Lessons from the Online News Association 2013 conference

Oct 31 2013

Photo: Nick Shchetko

The Online News Association conference didn’t start well for me. I attended a boring talk reiterating trite truths. Nasty drizzling rain blanketed Atlanta. I hadn’t slept well.

But it all get up to speed as the halls of the Atlanta Mariott Marquis began to fill with prominent and aspiring journalists, editors, developers, exhibitors and publishers.

The ONA conference is not an event to miss for those who care about digital media and journalism in general. Big brands such as Reuters, AP, The New York Times and The Washington Post presented their achievements and shared their experiences, often presenting side by side with dozens of professionals and developers from the rapidly growing media outlets.

It’s humanly impossible to grasp everything (often five sessions ran at the same time) but here’s my picture of the most important things and trends that resonated with me this year at ONA.

1) data, Data, DATA! Big data is already here. And to keep up with the times, a journalist nowadays has to have skills and tools to deal with data: big and small. Just go ahead and study everything you can find (For Journalism might be a good place to kick off) and start pursuing more data-driven stories.

2) Nate Silver. Silver, famous for his work on polls and elections, schooled the journalists on the most common issues and misconceptions about statistics: “Statistics aren’t just numbers,” “Correlation doesn’t mean causation,” etc.

3) Mobile has been around as a trend for a couple of years, but relatively few media organizations are getting as much out of it as they should. But some in the industry are moving to “mobile only” from “mobile first,” and in some media organizations, mobile traffic on weekends actually surpasses desktop traffic.

Some takeaways: be responsive (i.e. “mobile-ready”) at least, then build an app if you can afford it. Designate a “mobile” person in your organization to keep the things running. Know that social now is mostly mobile, so make sure that the stuff you push to Facebook, Twitter and whatnot is mobile-friendly.

4) Security for journalists. Recent leaks from Edward Snowden and multiple hacks of media organizations suggest that knowledge of how to protect your own stories and your own sources is now of critical importance for any professional journalist. Encryption, phishing protection, knowing good practices to protect your data: that’s now an absolute must.

5) Emerging forms of journalism. Educational Journalism? Try to fuse MOOC elements in your stories and journalistic projects.  Typical forms of journalism just won’t work for Google Glass. Or Oculus Rift. Or Leap motion. Go invent something else. Something cooler and better. What will it be? No one knows. Drone journalism? No, we’re not there yet. From technical perspective we are, of course, but some skyscraper-tall hurdles prohibit meaningful journalism until FAA eases its take on flying drones to gather material for news. Just ask Matt Waite at the Drone Journalism Lab.

See you next year in Chicago!

Resources

ONA conference site – Just go ahead and explore. Some sessions were video recorded, some just audiotaped, but even relevant tweets may provide the context you need to figure out what was going on.

If you can watch only one session from ONA, I’d recommend this one. Amy Webb, digital media futurist, shares 128 slides of top ten tech trends in journalism. That’s where we all are going, and you’d better be prepared.

See all the innovative products presented this year at the ONA Conference’s exhibition grounds. Just click on every link. I especially recommend Muck Rack, Sparkfun, Keepr, NewsWhip and Giphy.

Google Media Tools is a one-stop-shop for digital journalists that – for some reason – don’t know about all the cool things the Internet giant have in stock for them.

Here’s a (relatively) evergreen blog on data and visualizations from Pew Research Center folks.


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