Top 10 Things I Learned at #ONA11

By Benét J. Wilson, DJTF chair, Online Managing Editor-Business Aviation, Aviation Week Group

This was my first time attending the Online News Association’s annual conference, held this year in Boston.  And it won’t be my last.  Rosental Alves,
director of the Knight Chair in Journalism & UNESCO Chair in Communication and director of Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin, summed up the conference beautifully in a tweet: “I haven’t heard single word of pessimism about future of journalism at #ONA11. It’s the dawn of a great time!” Refreshing, right?

I learned so much at this conference it’s hard to narrow it down to 10, so let’s get to it!

  1. Digital folks are still struggling with newsroom diversity.  ONA co-chair and NABJ member Michelle Johnson put together a stellar ONA keynote, moderated by NABJ’s Retha Hill that discussed where we are and where we need to go.  My post on the session is here, and the video of the event is here.
  2. The new Facebook isn’t nearly as bad as people think.  Vadim Lavrusik, who oversees Facebook + Journalists, took two sessions to explain all the changes and how they are a good thing. My post on his presentations is here.
  3. Amy Webb of Webbmedia has her finger on the pulse when it comes to tech trends.  No surprise, it was standing room only in her session, which had interesting — and frankly scary — technology here and on the horizon. Check out her presentation here.  I also like this summary of her presentation from an attendee, and student (and NABJ member) Ugonna Okpalaoka’s report.
  4. Livestreaming is the way to go.  If you couldn’t make this year’s convention, ONA thoughtfully provided livestreaming from all of the major events.  And the Twitter feed from the show just rocked, as demonstrated by this massive Storify of key tweets from Mo Krochmal, who wasn’t there.
  5. ONA’s Career Fair & Summit just rocked!  The fair, overseen by NABJ Media Institute head Doug Mitchell, featured employers and some very helpful workshops on getting those jobs.
  6. Our people represented at the convention!  ONA has gotten a rap in the past for not being as diverse as it could be.  But this year, there was a good group of journalists of color attending the conference.  it was even better to see so many NABJ members on panels, including Founder Joel Dreyfuss, Retha Hill, LaToya Peterson, Doug Mitchell, Dr. Sybril Bennett, Matt Thompson and me.
  7. Having the chance on voting for three “unconference” sessions.  Attendees were encouraged to create and vote on three sessions not officially listed on the program.  I was delighted when the one I chose — We’ve Got A Tumblr: Now What? — was one of three sessions chosen.  My post on what I learned is here.
  8. Mini-law School for Journalists = genius!  With all the changes in the newsroom and in the digital space, you almost need to have a law degree to understand what’s legal and what’s not.  This was not only a conference panel, but it was also a day-long, pre-convention session held at Harvard Law School. Check out the Twitter feed here.
  9. ONA attendees are incredibly generous.  I attended the panel “Once Upon A Datum: Telling Visual Stories.” Panelist John Keefe, a senior producer at WNYC, and I chatted after the session about our interest in data journalism and we’re making a date to meet in New York to do some hands-on work.
  10. The future of journalism is in good hands.  I urge you to check out the work of students at this year’s ONA Student Projects.  They were everywhere, and came up with some interesting stories across all platforms.

Next year’s convention is in my home town of San Francisco.  I hope to see even more journalists of color — especially NABJ members — at next year’s event.  And if you haven’t joined ONA yet, click here; it’s worth every cent of the $75 a year or $150 for three-year fee.

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