5 Takeaways from ONA

Here are five takeaways from the 2018 Online News Association annual conference in Austin, Sept. 13-15. I’ve been to 14 of the 19 conferences held since the organization formed in 2000 and I am already looking forward to the 20th edition next year in New Orleans. 

If you’ve never been, it’s an inspiring mix of digital journalists from all types of organizations: big TV networks, The Washington Post, The New York Times, small digital startups, colleges and universities, and everything in between. This year, more than 2,600 attended, making it the largest digital journalism conference in the world, according to Jessica Strelitz, head of strategic partnerships for ONA.

  1. Data, data everywhere. There was an entire track of the conference devoted to data, analytics, and audience engagement. Making sense of the data and getting it into the hands of more people in newsrooms quickly emerged as a central theme. The two big questions with analytics, according to Sharon Chan from The Seattle Times, are: does the newsroom even look at it? And, after they look at it, what actions do they take? These are important questions to ask in your own newsroom. 
  2. Speaking of data, Emily Ingram (@emilyingram) from Chartbeat revealed some insightful data points during a session on the first day of the conference. “Users are more likely to come to you via mobile than on Facebook today,” Ingram said, which is a big shift for many news organizations. She reported that Chartbeat has seen a 40% decline in Facebook referrals by the global publishers that it works with. 
  3. “You can’t.” That is how a session on re-writing broadcast scripts for online started; appropriately so in my opinion. TV stations need to recommit to creating platform-specific text content with additional assets and resources that serve an online audience with a robust version of the story, especially if it’s a special report or an investigation. This ONA18 session featured a great collection of tips and how-tos and you can hear a rebroadcast here.
  4. Adopting a culture of experimentation surfaced as another theme in multiple sessions. “The powers that be really care about experimentation,” said Coleen O’Lear (@coleenolear) from the Washington Post which, of course, includes owner Jeff Bezos. It shows, as O’Lear helps lead an emerging products team of 30 people, including product managers, editors and engineers; but half are designers. That’s right, half! This is an impressive example of investing in experimentation by the Post. 
  5. Did you know there is a Facebook group for CrowdTangle users? It’s true. That was one of several great tips on the social listening and content discovery tool from a great session at ONA18 (recording available here). Other tips included:
  • CrowdTangle is creating dashboards and lists for the upcoming elections, including many local politicians’ lists. 
  • Use the Saved Search feature to create a list for the word “dashcam" and other terms worth tracking.
  • Do you have a CrowdTangle list for college newspapers? A CNN editor called this one of the most underutilized resources in all of CrowdTangle.  

One of the best parts of the ONA conference every year is the awesome collection of notes, audio, video, resources, social posts, and other helpful tips on the conference website. I highly recommend spending some time with it for a deeper dive into the great learnings that were shared in Austin. (You can also go back through the Twitter feed as ONA is annually one of the most tweeted conferences you can find).