Home

Thoughts & Musings from #ONA13

Leave a comment

I wanted to do a blog entry after my visit to Atlanta for ONA13 but I couldn’t focus on just one thing.  So here are some thoughts and musings (in no particular order):

* I left before the awards dinner and in general I try not to get caught up in awards-mania but I will say that honoring Boston.com and BostonGlobe.com’s coverage of The Boston Marathon Bombings was a sign that good journalism matters and still gets recognized. The Boston Globe’s web sites — which won for Breaking News — provided authoritative, credible information via its live blog. The professionalism of those working on the sites provided them with the strength to shy away from the hysteria and rumor which swept through much of the Twittersphere on that horrible day. Kudos.

* And, the indefatigable Michelle Johnson and her crew from the Boston University New Service also received well-deserved recognition for their efforts. Student journalists can perform at stunning levels when inspired by the right professor. Michelle is one of the special ones.

* Listening to Boston.com’s Teresa Hanafin talk about the days of the bombing at the breaking news panel — and watching the gripping video again — was one of the more emotionally powerful moments of the conference.

* I forgot how much Lisa Williams makes learning new technology fun.

* Lisa’s sessions — and all the hands-on technology sessions — were standing-room only. Probably the most popular sessions of the conference.

* Those sessions were part of the different feel to the conference. Josh Hatch described it as “NICAR-ish.” Definitely true, but there was something else. Part of it was the strong presence of first-timers (657) and a much younger crowd. The University of Georgia was No. 2 on the list of top-five organizations represented at the conference. And, academics — both students and professors — made up almost 200 of those represented at the conference.

* Got to hang with my academic friends and also did a little brainstorming with fellow professors at the “Hack the Curriculum” session. I hope this is the start of something larger — would love to see ONA sponsor some efforts for academics and professors to get together and develop specific guidelines for curriculum at journalism schools.

* The “Circle of Life” was a phrase heard from a few professors. While I had one student (Brittney Figueira) doing great things in the student newsroom, the “Circle of Life” comes when you see former students (Eric Athas) and former interns (Patrick Cooper) becoming conference regulars.

* Amy Webb’s “Top 10 Tech Trends” session was well-attended and talked about by many. I couldn’t make it this year but the strong Twitter presence at the conference allowed me to catch up via Twitter. There were 30,000 conference tweets. Wow.

* Got to hang out with the Digital First Media crew for a bit Thursday night. Great to see a dynamic, young group excited about the future of journalism.

* I missed last year’s conference so I don’t know if this is a trend but the Thursday-Friday night receptions have had some amazingly good food in past years. That was missing this year. Bring back the rocking chefs!

* I did like the band, though. Any time horns are on stage it’s a good time.

* Because Mark Briggs can’t sit for very long, he’s developed a food app dubbed FORK. Check it out.

* The ONA conference is reunion central — I couldn’t walk very far without bumping into an alum from The Washington Post or the University of Maryland. The talent at The Post’s web site in the early 2000s was stunning. That talent is now scattered all over the country at different places and it’s great to see everyone’s successes. And, keep a close eye on what the gang at Maryland are doing — some strong innovation is coming from Terp-land.

* Loved seeing (and taking part in) the ONA Ethics session. I’ve been pushing for something similar for a few years now, leading Lisa Williams to tell me she dubbed it the “Steve Fox session.” Huzzah!

* And I finally attended the legendary Greg Linch Karaoke Night…..legendary indeed.

Until next time…..

Carnival of Journalism: What is ‘Good’ Journalism & A Plea for ONA to Return to its Roots

11 Comments

Lisa Williams prompted one of the wildest e-mail threads I’ve part of in a while last month when she asked the simple question of what criteria the Online Journalism Awards (issued at the annual conference of the Online News Association) should be focusing on.  The exchange lead to the question for this month’s Carnival of Journalism:

Right now, nominations are open for the Online Journalism Awards.  What qualities should awards like this endorse in an era of such tremendous change in the news industry?

