Left, The Dallas Morning News Innovation Endowment logo; Right, students sit in the Belo Center for New Media working on their laptops

ONA Blogs

buildings in los angeles

Online News Association 2022

Media Innovation Group Shares ONA Conference Experience

Jennifer Castillo Cortes

My name is Jennifer Castillo Cortes. I am a senior at the University of Texas at Austin and majoring in Journalism with a minor in Sociology. I am from Austin, Texas and a first-generation college student.

Beforehand, I’d like to extend my gratitude to Professor Christian McDonald for the opportunity to attend ONA 2022 in Los Angeles, California. I arrived at ONA’s conference knowing little about the aspects of innovation and the many ways one can continue supporting the field of journalism and democracy in our digital world. Through a sudden email, my curiosity sparked.

Just fresh off finishing my independent research about news audiences and Generation Z’s news habits as a McNair scholar in the summer and presenting it among my peers, I realized the necessity of research becoming digestible among all audiences, as well as its core: innovation and improvement. Leaving my research and transitioning to a traditional reporting route in the semester was tricky as I wanted to continue exploring forms of strategy experimentation while continuing to practice my writing and reporting abilities. As a firm believer in equity and upholding truth, going to ONA would add to my vision of supporting growth in storytelling.

I was very excited to attend sessions related to audience development, especially ways in which news organizations are removing paywall subscriptions to allow for audience growth, and still maintain a steady growth of subscribers. Additional material, such as case studies demonstrated ways in which I could expand my research and career to using digital tools. I enjoyed participating in Muckracks’s headshot booth, as well as browsing the career fair, where connections were made with college recruiters for graduate students and conversations revolved around fellowships and featured coursework in their department.

As a reporting fellow for Community Impact, it was also my responsibility to learn how to source out stories in communities not often covered by the newspaper, especially as our state heads closer to election season. 22 Ways to Cover the 2022 Midterm Elections gave me the tools necessary to fact check my stories and consider speaking with community leaders in terms of joint messaging and still maintaining a bipartisan message. Understanding the importance of an all-hands on deck setting the day of elections eased some worries I had and prepared me for being a valuable hand in election coverage for the newspaper.

Leaving ONA opened a whole other side of the world of journalism. I left with connections from graduate programs and career mentors, proving the value of communication. While I wish I would have known more about innovative and digital storytelling from my university and left me prepared with some knowledge of it, going into ONA with open eyes left me with a basic knowledge of this area, an immersive crash course on audience development teams and with the question, what’s next?

Faith DuFresne

My name is Faith DuFresne and I'm a junior journalism student at UT Austin.

Attending ONA put me in the immediate midst of the world of opportunities waiting beyond my degree. It was a profoundly eye opening experience being able to see everything that is being curated, changed, and innovated within the world of journalism all at once. 

ONA offered a multitude of opportunities to meet with professionals, listen to lectures about what’s up and coming in journalism and network with a vast range of companies and organizations. I attended numerous lectures all specifically geared towards informing the audience about what their organization or company is currently doing and how we, as journalists, can implement that information in our own work. I attended lectures about creating diverse communities within newsrooms, the integration of TikTok and how to connect with audiences on Twitter. The TikTok, Creator-Journalists and News on the #FYP was one of the most intriguing panels I attended. It addressed the numerous suspicions and conspiracies revolving around the data and engagement approach of TikTok as well as what newsrooms stand to gain from joining the app. It was an insight I hadn’t expected to see, but it was exciting to see how quickly journalism adapts to the fast-paced changes of social media and the digital realm altogether. These panels provided deep insight into the journalism world outside any experience I’ve had on campus so far.  

ONA also allowed me to meet and network with the same people giving the presentations. I was introduced to many people who all lead a variety of careers connected to journalism in vastly different ways, which in turn, showed me the endless possibilities that await me. I also met representatives from companies such as CBSNews, the LA Times and the Associated Press and learned about their fellowship and intern opportunities. I found that journalism serves as a  base point for so many careers, and even careers outside the basic definition of journalism involve journalistic traits in one way or another. 

Professor Christian McDonald

Exploring design thinking and automation in newsrooms

As I approached the 2022 Online News Association Conference in Los Angeles this fall, I had several of goals:

  • I wanted to bring some students to the conference so they could experience the energy and positiveness that the group brings to our profession.
  • I wanted to explore sessions that brought design thinking concepts into the newsroom, and there were indeed several sessions on just that.
  • I wanted to learn more about some technology applications in journalism, like using natural language processing to automate content creation.

The students did indeed have a great time, learned a lot and met lots of folks from the industry. You’ve already read their reports above.

The design thinking sessions were really interesting. One that really sparked my interest included an early childhood reporter and engagement producer from KPCC in Los Angeles who turned their mindset from serving listeners to collaborating with their community. In one example they gave cameras to a series of child caregivers and followed up with them for nearly a year. Their efforts yielded more than stories, they also created art exhibits around the city and hosted a live event in collaboration with their “sources.”

At a panel on content automation, folks from Gannett described how they can produce localized real estate trend stories from structured data using natural language processor templates written by reporters. I’d seen uses like this probably a decade ago using high school sports data, public school ratings data and even the Los Angeles Times’ quakebot, but the NLP engines are so much better now that processes like this seem much more viable.

These two thoughts about the future of journalism are highly divergent: collaborating with the community to tell stories vs turning to artificial intelligence to tell stories. It might be interesting to see how we can bring these two thoughts closer together.