had all received the week prior. Goss’ vision was to divide the panel into two different sections. The first would cover plagiarism in the industry – including specific examples, such as Tom Perkins (the British guy who stole video reviews) and David Eng (the publicist who lifted reviews from a number of critics, from Roger Ebert to Goss himself, for his own site). We would then move into the more site-specific practices of “exclusives,” reporting on rumors, and posting about press releases. During this time, we agreed that there would be no basic question and answer period, and that involvement with the audience would be ongoing – such looseness allowed spirited debate between all of us. As example, at a certain point in the panel, Scott Weinberg all but became a panelist himself, and his own contributions and questions added immeasurably to the experience.

The panel took place at 5PM in the Austin Convention Center on an otherwise unremarkable Monday evening. What was, however, truly remarkable about the audience was the vast representation present of nearly every movie website out there. Team Gordon and the Whale was, of course, gathered en masse, but there were also friends and colleagues from Making Of, Cinematical, MSN Movies, Pajiba, Film School Rejects, Hollywood Elsewhere,, the list goes on and on. If any of our readers wanted to finally put faces to their favorite bloggers, this panel was the place to be. I was honored by everyone’s support - and terrified. What’s always struck me about this industry are the intersite and interpersonal relationships we all work so hard to build and maintain. And here they were – present and accounted for. As Managing Editor and Head Film Critic for Gordon and the Whale, it was always important to me to represent this site in a way that would make all my Whalers proud – but I also wanted Goss to know he had made the right choice in picking me, while also moderating in a fashion that would allow all the other panelists to get their thoughts out, and clearly. A room packed with people I love, admire, and respect only added to my sense that I had about thirty sets of eyes on me that I did not want to disappoint.

I have been told that it did not disappoint. The panel turned lively and rousing – with lots of audience members participating, with all of the panelists getting their thoughts and opinions heard, and me feeling as if I was just lucky enough to even pretend I was conducting the whole affair. Many different points of view were heard, and in some ways, the panel became blogger therapy for most of us – we could finally stand up and say how we felt on certain issues, the impersonal mediums of Twitter or Facebook or even email cast aside for real, human interaction, discussion, and debate. Such a panel may have been a bit “inside baseball,” but I’ve received a lot of great feedback from readers and other industry wonks who also attended and found it fascinating. We did not cover nearly everything we wanted to, and we spent more time on certain subjects than we first anticipated, but the panel did what it was meant to do – it started debate and discussion, it got us all thinking and talking.

It was, in short, one of the best experiences of my life, and a true highlight of my professional career in this wacky, wonky, wonderful world of movie blogging. For anyone who was there (or even anyone who wishes they were), I’d love to hear feedback from you in the comments section below. The audio from the panel should be available on its official event page HERE, and you can also check out Anne Thompson's post on the panel HERE, along with Jeffrey Wells' HERE (video included on both!).

And, of course, a huge thank you to William Goss, Dustin Rowles, Matthew Patches, Anne Thompson, and everyone who turned up for over an hour of chatter.

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