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Key takeaways from this year’s Online News Association Conference

September 30, 2015

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Phantom drone outfitted with a camera. (Photo courtesy of Nathalie Dortonne, ONA Student Newsroom)

I have the pleasure of serving on the board of the Online News Association (ONA). For those not in the know, it is a journalists’ group that’s been at the forefront of the digital media revolution.

Last week, we held our 15th annual convention in Los Angeles. The schedule was full and representatives from digital and traditional media companies and vendors were there in full force.

It would be impossible to share every detail, but below are my five big takeaways from this year’s convention.

  1.  The Midway. At normal conferences, there’s an exhibit hall where vendors sit at booths and hand out swag. Not at ONA. The Midway is a place where you can play and learn about the newest tricks and tools of the journalism trade. Attendees participated in live talks, trainings and demonstrations from companies including Banjo, Rivet Radio, Tableau and Chartbeat. You could have office hours with companies like Facebook, Twitter and WordPress. And you could participate in workshops on topics including “Monetizing Your Content on Discours,” “Learn to Follow the Money in State Politics” and “How to Build a STEM Journalist.”
  2.  The panels. My head ached every day because there were so many great panels and not nearly enough time to go to every one I wanted. Some of my favorites were: Mobile Boot Camps on Using Periscope and Snapchat; Data for Dark Money in the 2016 Election; 50 Apps in 30 Minutes; and Flying Into New Territory with Drone Journalism. And as if that weren’t enough, atendees were allowed to pitch unconference workshop topics that were presented on Saturday.  If you couldn’t make it to Los Angeles, many of the panels are available for audio or video replay — for free! Just look for the screen or sound wave icon next to workshop sessions.
  3. The Keynotes. I’ve been going to ONA since 2010, and every year I think the keynotes can’t be any better than the previous year, and every year, ONA raises the bar. This year’s keynotes were compelling: A Deep Dive into Google with Richard Gingras and Emily Bell; We Belong Here: Pushing Back Against Online Harassment; and A Hollywood Spotlight on an Award-Winning Boston Globe, which did an intensive investigation into Catholic church sexual abuses. And although it’s not a keynote, Amy Webb’s 10 Tech Trends feels like one. A large room is packed every year with Webb’s demonstration of really cool tools that are coming down the pike that will help journalists do their jobs better.
  4.  The People. Every year I meet people from around the world (shout out to my Nordic peeps) who are doing amazing things in journalism.  No one hesitates to say hello and socialize in places like the hotel Starbucks line, the outdoor bar and pool, the lobby bar, the halls outside of workshops, the Karaoke party and even the famous late-night Pajama Jammie Jam. You leave with a stack of business cards and new friends. 
  1. The Next Generation. This is a bonus. I am always in awe of the student and young journalists who are preparing us for the next iteration of the business. ONA has great programs that support this. I’m proud to moderate the MJ Bear Fellows panel, where they demonstrate their unique ways of covering the news. We have a Student Newsroom staffed by 20 young journalists who are destined to become industry stars. And thanks to the Knight Foundation, we brought five students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities to work alongside those in the Student Newsroom under the HBCU Digital Media Fellowship. And we launched the CNN Media Diversity Fellows, which brought in five talented early career journalists from around the country.
  2. Honoring Dori Maynard. Maynard, who died in May, was a respected journalist and president of the Maynard Institute. Founded by her father, Oakland Tribune Editor and Publisher Robert Maynard, it champions for newsroom diversity and offers training to journalists to keep them relevant and current in the business. Dori was awarded ONA’s highest honor, the 2015 Rich Jaroslovsky Founder Award for her work in media diversity, including helping the organization’s annual event be more diverse.

So there you have it. It’s never too soon to start planning for 2016. We’ll be in Denver Sept. 15-17, 2016. I hope to see you there!


  • Benét J. Wilson

    Benét, known as the Aviation Queen, is a senior editor at TPG who is best known for being an aviation journalist for 25-plus years. Her love affair with travel and aviation began at age 6, when her Air Force family moved from California to a military...

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