It’s a great question.  During the e-mail thread, I responded to Lisa’s question with:

What has really struck me about ONA in recent years, at the conference panels anyway, is the over-focus on technology over journalism.  While I love panels on the next new whiz-bang-golly-gee-feature as much as the next person, what we do is journalism.   I’ve always viewed ONA as the intersection of technology and journalism and believe that focusing on that intersection is key.  How are journalists/editors innovating not only in the production of journalism but also in the actual collection/reporting going on?   A perfect case in point is the innovation we’ve seen on the part of Andy Carvin and Nick Kristoff (not to influence the judges but these two should get some sort of award for their coverage of the Arab Spring.)  What we’ve seen from both is a change in real-time reporting — through the use of existing social media tools.   Using tools to innovate while doing journalism should be rewarded.

My comment did not sit well with Geoffrey Samek, who responded with:  “Over focus on technology? It is an award focusing exclusively on ‘online’ and a big part of that is technology and how tech changes journalism. ONLINE! Collection and innovative processes that take place in the real world are by definition offline.”

It’s an interesting comment because it points to a separation — a division between what is online and what isn’t — that many of us who have been occupying the digital news space for the past 15 years have been seeking to shed.  Granted, ONA was founded in 1999 with the idea that professional journalists that were making their way in the online sector of their news operations would have a place to gather, share ideas and award the work of their peers.  But the “online” designation seems almost moot today.  Online work is everywhere, being produced by merged newsrooms and honored by all — even the revered Pulitzer committee.  So, of course ONA honors work online — that’s where journalism is being done — and important journalism should be acknowledged.

For those who founded ONA — and those of us who have been a part of it for a while — there was always this need for legitimacy.  The Web side of news operations forming the core of ONA in the early years was (and in some cases still is) the crazy old ranting uncle part of the family.  By creating a huge awards night, ONA and its members declared that the digital crazies with their CMS, servers and crazy code languages were here to stay.  The Awards Night has grown (and changed) over time and for many remains the highlight of  ONA weekend.

But, ironically, this stepchild attitude remains and has created ONA’s need to focus on the newest shiny object.  Awards Night is actually the one point in the weekend where the focus is journalism.  In many ways, ONA weekend has developed a schizophrenic feel to it.  This split focus is an issue that ONA has been wrestling with for years now and I’m not sure what the solution is.  ONA has many audiences — technologists, editors, reporters, educators, students, entrepreneurs, business folks — so where to focus?

While ONA has a nice mission statement, it’s beginning to feel like an organization that has lost its way.  Don’t get me wrong, the annual conference is always a good time — membership numbers are strong, the conference always sells out and large tech groups are lining up to buy sponsorships.  During a time where journalism trade organizations are struggling and bickering, ONA stands alone as a success.

But in recent years the conference has taken on the feel of South By Southwest — attendees come for the party.  And, ONA puts on a great party — it’s the one time of the year that I get to hang out with some of my favorite people in the world.  But I’ve felt for a while now that ONA is missing out on some opportunities to have some serious discussions about the state and direction of journalism — not “online” journalism — but the complete whole enchilada.

Some say that news organizations have the online journalism part of the equation solved.  I’m not sure that’s the case.  What about the growing number of plagiarism cases confronting news organizations?  Ethical issues abound in the arena of social media, comments boards, news gathering — yet rarely do we have these discussions at the annual conference. What role do journalism schools play in the future of the industry?  We’ve had these historical moments in journalism with the Arab Spring  — are we going to talk about it in September? (UPDATE: The answer would appear to be a resounding Yes!)

To answer Lisa’s original question, the awards do seem to focus on the meshing of technical innovation and journalism — my only real issue is with the three-hour long awards ceremony.  It makes the Oscars seem like a fast show 🙂

Some of the organizations awarded last year point to a real understanding by the judges of the changing nature of the business and that’s a positive development.  Still, I hope the judges find a way this year to acknowledge the groundbreaking efforts of Carvin and Kristoff.

