Online News Association Hosts its Annual Conference in Austin
After a long day of classes and a harrowing drive through busy Austin streets, I made it to this year’s Online News Association conference. My initial reaction to the conference, housed in downtown’s swanky J.W. Marriott, was excitement tinged with awe. Moving out of the classroom, and into a space dedicated to revolutionizing the industry was like walking into journalism NASA.
The Online News Association (ONA) is the world’s largest association of digital journalists. Its annual conference draws hordes of journalists and innovators to tackle technology's role in better understanding and reporting the news through hundreds of panels and sessions. This year, it just so happened to be in Austin. Its proximity to home made it an opportunity many journalism students, myself included, couldn’t pass up.
All around me were people just as excited to be there. At first, it was intimidating to be surrounded by professionals working in high-profile technology and media jobs. But, as I listened to conversations and met those professionals, I started to get a sense of what drove them to work in this field — a desire to be a constant source of truth.
THURSDAY, SEPT. 13
I wandered around the impressive display of booths set up by traditional news sites, newer social media platforms and companies marketing their products and services as tools for journalists. I was blown away by both the names I recognized and the ones I didn’t. It was surreal to see and chat with representatives from The Wall Street Journal, NPR and the New York Times, but I was equally fascinated by companies I’d never heard of, like Storyful, Trint and Newsflare. These companies– social media analysis agency, aggregator of video clips and transcription service, respectively–are providing services that streamline journalism and better equip journalists.
I also spoke with the heads of internship programs at NBC News and the Los Angeles Times and learned their tips on applying to internships and making the most of them.
From there, I walked away with a few main takeaways:
Be versatile. Open yourself up to going with the flow, so employers see how you deal with change. Grab experience at UT any way you can. One of my personal favorite tips was from an NBC recruiter, who said it was crucial to have “a sense of urgency.” She said interns often treated deadlines as a joke, or didn’t show they were stressed in the face of a big story. Keeping your cool is good, but failing to feel personally attached to your projects shows a lack of initiative.
FRIDAY, SEPT. 14
One of my favorite ONA sessions was a panel titled “Reddit: Bringing the Front Page into the Newsroom.” Panelists included heads of social media at the Washington Post, Dallas Morning News, The Texas Tribune and representatives from Reddit. I had never thought about Reddit in the journalistic sense, and I don’t think many other people in the session with me had either, but these newsrooms have been building a dedicated community via the platform for years. As it turns out, you should utilize Reddit whether you’re a student reporter or in charge of social media for your organization. It has a huge following, builds quality relationships with audiences, allows you to dig deep into an issue and taps into public conversation.
Subreddits suggested by the panelists include: r/succulents, r/thathappened, r/politics and r/Austin.
Throughout the day, I noticed (and found relieving) the sheer amount of jobs being advertised. Almost every single company or group at ONA had job openings and were actively recruiting. Additionally, many of the speakers and conference-goers had journalism-related jobs I never even knew existed. We can all breathe a little easier!
SATURDAY, SEPT. 15
Saturday marked the end of my three-day descent into journalistic heaven, and I was sad to see it go. My favorite session of the day was #TweetingTheNews, in which Twitter representatives shared how their company is working to eradicate the spread of fake news and actively policing users.
It was interesting to see how the people behind the platform view journalism. Twitter is undoubtedly an important tool for journalists, but Twitter also benefits from journalists clarifying information and disseminating the real news. I learned that it’s important to make moments of your work; public engagement can fly through the roof if you group similarly-themed tweets together, especially if they’re on a project you’re excited to share.
One of the highlights of the conference for me was realizing how much of a truly global effort it was, and by extension how global journalism is. En route to the hotel earlier, my Uber driver told me his previous passenger had been a journalist from Moscow. I never did meet him, but I did meet a journalist all the way from New Delhi, who worked for a digital magazine. That showed me the true breadth of the ideas that were being shared here. All around the world, journalists are making moves to ensure the future is the brightest, most high-tech one possible.
Industry conversations are rife with allegations that print is dying and other panicked, misinformed opinions on the industry. ONA ‘18 helped dispel some of my fears and opened my eyes to the new form journalism is really taking on — a fascinating blend of technology and true, solid reporting, helping make the journalistic process faster and easier than before. I walked away firmly believing now is the best time to be in the news, and more excited than ever to call myself a journalist.