Digital transformationSocial media best practicesStrategy and trends

Five things I learned at ONA

Two weeks ago I got to attend the Online News Association‘s annual conference in Denver on behalf of GateHouse Media. This is my second year attending the conference, which brings together roughly 2,000 journalists, educators and digital startups together for three days of mind-blowing sessions on the future of news.

A lot of the recordings for ONA sessions you can view online, including a live blog roundup of tweets sent during the session.

But there were a few broad themes and lessons I picked up at the conference, specifically from several of the keynotes.

  1. Facebook still kind of owns the media universe and wants to stay connected to journalism, despite any hand-wringing about the friends and family algorithm change. The conference kicked off with a keynote from Fidji Simo, Facebook’s director of product. The social media platform also sponsored the opening night reception. Also, several of their sponsored sessions (including this one on 360 video) were at capacity well before their appointed time.

Why do we know Facebook still dominates? A few facts to consider:

  • Josh Schwarz, Chartbeat’s chief data scientist, stated in his session on trends in digital traffic, that despite the algorithm change, Chartbeat publishers still see Facebook as a dominant referrer.
  • Facebook Live has seen tremendous numbers of viewers, so much so that there is a whole team devoted to the feature, although Simo wouldn’t say how many.
  • Live videos get 10 times the comments as other types of videos on Facebook, Simo said.

2. When it comes to revenue, journalists are finding creative ways to generate new revenue streams, including this idea from Pro Publica to launch an online data store for any data sets that newsroom create for investigative reporting. The theme of monetizing our content beyond ads on article pages and digital subscriptions was a theme throughout the conference as well. Pro Publica has had clients like Yelp and healthcare companies pay access to their data.

3. While mobile first is important, sometimes we think mobile without thinking about content, as speakers at a session on content first stated. In an example of a photography project on the Wall Street Journal, it’s clear from the presentation that it can’t just be ‘crammed into mobile.’

How do you approach this in your newsroom? An easy solution is to get designers and developers involved earlier in the story planning process, before it’s a finished product.

Another huge part of ONA was the keynote from digital guru Amy Webb, who unveiled her tech trends in journalism list. You can download the full report here, which I would recommend doing.

4. Automated video, bot-driven news and computer-generated content is here, and only growing. With tools like Wibbitz, which creates automated video, and image recognition software, the future is here, Webb said.  With the ability to have video automatically created every day, think of how many more videos newsrooms can have on their website in a day.

5. With this in mind, we will still need journalists to provide context to many more of the automated storytelling tools, but our jobs will still shift in the future. Webb showed a slide of the list of journalism jobs of today, and journalism jobs in the near-future. How many of your newsrooms have these jobs?

Slide from Tech Trends for Journalists - 9th Annual Online News Association Presentation
Slide from Tech Trends for Journalists – 9th Annual Online News Association Presentation

Journalism is changing for sure, but one thing is for sure, people still like to read, listen to and watch good stories. Storytelling was present in every aspect of the conference, and it’s something we’ll continue to do no matter what platform we are telling it on the future.

Until next year!


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