It keeps getting bigger. And bolder. And more vital for newsrooms to keep tabs on. This year’s Online News Association conference in Washington, D.C., drew the biggest group in the conference’s history — over 3,000, according to the organizers – and left quite an impression on those who attended.

Here’s a look at ONA’s best through the eyes of some of our attendees.

Jacki Gray

What I do: Senior Content Distribution Manager (Bucks County Courier Times, Burlington County Times, The Intelligencer)

My favorite ONA17 session: Steal My Tool. Here is a link to the session info

Jacki Gray

Why I liked it: It featured five-minute lightning talks by a handful of professionals. I find this type of presentation effective. I always walk away from sessions like so with a few good nuggets to take back and apply in the office.

Online tools and resources presented included ClaimBuster, and I was particularly interested in for project management. I caught up with another audience member after the presentation to talk about how he uses it in his office. I should be able to apply some of the theories we discussed even if we aren’t able to use the exact software in our newsroom.

I also found it helpful when engagement strategist Joy Mayer simply reminded the audience to use social media to build relationships and to not just use it as a broadcasting tool. I think that is a good reminder for my team. She reminded us to communicate our value on social media. We must emphasize our relevancy to our audience with language.

Jim Haddadin

What I do: Reporter at the MetroWest Daily News in Framingham, Mass.

My favorite ONA17 session: 10 Tech Trends in Journalism

Jim Haddadin

Why I liked it: What a brave new world! In her annual talk on emerging technologies that will shape the news business, futurist Amy Webb offered a stern warning about the path that lies ahead if news organizations don’t take an active role in developing new tools to report and distribute information.

Technology giants such as Google and Facebook are leading the way in teaching computers to think for themselves. Without a seat at the table, news organizations risk losing control of how their work is presented. What becomes of attribution when consumers can simply ask Alexa for the latest headlines? And how will we continue to be compensated for our work?

To be sure, the predictions were scary — more consolidation in the news industry, the spread of lies and misinformation, and the potential erosion of democracy. But Webb also highlighted exciting opportunities for reporters, particularly in the field of computational journalism.

A network of tiny satellites orbiting the earth will soon provide real-time imagery, allowing journalists to analyze everything from environmental trends to the movement of shipping containers. Natural language generation methods will enable us to interact with readers through bots, and automate the creation of routine reports on subjects such as weather, sports scores or stock market performance. Algorithms will help us sift through huge amounts of information not only documents and data, but photographs, audio tapes, and video recordings. And, Webb predicts, blockchain technology could help address one of journalism’s most pressing problems, the need to verify digital records are authentic.

Read Webb’s entire report on 75 technology trends for news organizations to watch here. You can also watch a video recording of Amy Webb’s talk.

Stacie Greene Hidek

What I do: Digital & Visuals Editor, StarNews, Wilmington, N.C.

My favorite ONA17 session: Building Great Newsletters and Email Tools (link includes audio of session)

Why I liked it: The three panelists all came at the topic from different angles: A one-man shop, a more traditional news org and a consultant heavily focused on analytics. They talked about issues from deciding what your newsletter will be and who it will serve, to technical points of setting it up and signing people up, to evaluating metrics and iterating on your original plans. We also got a preview of a report coming out of the Shorenstein Center on how to go beyond the typical analytics to dig deeper into your relationship with your audience. It was a packed session and for good reason.

Michelle Everhart

What I do: Digital News Editor/Innovation Director, Columbus Dispatch

My favorite ONA17 session: Producing Editorial Events Ethically. Here is a link to audio from the session.

Michelle Everhart

Why I liked it: The session really opened my eyes to a different way of storytelling. We tend to look at how we are going to inform/tell stories in print and digitally but here is another way to tell stories AND engage with our community (and if you are doing it right, make money.)

It made me think of ways that we could reach out to areas of the community that don’t feel connected to us or who don’t trust us. Putting together forums or series would help us connect as well as show people we are invested in the community not just because we’ve been here forever but because we are listening.

Penny Riordan

What I do: Director of Digital Audience Engagement, GateHouse Media

My favorite ONA17 session: The session on how bots can deepen your relationship with readers:

Penny Riordan

Why I liked it: The panel clearly had deep knowledge in the subject, and had also done a lot of experimentation, some of which didn’t work out well. What’s interesting about bots is they can take the treasure trove of information journalists keep and organize them into automated answers to frequently asked questions. Amy Webb talked about in her session how pretty soon products like Alexa and Google Voice will be able to search for an answer to a question down to the sentence within a story. We need to get a head of organizing our information and delivering it to readers in whatever form they choose to ingest it in.

On the other end of the spectrum, bots can also be simple, as one panelist suggested. You can engage with your readers on a more basic level by simply asking them to text you questions. What’s great about that approach is it allows the reader to be more involved in the story, which develops loyalty and trust.

Meghan Kelly

What I do: Digital Editor, GateHouse Media New England

My favorite ONA17 session: The Wonder Women Unite! Navigating the Digital Workplace

Meghan Kelly

Why I liked it: This was a valuable session about being a woman in media, though many of the tips and advice would work for any woman working in any industry. The panelists talked about how to handle a variety of issues that come up with being a woman in a male-dominated workspace — from how to handle salary negotiations to feedback that might be gendered to knowing when it’s time to make the next steps for a promotion or new job.

The best bit of advice was to assemble a team of colleagues and friends who can help you not only advance in your career but to also be a sounding board for when you’re not sure of yourself. I’ve had too many interactions to count where I wasn’t sure if I was being treated a certain way because of my gender or not, and having knowledgeable, smart people around me has helped me to gauge whether or not my feelings about a situation were correct. On the whole media is still a heavily white-male occupation, and it was really great to get advice and commiseration from other women who are in the same place.


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