When you hear the name Austin, Texas in conjunction with a springtime conference, chances are the International Symposium on Online Journalism is not top of mind.

But more than 200 journalists, scholars, and media executives congregated at the University of Texas at Austin from April 20 to 21 to share ideas about the future of web journalism.

Yes, the event lacked the fanfare of SXSW Interactive, and yes it had its share of sobering messages (newsflash: journalism is in turmoil!), but for those who attended there was plenty to blog about (and some of it optimistically).

The IOSJ took place in the auditorium at the Blanton Museum of Art on The University of Texas at Austin campus. Image by Georgia Popplewell, via Flickr.

The Nieman Journalism Lab’s post-event coverage included themes familiar to Sparksheet, like design, mobile and social media.

ISOJ’s all-star data panel made clear there’s a distinction between art and data that sometimes gets blurred at the expense of user experience. Pretty graphics must provide context and useful information to be journalism.

A more extensive takeaway roundup came from ISOJ co-organizer Amy Schmitz Weiss. For Weiss, the event’s most important panels focused on user-friendly content, monetization strategies, social networking and training.

As [Google’s Richard] Gingras mentioned, it’s time for media companies to recognize their prize possession – their valuable content and how they can maximize its use beyond just publishing it and presenting it once on the website.

A recurring and much blogged symposium highlight was Los Angeles Times’ Ben Welsh’s presentation on “creating ‘robots’ in a journalist’s image,” or, using automated scripts for the same reason that mathematicians (I assume) use calculators: so they can spend more time problem solving and less time taking jobs away from computers.

We’ve all heard it before: design without content is meaningless and content without design is impenetrable. Raju Narisetti, The Wall Street Journal’s deputy managing editor, made this point in his presentation with the caveat that people will only be willing to pay for news in the future if it’s packaged in the right way. That is, if content is turned into an experience.

Monetization was a recurring conference theme. Image by Jon Lebkowsky, via Flickr.

Pedro Doria, digital platforms editor at Brazil’s O Globo discussed (and demonstrated) the power of tailoring digital content to users’ preferences with the creation of the “evening edition” (a Mais), a daily update for tablet readers that takes into account the more relaxed “lean-back” approach to nighttime reading.

The results? Average time spent per day on the O Globo app jumped from 26 minutes to 77 minutes. Now, what was Narisetti saying about experiential content worth paying for?

Don’t have enough time to chew through all the live (or post) blogging verbiage? The #isoj hashtag delivered snackable bits of content all weekend, with plenty of links to pictures and videos.

SXSW Interactive it wasn’t, but without the 24-hour party atmosphere and pervasive question: “Yeah, but how can we make money?” the ISOJ was afforded a robust and focused atmosphere instead, with everyone’s energy focused on the content. Who says journalism is dying?