Addressing the Elephant in the Conference Hall

One more post on my platform for the Online News Association Board. Voting begins today. (I’ll pop a link in when it’s ready)

 

Platform Four: Create a Conference That Challenges Everyone

I’ll preface the following with this: I love going to ONA conferences. I enjoy meeting (or reconnecting with) others in the industry, finding out what they’re working on, what technology they’re using and what challenges they’re facing. While some of this comes up in the sessions, most of this part of ONA comes about in the mixers, happy hours and meetups both official and non-official.

It isn’t until I go to the ONA conference every year that I remember how diverse our membership really is. We have a range of skills going from former print reporters getting into social media or online tools up to some of the industry’s innovation leaders in data, multimedia, social media and mobile.

The trouble is, I don’t feel like the conference session schedule really reflects that wide range of skills. It seems like every year for the past four years we’ve had some version of a metrics how-to session, a session on how newsrooms are using X social media tool, on building digital newsrooms or workflows. While these things sessions are interesting and helpful to some (they are voted into being, after all), to an equally large group, they are review.

As a former social media editor, I’d go to the social media sessions – that’s where most of the other social media types were and I was supposed to be learning from them. Admittedly, I’d often find myself tuning out of these sessions because, well, they weren’t for me. They were largely aimed at editors or reporters or new social media editors – not the specialists currently working in that field. The real talk always seemed to happen outside of the conference.

Many specialists I talk to in data, social or mobile journalism have (privately) told me they no longer see much point in attending ONA. They’d rather go to NICAR or SXSW or other, more specialized conferences where they’ll be more likely to have their minds blown. How can we lure these specialists back?

For one, we need to expand the session offerings to include more higher-level, specialized tracks. This has happened, to some extent, with the unconference and pre-conference sessions – but why not bring a few of these into the mainstream schedule?

Because it would take more space, more personnel and more specialization, perhaps this is something we could best accomplish by sharing our conference with other journalism organizations.

If we could team up with SPJ and RTNDA (who always seems to have their conference around the same time), we could have a bigger pool from which to draw attendees and panelists.

If we were to pull in NICAR to co-host a track or a few sessions, we’d be more likely to get some of those specialists onto panels, talking to other specialists. With a larger group, we could hold sessions aimed at social media editors, data editors, app developers, etc. in addition,to the sessions aimed at a a more general audience.

What do you think? Would this make you more or less interested in attending an ONA conference?

  • Ken Sands

    I agree almost entirely. I wouldn’t want to see the ONA conference conjoined with any other organization’s conference, but see great benefit in working with NICAR on some sessions.

    • http://zombiejournalism.com Mandy

      Thanks, Ken. I don’t know if a full-fledged combined conference would make sense from a financial perspective, but some selective partnerships with the likes of IRE could be great.

  • Guy Lucas

    I agree. In Virginia we’ve seen great response to SPJ and the Virginia Press Association coordinating conferences. Attendees get a broader range of sessions, and where the two organizations have overlapping interest in sessions they can work together.