By Benét J. Wilson, DJTF co-chair, Online Managing Editor-Business Aviation, Aviation Week Group
I joined the Online News Association about a year ago, and am a member of the organization’s Diversity Committee. One of the people I met at last year’s annual conference was ONA11 conference co-chair Michelle Johnson. Johnson is also a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and an associate professor of the practice, Journalism, at Boston University. She’s a former editor for the Boston Globe and was part of the team that launched the Globe’s award-winning regional website, boston.com. NABJDigital interviewed Johnson about what attendees can expect ONA11 and why NABJ members should consider attending.
NABJDigital: How did you become ONA11 conference co-chair?
Michelle Johnson: Two years ago at ONA’s conference in San Francisco, I ran into some colleagues from Boston who were chatting in the hallway and one of them collared me and said “this conference needs to be in Boston.” I responded, “Absolutely.” The Boston area is a serious hub of innovation across a broad spectrum of industries, including media. It will be a great showcase for what’s now and what’s next in online journalism and technology.
ND: Why should NABJ members also consider joining ONA?
MJ: As online continues to grow, it’s important for journalists of color to be on top of the trends and issues related to new media. ONA’s primary focus is online journalism, the latest trends in technology and lots of related issues such as net neutrality and the Wikileaks case. ONA’s not just for geeks. Yes, there are some geeky journalists in ONA; and there are also plenty of veteran journalists who started in traditional media, as well as folks who don’t work specifically for online.
ONA conferences are incredibly upbeat. People are practically bouncing off the walls with ideas and energy. Everyone’s excited about the growth of digital media. It’s impossible to come away from an ONA event or conference without some new ideas or knowledge.
ND: With so many journalism organizations competing for convention goers, why should NABJ members also consider attending ONA11?
MJ: Several reasons: 1) If they work for online, ONA is the place to be for networking and keeping on to top of skills and issues related directly to online.
2) If NABJ members don’t work specifically for online but want to pick up some skills and ideas for incorporating new media tools into what they do, there’s plenty available for them, too. There’s always programming that’s meant to appeal to journalists with varying backgrounds and interests. For instance, some of the more popular sessions at last year’s convention covered the basics on how to use tools like Google and Twitter. You’d assume that everyone in ONA knows that sort of thing already. Well, guess what? Many do, but some don’t. There’s something for everyone at ONA.
3) Like a lot of the professional journalism associations, ONA has a growing segment of academic members who’ve left the industry and now teach. There’s a pretty robust academic group with a very active Facebook page.
4) We need to represent and be a part of innovating. We can continue to complain about the lack of people of color in digital media, or seek to be a part of it. We can wonder why there are no apps or sites that carry content that we care about, or we can create them.
ND: What types of programming/keynotes can attendees expect this year?
MJ: You can expect programming that’s exciting and jam-packed. We’ve gotten a ton of great proposals for sessions that will be released shortly. Some will focus on what’s hot right now. Others on what’s coming soon. Boston and nearby Cambridge are technology hubs. Cambridge is home to the MIT Media Lab, and both cities house a number of incubators working on cool media-related apps and services. We’ll be showcasing this innovation and how it’s impacting online journalism at ONA 11.
We’re also working to bring in some major names in journalism and technology, with a special emphasis on including a diverse range of voices in the sessions and the keynotes.
Attendees will also be treated to fall in New England: fantastic food, shopping, cultural and historical spots. (Don’t miss historic sites such as the African Meeting House, 54th Regiment Monument and the Black Heritage Trail.) Depending on when they arrive, attendees can also catch a Red Sox game.
ND: ONA has been criticized in the past for its lack of diversity. What is being done this year to counter that criticism?
MJ: First, everyone involved in selecting programming for ONA 11 has been given the charge to keep the mix in mind. That means looking at everything from speakers to workshops and making an effort to get everyone into the conversation. There has been some buzz of late about tech-related conferences not being that inclusive. We’re going to address that issue head-on with a session this year.
And, on a personal note, I had stopped going to ONA a few years back because I didn’t really feel that comfortable. When I returned a couple of years ago, I felt like that things had changed. It wasn’t so much that there were a slew of people of color, but I felt like those who were there were making a difference. There are people of color on ONA’s board and in the membership. If I didn’t feel like the atmosphere had changed enough, I wouldn’t be a co-chair of ONA 11.
ND: What do you think will be the top 3 things attendees take away from this year’s convention?
MJ: 1) Something new. And that could be anything from ideas and knowledge about tools and techniques to help you do your job better, to a new perspective about a timely issue. It could also be new skills. Particularly if they sign up for the pre-conference day-long workshop which will offer hands on training.
2) Food for thought. It’s hard to walk away from ONA without having been challenged by some new idea, some thought-provoking discussion, or something that makes you say, “hmmmm.”
3) Energy and contacts. (OK, that’s two things!) Seriously, though, networking at ONA is energizing. You meet so many people doing cool stuff, it’s really uplifting.
ND: What can ONA members do to help make ONA11 successful?
MJ: Show up! We’re working hard to make this a great conference. It’s sold out for the last couple of years, so we have high expectations that will happen again. I’m a little biased, but I think this is going to be a stellar conference. In large part ONA is great because the members are so into it. So, you’ve got a great, historic, convention city that’s a hub of innovation, and jazzed, innovative journalists. How could ONA 11 not be fantastic?
Editor’s note: registration for ONA11 is now open. The cost is $399 for members through May 31. The cost is $499 through July 31 and $599 through September 13. The show sells out every year, so I encourage you to register sooner rather than later. And AirTran and Southwest Airlines are offering some great fares to Boston around convention time!