This is my first year serving as Digital Director at ONA, and thus for programming the annual conference. What a tremendous year to step into this role, as it marks the 15th Anniversary of the Online News Association. So in addition to our conference programming, released today, expect a few birthday surprises this year. Below are some observations I’ve made in helping shape ONA14; I’ll check in again in a few weeks to discuss a few emerging themes across our field.
This year, ONA received more than 360 ideas, from the Suggestion Box, staff, Board members, and participants on our all-volunteer conference programming committees. This represents by far the most ideas for our conference in anyone’s institutional memory — not just my short one.
For the Suggestion Box submissions alone, we saw an 85 percent increase over last year. It was a fortunate position to be in as a first-timer. Indeed, the volume of creative and insightful ideas is befitting of the entrepreneurial spirit of the ONA community.
Our challenge, then, was not in eliciting great ideas, but in making the extremely difficult cuts necessary on the road to finalizing a practical three-day schedule. What you’ll see in our schedule is more than the tip, but not the entire, programming iceberg. As it stands, the sessions you’ll find listed are core to the conference — discussions and trainings the ONA community has flagged as important in 2014.
Our Community Rocks
ONA community: You are not lacking in great ideas for creating better journalism, now and in the future. It took from March to May to sift through them, and we really did consider each and every one. The diversity of sessions and presenters is astonishing, ranging from future-looking trend analyses to practical tips for daily survival, and from creating new products to building entirely new business strategies. Collectively, any number of key areas emerged that are ripe for discussion, and I can’t wait until September, when we can dive into them.
The Road to the Program
With so many great ideas, getting to a practical conference schedule was an enormous undertaking. Our program committee had a whopping 22 members, chaired by Matt Mansfield and Heather Billings. A review committee of 21 members offered a fresh set of eyes on the draft program. I can’t thank them enough for their dedicated efforts in sussing out great ideas and serving as a guiding force. The end result spans many critical areas: business and leadership, engagement and audience development, news-gathering tools and techniques, tech for developers, things mobile, ethical and legal, and teaching and training.
We aimed for — and I believe succeeded in — creating a healthy mix of inspiring and challenging sessions, as well as the kinds of nuts-and-bolts training sessions we all need to hone our skills and take back to our workplace. We also considered balance in terms of ethnicity, gender, geography, newsrooms, topics and types of presentation style.
In early July, we’ll post a fully interactive and more rounded schedule. We anticipate including further focus on ethical and legal issues, as well as ensuring we maintain a focus on gender and racial diversity.
Some of our biggest surprises — important topical issues and keynotes — are yet to come. We’ll also start releasing programming for The Midway, our expo of innovation that will be bursting with interactivity and creativity, as well as the opportunity for participants to pitch projects and products in a rapid-fire format.
The Perils of Predictive Thinking
ONA is known for our forward-looking sessions, but choosing exactly which tools are “the future of journalism” is as risky as any market bet. Will the glut of wearable devices have any sort of staying power? Will they morph into augmented reality tools? Are mobile messaging platforms like WeChat and What’s App emerging as our primary tool for global communication? Will civic tech initiatives successfully blend the worlds of journalism and activism?
Several selected sessions within the conference play to these themes, and we invite healthy skepticism on each. In my next post, I’ll highlight a few of these emerging themes, and the sessions that relate to them. With any luck, some or all will pose solutions to emerging challenges in our industry.