….I thought long and hard about writing this blog post.

I have many friends, colleagues and former colleagues who have helped form this organization into the force it is today.  My words are not meant to critique the efforts of anyone — this is a volunteer organization that thrives on the goodwill of many.  And we’ve all been a part of trying to bring change to major organizations and understand the frustrations that can occur in trying to make things happen. After several years of persistent suggestions, ONA finally agreed to setting up student clubs at universities around the country several years ago.  That’s a positive development.

I guess my hope is that ONA’s Board of Directors recognize that change is good and will help return ONA to its revolutionary roots and understand the larger impact this organization can have.  I would love to see ONA’s Board of Directors beginning to take stances on major issues outside of the conference — ONA is a force in the field but there are many issues where ONA has remained silent.  Should it begin funding partnerships between journalism schools and news organizations?  Should it become a lobbying force for journalism?  Should it start weighing in regularly on discussions and scandals within the industry?  I think so.

I remember my first ONA conference in Chicago in 2003 and the rollicking nature of the organization back then.  (I asked my old washingtonpost.com boss Doug Feaver, one of ONA’s founders, if I could attend in 2002 but he didn’t think the group would be around long enough to warrant the company funding my attendance 🙂

The General Excellence award winners in 2003 were an eclectic group:  ESPN.com, BeliefNet, CQ.com and the Gotham Gazette.  I remember sitting in on one panel where Jeff Jarvis spoke about the glories of blogging and how he posted one blog entry to his blog after editors at a magazine attempted to edit it.  Gasps filled the room as Jarvis said he posted his blog entry without the edits of editors.

I remember sitting in on another panel about coverage of the Iraq War and listening to a PR representative from the Army critiquing self-censorship of images by those within major U.S. media organizations.  He told the group of us that we were failing to tell the whole story if we weren’t showing the graphic images illustrating the cost of war.

Both discussions had a major impact on me as a journalist and educator.  They were discussions of substance.  I want more of them.

I want more.

ONA Opportunity

Leave a comment

Folks –

I’m forwarding an email I received from the Online News Association…this is a pretty good opportunity:

Applications are now open for the ONA10 Student Newsroom at the Online News Association’s annual conference, Oct. 28-30, in Washington, D.C.

All college/university students actively pursuing a degree in journalism or producing digital media as of the conference dates are eligible. ONA membership is not required. Approximately 20 students will be invited to join the student newsroom, and a wait list will be maintained. Application deadline is Midnight PT, April 16.

The ONA10 Student Newsroom immerses college students in a digital media environment by providing hands-on experience producing content for the ONA10 website — ONAConference.org — before and during the conference, under the guidance of professional mentors. Students also have the opportunity to attend sessions led by experts in digital journalism, network with attendees and acquire and flex new digital media skills.

Students selected will receive free conference registration and meals, entry to the Online Journalism Awards banquet and reimbursement for parking and local public transportation. Lodging is at each student’s expense, but ONA will provide roommate matching for out-of-town participants at the conference hotel, the Marriott Renaissance. Students are responsible for transportation beyond what is outlined above.

In return, students must commit to attending all three days of the conference and will be expected to be at the conference venue early Thursday morning, Oct. 28, for coverage planning, newsroom set-up and training activities.

TO APPLY: Complete the ONA10 Student Newsroom Application using the latest version of Adobe Reader. Ensure information has been saved in the form before submitting.

Email the application, a letter of recommendation (from a faculty advisor), resume and relevant links to Sara Kelly and Lynne Perri, Student Newsroom Chairs, at ONA10newsroom@journalists.org. Subject line: ONA Student Newsroom Application – [last name].

Application deadline is Midnight PT, April 16.

QUESTIONS? Direct any questions to ONA10newsroom@journalists.org.

Cheers,
Joshua Hatch, ONA10 Co-Chair
Amy Eisman, ONA10 Co-Chair
Jane McDonnell, ONA Executive Director